Meeting increasingly stringent conservation regulations adds a burden on already-stressed dairy farmers in the Southern End.
Now they have an ally that can help them pay for improvements being required by federal and state regulations.
That help is coming from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, a 48-year-old nonprofit. The alliance is now working with $1.5 million in funding to help farmers in the watersheds of the east and west branches of the Octoraro Creek.
That money is meant to support farm conservation projects that owners would not otherwise be able to afford, said Jenna Mitchell, Pennsylvania director for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
The alliance does not lobby or enforce regulations.
"We're not into creating legislation or lobbying. We just help farmers pay for conservation work," Mitchell said. "We're trying to support the dairy farmers and help them make improvements they otherwise could not afford."
That support includes paying up to half of conservation projects. Some, like manure storage pits, seem obviously expensive.
"We work with farmers to help them implement best management agricultural programs," Mitchell said. For instance, a concrete pit can hold manure for up to six months, allowing farmers to apply it to fields when it will best augment the soil and be least likely to wash into waterways. But the pits can cost between $40,000 and $50,000 to build.
Others, such as installing new rain gutters on barns, are not as obvious.
"That helps keep rainwater from mixing with manure in barnyards and keeps the mixture from reaching streams," explained Jenna Mackley, the alliance's community engagement manager.
The alliance has been meeting with individual farmers and groups for more than a year. The grants have been accepted by farmers throughout the region, including those who are members of the Plain sects.
"We work within the community," Mitchell said. "Some of the farmers we've worked with have referred us to other farmers."
Alliance grants to farmers typically pay for half a project's cost.
"Farmers can do one project at a time or do them all at once," Mackley said.
So far, the alliance has used grant funding to help more than a dozen farms in the creek's watersheds.
It is also working with Turkey Hill Dairy and its providers.
The dairy is working with the 136 farms that provide its milk. The dairy will help pay for the farms' conservation plans and a portion of the required conservation improvements. Once the improvements are in place, the dairy will pay a higher rate for the milk from those farms.
Farmers interested in more information about available grants can call program manager Leslie Weller at 717-517-8698 or on her cell at 717-824-7088.
"They can give us a call and we'll meet with them," Weller said.