Farmer Cleans Up; Bay Reaps Reward
Posted: January 26, 2013
Farmer Peyton Yancey, 70, values his lifelong memories of the family’s farm in Linville, and has taken action to preserve Smith Creek, whose headwaters reside there. (Photos by Holly Marcus / Special to the DN-R)
“If we don’t preserve this land and water ... it’s all going to be polluted,” Yancey says.
Efforts to restore water quality at Peyton Yancey’s farm required planting trees, digging water lines for watering troughs and building fenced paths for cattle to cross over top of the creek.
Peyton Yancey strides along his beef operation in Linville. Yancey sank roughly $175,000 into a watershed preservation project on the farm, but expects 65 to 70 percent of his expenses to be reimbursed.
Evidence of environmental cleanup is seen at Peyton Yancey’s farm in Linville.
Many of his memories center around a 225-acre chunk of land on Indian Trail Road in Linville, the place his younger self called home.
It’s where his grandfather tended to dairy cattle, where his father was born and where his cousin still maintains beef and poultry operations. Yancey hopes to pass the family farm on to his children one day.
The land is also home to the headwaters of Smith Creek, which travels north through Rockingham County before marrying the North Fork of the Shenandoah River near Mount Airy in Shenandoah County.
Yancey, now 70, remembers the leafy green watercress that grew in Smith Creek and the spearmint and peppermint that sprouted along its sides.
There’s not so much of that anymore, nor does the water host nearly as many schools of native brook trout.
The creek was originally lush and trout-heavy, fed by a host of streams spouting cool water that surrounding trees kept cool. But logging downed many of those trees and heavy agricultural use caused nutrient-heavy soil to collect in the water, which made it hard for wildlife to survive.
According to Jeff Kelble, head of the advocacy group Shenandoah Riverkeeper. officials have documented as much as a 7-degree rise in temperatures between 1979 and 2006 in the Woodstock section of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River — close to where Smith Creek flows into the North Fork.
In 2010, Yancey decided he wanted to do what he could for his section of the creek.
“If we don’t preserve this land and water … it’s all going to be polluted,” he said recently while watching one stream trickle through his farm.
Three years ago, the cattle had direct access to the property’s two streams, four springs and one pond. Very few trees found root in nearby soil. Puddles of mud from rainwater running off a barn formed on cattle walkways.
“This was a real mess down in here before,” said Cory Guilliams, of the local branch of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, standing in that same walkway that’s now puddle-free.
Thanks to a new gutter system, the water runs straight into the creek instead of first being dirtied by cow hooves. The site now looks more like a nursery, with green tubes protecting dozens of hardwood saplings near the creek.
Cross fencing also divides the pasture for easy rotational grazing, which helps to cut back on soil erosion.
With funds from two federal programs, the state’s cost-share program, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Chesapeake Bay Funders Network, the Yancey farm has been revitalized over the past year.
Although the team — including Guilliams and Mike Phillips, also with NRCS — started planning in 2010, all the physical labor was completed from February of last year through November, when the project wrapped up with a community cleanup day.
Guilliams and Phillips already have started working with one of Yancey’s neighbors, who called NRCS asking about what was going on down the road.
“All these little projects add up to be big in the watershed, so they have an accumulative effect,” Guilliams said.
He explained that the project on Yancey’s farm is much larger than most, but that’s mainly because lack of funds limits many other farmers.
The project cost roughly $175,000, Yancey said, adding that he was told he’d get back about 75 percent of it. But because the expenses were not planned in the same year the work was completed, Yancey expects to receive only about 65 to 70 percent of his expenses back.
Still, he wouldn’t change a thing.
The team helped to make running an ag business easier with every improvement to the land.
Yancey encourages farmers to make conservation improvements while the government is offering financial incentives, including a recently announced program that reimburses qualifying producers 100 percent of the cost of fencing cattle out of streams.
State Of The Bay
The farm’s location at the head of the Smith Creek watershed also helped planners lasso funding easily, Guilliams noted.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the declaration of the Smith Creek showcase watershed and two others — meant to show how partnerships can help clean up the heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay — in June 2010.
As part of the Smith Creek showcase project, a team of more than 20 partners led by NRCS has spent the last two years helping farmers and other landowners voluntarily reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into the creek, which is part of the bay watershed.
The partners have helped to fence out cattle from nearly 50,000 linear feet of stream and establish or restore riparian buffers along more than 51 acres of the creek, among a host of other accomplishments.
According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s 2012 State of the Bay Report, released earlier this month, the bay’s health has improved slowly but steadily since 2008. The overall score the foundation gave for the bay’s health is 32, far short of the ultimate goal of 70 but still representing some progress.
“We have seen quite a bit of improvement,” said Dale Gardner of Bridgewater, the Chesapeake agricultural program coordinator with Annapolis, Md.-based Water Stewardship Inc.
Gardner suggested that local farmers who haven’t made efforts to keep runoff out of the bay watershed should do so soon.
“When should farmers be worried? I think now would be a good time, probably,” he said, referring to the possibility that local farmers could start seeing fines for polluting the bay watershed.
“Whenever you see 100 percent cost-share for something, that means it’s a pretty high priority,” he said. “Will that translate in a couple of years or a year or so into mandatory fencing? Who knows? The way I read it … it’s probably not too far down the road.”
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or firstname.lastname@example.org