We have a goal for 100 percent of our Tobacco Leaders Program (TLP) growers to be Good Agricultural Practices Connections Certified by the end of 2021 and have worked very hard since 2019 to educate growers on the certification requirements. To protect the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, Pennsylvania law requires growers to have a written conservation plan documenting the Best Management Practices (BMPs) growers implement to prevent or reduce sediment and nutrient pollution from their farm operations. The certification program also recognizes growers when they implement additional environmental best practices around agrochemical storage, waste management and responsible irrigation.
It is a challenge to get conservation plans written in a timely manner across our grower base but our partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), established in 2009, certainly helps overcome this challenge. Each year NFWF offers grants to organizations delivering on-the-ground conservation efforts that benefit farms and habitats in the Chesapeake Bay region. One of NFWF’s grant recipients, a consultant in PA, provides conservation and nutrient management plans for individual growers at no cost. We informed our PA grower base of this opportunity and over 40 of our growers have utilized the consultant’s services to develop their written conservation plans.
Our work with external stakeholders like NFWF has been key in improving communication and support for our grower base, which is primarily Amish and Mennonite with limited access to technology. Working one-on-one with our growers, they identified the BMPs needed on their farms such as contour buffer strips, cover crops, reduced tillage and residue management, grassed waterways, manure storage and more. As the growers implement these BMPs they will reduce their nutrient and sediment impact on the surrounding watershed. Partnerships like this help our growers achieve certification and drive agricultural sustainability while also benefiting the environment.