USGS works with USDA and State Jurisdictions to Enhance Reporting of Agricultural Conservation Practices that Reduce Loss of Nutrients and Sediment in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Science Center Objects

The Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) is working to enhance reporting of agricultural conservation practices being implemented to reduce the loss of nutrients and sediment from the watershed to Chesapeake Bay. Each year, the six State jurisdictions within the Chesapeake Bay watershed are required to report progress in conservation implementation to the CBP partnership at its Annual Progress Review so that the practices can be credited toward attainment of water-quality goals. With financial support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) worked with the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the State jurisdictions to develop consistent access to USDA agricultural conservation practice data records, in order to improve the capacity within the jurisdictions to thoroughly track, report, and improve the implementation of conservation practices by Chesapeake Bay farmers.

Although farm enrollment data for USDA conservation programs are confidential, agencies can obtain access to the privacy-protected data if they are established as USDA Conservation Cooperators. The datasets can also be released to the public if they are first aggregated to protect farmer privacy. In 2012, the USGS used its USDA Conservation Cooperator status to obtain implementation data for conservation programs sponsored by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) for farms within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and provided a public dataset of county-scale aggregated totals to the jurisdictions.


Key Results

  • The report reviews the status of conservation data sharing between the USDA and the various jurisdictions, documents the methods that were used by the USGS to collect and process USDA agricultural conservation data; and describes methods that were used by the jurisdictions to integrate Federal and State data records, reduce double counting, and provide an accurate reporting of conservation practices to the CBP Partnership in order to measure progress toward meeting the agricultural pollution reduction goals set by the Chesapeake Bay jurisdictions.
  • Three jurisdictions (Delaware, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) used the USGS-sourced aggregated dataset for reporting USDA practices to the 2012 Annual Progress Review. These jurisdictions were able to report implementation of USDA conservation practices more thoroughly than they had previously, improving their ability to track progress toward achieving water-quality goals.
  • The three remaining jurisdictions (Maryland, New York, and Virginia) chose not to use the USGS-sourced dataset for reporting purposes, relying instead on USDA conservation practice information obtained independently by using their jurisdictional USDA Conservation Cooperator agreements. In two cases, jurisdictions with USDA Conservation Cooperator status (Maryland, New York) have developed integrated data systems to track all Federal, State, and voluntary conservation practices, resulting in simpler data reporting strategies.
  • On the basis of the approaches developed by the USGS, USDA, USEPA, and State jurisdictions, the coordinated partnership of Federal and State efforts resulted in a successful 2012 reporting of agricultural conservation practices that had recently been implemented on Chesapeake Bay farms and farmland. The diverse data reporting strategies employed by the six jurisdictions with financial assistance from both Federal and State agencies were all successful in reporting conservation practices while largely avoiding double counting of records. The new USGS report documents the data handling methods used and identifies improvements that can be made in future years.


Implications and Next Steps

  • The installation and adoption of agricultural best management practices is supported by technical and financial assistance from both Federal and State conservation programs. Through Federal and State collaboration, access to consistent, accurate, and detailed data on agricultural conservation practice implementation is expected to improve the quality of information used for planning and targeting conservation practices, promote sustainable agricultural management strategies, and support an adaptive management approach to improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
  • Similar tracking, reporting, and assessment procedures will be used in each future year, as Federal and State governments and nongovernmental organizations continue to work with farmers and conservation districts to reduce the adverse effects of agriculture on water-quality conditions. The USGS will continue to obtain the USDA datasets and aggregate them for public use through 2015, the end date of the USGS-USDA Conservation Cooperator agreements that makes this work possible.
  • Discussion is underway to increase the number of Conservation Cooperator agreements to achieve direct access to USDA datasets for the jurisdictional agencies. Language that can be used to create these agreements is provided in the new USGS report.
  • The report also identifies opportunities for future improvements in data handling, record keeping, communication, and data access.
  • The information in the USGS report is one part of a larger CBP effort to improve reporting and verification of the diverse range of Federal, State, and privately funded conservation practices that are adopted by Chesapeake Bay farmers, whether in response to regulation, incentive, or stewardship of the land.


For More Information
The report is available online at

The following appendixes can be accessed through the links found at the end of the report: Appendix A. Key contacts; Appendix B. 1619 Conservation Cooperator Agreements; Appendix C. USGS-USDA data requests; Appendix D. USDA Practice Code lookup tables; Appendix E. Crosswalk between USDA Practice Codes and Scenario Builder.


For more information about this report contact: W. Dean Hively, Research Physical Scientist, USGS Eastern Geographic Science Center (

For more information on CBP Partnership conservation activities contact: Kelly Shenk, Regional Agricultural Advisor, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region III, (

For more information about USGS Chesapeake Bay studies, contact: Scott Phillips, Chesapeake Bay Coordinator (


Chesapeake Bay Watershed (gray) With State Jurisdiction and Borders

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