Today Rodale Institute, the global leader of regenerative organic agriculture, announced it has received a grant for $5,995,000 from the William Penn Foundation to partner with Stroud Water Research Center, the global leader in the advancement of knowledge and stewardship of freshwater systems, on a groundbreaking project to improve soil health and water quality. The project will focus on improving farm productivity and profits while reducing water pollution associated with agricultural runoff.
Stroud Preserve, in Chester County, PA, is the site of new cutting-edge research to reduce pollution caused by agriculture runoff and improve the health of our waterways. The site is owned and managed by Natural Lands. Photo by Nicholas Rohr.
The Delaware River Watershed covers 8.7 million acres across Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware, and provides drinking water to 15 million people. According to the USDA National Resources Conservation Service, cultivated cropland and other agriculture lands (pasture, hayland, and horticulture) make up 26 percent of this area. The 2007 Census of Agriculture reported about 15,000 farms in the Delaware River Basin. Today, agricultural runoff from these farms—such as rain running off corn fields—carries fertilizers, pesticides, manure, and soil into our rivers, polluting the environment and contaminating drinking water.
“Agricultural runoff poses a significant threat to clean water in the Delaware River watershed,” said Andrew Johnson, Program Director for Watershed Protection at the William Penn Foundation. “Rodale Institute and Stroud Center are nationally recognized for their expertise in agricultural practice, and through this collaboration they expect to unearth new reasons and new ways to scale practices that farmers can embrace to minimize their impact on the environment here and around the country.”
The partnership between Rodale Institute and the Stroud Center will evaluate different types of agricultural management practices and how they improve soil health which, in turn, improves farm production and profitability while helping to mitigate agricultural runoff pollution.
Building on Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial—the longest running side-by-side comparison of organic versus conventional farming practices in North America—new farming systems (including regenerative organic, “conservation,” and conventional) will be established at the Stroud Preserve in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Here, the partners will collect new data on water infiltration, runoff, soil health, stream water quality, and contaminants with the goal of ultimately changing management practices of 50,000 acres in the watershed. Research from Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial, started in 1981, has already shown that organic farms increase groundwater recharge, reduce runoff, and reduce nitrate and herbicide leachates in groundwater.
Stroud Preserve is one of 44 nature preserves owned and managed by nonprofit Natural Lands, whose mission is to save open space, care for nature, and connect people to the outdoors.
“Rodale Institute is extremely excited about the opportunity to partner with another world-class organization, Stroud Water Research Center, to bring our two focus areas, soil health and freshwater, together for monumental impact,” said Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute executive director. “We have the ability to conduct cutting-edge research and outreach that will ultimately lead to improved farming practices that not only help farmers be successful, but will have true impact on the lives of families who interact with the watershed every day.”
The partners will also conduct farmer training and education, a consumer awareness campaign, citizen science initiatives, and a plan for financial incentives for farmers to transition management practices.
“Stroud Water Research Center works with farmers and landowners to implement best management practices based on our decades of research on streams, rivers, and their ecosystems. Much of that research has underlined the important role streamside forests play in protecting streams and creating healthy stream ecosystems. With this exciting new partnership, we will build on that knowledge as we investigate the relationship between healthy soils and healthy streams,” said David B. Arscott, Ph.D., Stroud Center executive director, president, and research scientist.
The funding comes from William Penn Foundation’s Watershed Protection Program, which grants more than $30 million annually to ensure an adequate supply of clean drinking water to the 15 million people who rely on the Delaware River Watershed.