Agriculture can have many potential impacts on watershed health, including nutrient inputs, fecal contamination, sediment inputs and pesticide runoff.
Agriculture can include many types of operations, from large commercial dairy or vegetable farms, to families that keep a few horses or other animals for personal use. Most farmers recognize their important role as stewards of the land. For some people, this may simply mean they plan to leave the land in as good a condition as possible for their children or others who will eventually take over the farm. Others have realized that their influence extends far beyond the farm gate, and that they have the power to affect human health and the environment in distant areas.
Benefits of Local Agriculture
Local farming is very important to our food security. By supporting local food producers, we put money back into our local economy, and help to reduce the energy expenditure and pollution associated with the long-distance shipping of goods. When farmers adopt practices that benefit wildlife and ecosystems, they in turn often receive positive publicity and increased local business. Sometimes restoration efforts can even result in decreased operating costs or ancillary benefits such as better pest control with increased bird habitat.
Other benefits include:
- Pasture and cultivated fields provide areas where rainwater can infiltrate the earth (rather than flowing across it, as with impervious surfaces), helping to recharge groundwater and reduce runoff into streams
- Fields and hedgerows can provide habitat for wildlife, including flooded fields which are used by over-wintering waterfowl
- Structures such as old barns and sheds can provide nesting and roosting areas for owls and bats, which in turn help to control rodent and insect pests
How can agricultural operations be better ecological stewards?
Restore and Maintain Riparian Areas
Removal of riparian vegetation, either mechanically or by grazing, can degrade the function of streams.
- Retain or replant natural vegetation along waterways, to help filter runoff.
- Where possible, leave large wood in streams, as it helps to improve stream function and creates fish habitat (stream channels).
- Allow certain areas to remain "wild." Native trees, shrubs and grasses provide wildlife habitat, including for beneficial birds, bats, amphibians and insects (including those valuable pollinators).
- Restrict livestock access to shorelines and stream banks, either with fencing, with careful timing, or by providing an upland water source, to minimize erosion and destruction of riparian vegetation.
Manage Rainwater on Site
- Construct retention ponds and wetlands that allow sediment to settle out, remove excess nutrients and purify the water.
- Construct an infiltration area, such as a swale that can intercept runoff
Reduce Runoff and Prevent Water Pollution
- Carefully manage the water that flows off your land, and make sure it does not contain sediment and harmful chemicals.
- Properly store and manage manure on your land to prevent runoff into waterways
- Minimize fallow, or exposed soil, to prevent erosion and loss of important nutrients.
- Cover crops can help to protect and enhance soil, and can provide another source of feed or revenue.
- Consider Integrated Pest Management, which aims to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides.
More tips for improved agricultural stewardship
- Find out what watershed you live in, with Webmap, and learn about some of its associated features, ecosystems, wildlife and concerns.
- Check out the BC Environmental Farm Plan, a program geared toward education of farmers, participation may also make you eligible for grants.