The SoundSite
Home Introduction The Beginning The Sound Today Impact of Development What You Can Do... More Info
What You Can Do...
In Your Own Backyard
Household Hazardous Waste
Your Septic System
Conserve Water
On Your Farm
On Your Boat
As a Citizen

On Your Farm

When the first settlers arrived in New England and spread throughout the Long Island Sound watershed, they became, out of necessity, farmers. In the wooded landscape they inhabited, the task of supplying food for the new residents became a principal concern. As the forest cover came down, stone walls went up, and cropland and pasture covered the countryside. By the time of the civil war, more than half the land in the watershed was devoted to farming and almost no forest remained.

Today there are millions of people living in the watershed. Cities, houses, and housing tracts occupy what was once productive farmland. Our population is concentrated in big cities and along the coast to the extent that an estimated 55 percent of the land in the watershed is forested once again. According to federal government data, about 14% of the land in the Sound watershed is now devoted to agriculture and 25% is urban and built up.

For a long time, local farms haven't been the sole food source for residents of the area. Instead, part-time farmers compete with traditional farmers in the production of high-value crops, and it is necessary to use intensive farming techniques because the land is expensive.

There are four potential pollution sources on farms:

  1. Sediment from erosion.
    Erosion can occur when the land's surface is exposed-as in tilling.
  2. Animal wastes.
    Unmanaged or poorly managed animal wastes, principally manures, can be washed into streams or leach into groundwater. The extent to which this may occur depends, of course, on the type of soil and the proximity of the wastes to streams. In addition to pathogens, animal wastes are high in nitrogen and other nutrients.
  3. Fertilizers.
    When fertilizer is improperly applied it can be carried into natural waters in the same manner as animal wastes and can add to the nutrient load in the Sound.
  4. Pesticides.
    When pesticides are not properly applied, they too can be washed off the farmland and into the waterways.

The proper management of farmland deals with. the different types of pollutants in an integrated fashion rather than as separate issues. To give a simple example, suppose the goal is to reduce the use of fertilizer in growing corn. A farmer would begin by reducing erosion in the field in order to maintain the inherent soil productivity. Next, the soil would be tested to determine the specific nutrient needs for the corn crop. Then, the farmer would be sure that the correct amount of manure and, if necessary, fertilizer is used to the fullest advantage – perhaps by applying manure in the spring and quickly incorporating it into the ground. Next, if needed, a properly timed application of just the right amount of fertilizer coupled with a timed weeding regime should also reduce the need for weed control pesticides.

The goal of this type of farming, called sustainable agriculture, is to provide for the basic food needs of the growing world population in a manner that is economically viable and, as stated by the American Society of Agronomists, "enhances the quality of life for the farmer and for society as a whole." In the not too distant future, the new biotechnology industry is expected to support sustainable agriculture with genetically modified plants that, for example, are pestresistant, tolerant to environmentally friendly herbicides, or use nitrogen from the atmosphere instead of from fertilizers.

An equally broad philosophy aimed at diminishing the use of pesticides is known as integrated pest management (IPM). Each type of crop and its associated pests are assessed as a single ecological system. The sequence and timing of biological and chemical pest control applications and crop cultivation methods are then integrated. The goal here is to keep pest populations just below the level at which they can do serious damage. A properly designed IPM program can reduce crop loss to pests by 50% and reduce pesticide use by 50% to 75%.

Obviously the sustainable agriculture and IPM approaches to farming take serious attention to management. They will, however, protect the Sound and other bodies of water. They will also ensure farmers of a resource base to work from in the future.

Soundkeeper, Inc.