Claude Warner could do little to keep his cows out of a stream on his Lineboro farm until a government program helped him protect the tributary that empties into Pretty Boy Reservoir in neighboring Baltimore County.
He built a bridge, fenced off the stream and buffered it with hundreds of trees. The cost to Warner? Not a single dollar - though the price tag was about $10,000. In fact, the cattle and grain farmer got a signing bonus when he enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) last fall. In the voluntary program, state and federal agencies provide financial incentives for practicing conservation.
Warner's Carroll County farm was the first stop on the Baltimore Reservoir Watershed Agricultural Conservation Tour on Wednesday, a daylong event that gave about 55 people, including Carroll's commissioners, a look at conservation at work.
"We have a good, permanent fence to keep the cattle out of the [land around the water], a trough in each field to encourage rotation, and a crossing so cows are not mucking through the stream," Doug Valentine, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, told the visitors standing in Warner's pasture. "Mr. Warner has done everything he can to protect this stream."
At the Warner farm, each cow, which generates as much as 80 pounds of waste daily, moves from one pasture to another without stepping into the stream and takes long, cool drinks at a trough surrounded by a concrete apron.
"When you have 50 cows drinking several times a day, you want to do what you can so they don't beat up the ground," said Valentine, who pointed to a slight bump in the concrete at the trough's edge that allows small calves an easy drink of water.
Fears proved false
Warner had long feared government subsidies as too cumbersome and demanding, but he pronounced CREP hassle-free. Technicians did all the engineering for the small bridge and three concrete water troughs spaced throughout 21 acres of pasture. Hardwood trees and lush green shrubs buffer the stream, and permanent fencing keeps the cows away.
"I was going to quit farming before I had to get into a program, but this ended up not being anywhere near the hassle I thought it would be," said Warner, who applied for the program last fall and saw all the work completed in the spring. "Everything the conservation service told me they would do worked out exactly like they said it would. I am satisfied and glad that it is done. It was the right thing to do."
Farmers can get as much as $250 per acre to join the program and a bonus - 40 percent of the cost to install conservation measures, said Valentine. The tour made five more stops throughout northern Carroll County, demonstrating conservation efforts at crop, dairy, cattle and horse farms, all in the watershed area surrounding the water supply for nearly 2 million people.
"We are not doing this because it looks good," said Valentine. "We are having an environmental impact. People in Baltimore should care what happens in this watershed. This is their environment, too."
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she was pleased with the conservation efforts. "This is real progress, and it is making our whole area a better place to live," she said.
The tour showed contour plowing on the 1,200-acre Kaltrider crop farm in Manchester. Instead of straight rows of crops, the farmers have plowed along the lines of the land.
"Each mark you make in a field causes erosion," said Stan Pennington, district planner for the Carroll Soil Conservation Service. "By contouring, sediment is trapped, and it slows the water down."
Tom Krispin, a state forester, said the tour "really shows people what is going on with agriculture. People drive by these farms all the time and don't even know about this effort."
Kelly Hereth, executive director of the Carroll County Farm Services Agency, often had to provide the group with background for the myriad government programs available. She also summarized pending federal legislation that could further assist area farmers.
"This shows the commitment our farmers are making to improve their operations and protect the natural resources," Hereth said.
CREP is also helping John Weber improve his Manchester farm. Weber called the district conservation office recently after a downstream neighbor complained that the farm's cattle were fouling another Prettyboy Reservoir tributary.
Protecting the watershed
On Weber's property, visitors saw a 4-foot-wide pipe awaiting installation in the stream. Three rows of trees will soon cover 35 feet on either side of the tributary. Two troughs are in place, set to provide the herd water when fencing keeps them from the stream. Weber's signing bonus helped him with the costs of clearing his farm pond of harmful algae.
"When this is all said and done, I don't think anybody will accuse this farmer of polluting," said Pennington, who helps area farmers plan and carry out the improvements. "We have farmers doing everything they can to protect the watershed."