Agriculture is a major industry in the U.S. commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As of the most recent United States Census of Agriculture conducted in 2012, there were 59,309 farms in Pennsylvania, covering an area of 7,704,444 acres (3,117,878 hectares) with an average size of 130 acres (53 hectares) per farm. Pennsylvania ranks first in the United States in Agaricus mushroom production (63.8% of U.S. sales volume during 2015–16),fourth in apple production, fourth in Christmas tree production, fifth in dairy sales, fifth in grape production, and seventh in winemaking.
Historically, different geographic locations in Pennsylvania were centers for different forms of agricultural production, with fruit production occurring in the Adams County region, fruit and vegetables in the Lake Erie region, and potatoes in the Lehigh County region. Modern agricultural production in Pennsylvania includes corn, wheat, oats, barley, sorghum, soybeans, tobacco, sunflowers, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Nitrogen, Phosphorus and sediment are the key major sources of non-point pollution throughout Pennsylvania, most critically in the 43 PA counties within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Agriculture is a key contributor to these challenges and is thus an important partner in efforts to address these issues.
- About 40% of the Chesapeake Bay watershed is in PA’s Susquehanna River basin, the largest tributary to the Chesapeake Bay with more than 50% of its freshwater flow.
- The Susquehanna is also the Bay’s largest source of nitrogen pollution; major sources have been identified as runoff from agricultural and urban/suburban areas, sewage treatment plants, and septic systems
- Bay “reboot” program. There is a renewed effort to rebuild momentum for reducing PA’s contribution to the Chesapeake Bay. One important aspect of that has to do with changes in the role of some Conservation Districts. In many counties, Conservation Districts will perform most of the farm inspections, as opposed to DEP – These Inspections have become an important issue!!
- Water use for energy production, particularly from the development of the Marcellus Shale, has also led to concerns over potential impacts to water availability (both quantity and quality)
- “Pennsylvania in the Balance” Conference (March 2016) – more than 100 people, including producers, industry, small/large farmers, agencies, researchers, and non-governmental organizations
- This “Pennsylvania in the Balance” discussion highlighted the need— and interest— for more robust stakeholder discussions that could lead to on-the-ground change to ensure water availability
Primary Research Question
- What attributes and processes of engagement practice are most likely to build trust, foster relationships, enhance networks, increase participation and result in policy and adoption outcomes consistent with stakeholder goals? (FROM ET)
- What mechanisms of sharing initially available biophysical data will be most effective?
- What biophysical data will we need to obtain to address questions of interest?
- What resources are available from which to obtain additional biophysical data, and will there be on-site field based projects?
Two study sites, each facing somewhat different agriculture and water issues have been selected in Pennsylvania – Potter County in the north central part of the state and Mifflin County in central part.