Over 100 people shared ideas and brainstormed solutions at the Ag Networking Forum at Rocky Gap resort near Cumberland last week. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) annually brings together conservation groups like The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited, agricultural organizations funding Manure to Energy Programs and even colleges like Eastern Mennonite University.
“The Agriculture Networking Forum provides opportunities to better target our efforts to improve agriculture conservation in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said Jake Reilly, director of NFWF’s initiative managing the Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund.
“We are now funding a lot of the good conservation that’s happening on-the-ground across the watershed. As the funder of that conservation, it’s a natural role for us to bring together the people that are doing that restoration work,” he added. The annual NFWF grants were just announced last month.
Elizabeth Nellums, a NFWF Bay Program Manager, put together a “speed dating” agenda so Ag participants could quickly share best practices. Over the next three days this week, panels and programs were created to expand on specific aspects of creating buffers, controlling run-off and supporting manure conversion in places like Frederick County.
“Farm Tours were created to illustrate local approaches to NFWF’s primary investments in agricultural conservation,” she said. “Farmers welcomed us on their properties.”
Kristen Hughes-Evans came to share farm-based manure to energy initiatives. “The project our team is looking at is thermal manure to energy technologies that are capable of concentrating nutrients so we can shift them to areas where they are needed. We are specifically talking about reducing excess phosphorous,” she said, “so the goal is to generate new sources of revenue from poultry litter and alternatives to land application.”
“The funding for these projects has just been incredible,” added Hughes-Evans. “We have received funding for Chesapeake Bay Stewardship Fund (CBSF) Conservation Innovation grants as well as EPA’s Innovative Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Program and Chesapeake Bay Funders network.
“We’re making big investments in on the ground projects,” said Reilly. “It’s a no brainer for us to support these projects and talk about how we can more effectively work together.”
NFWF has the “10,000 foot view” of the watershed. “We can see what everyone’s doing on the ground and we can help facilitate the conversation amongst all the grantees.”
Sharing with others was surely part of the attraction. Rocky Gap is a great place for quiet reflection.
NFWF’s Chesapeake director said that the annual Ag forum does help inform his selection team on the nature of grant requests for future years. “We have a listening session at the end” of the forum” that may shape future RFPs.
Cumberland, Maryland and Frederick County are part of the watershed that needs to be more inclusive of best practices and new technologies. Maryland immensely influences the health of the Bay. Cumberland also reflects the diversity of Ag and how farms are managed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.