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Satellite monitoring may help preserve the Chesapeake Bay by improving farming practices

August 7, 2020

PNAS — By Lynne Peeples — August 7, 2020

"Restoring the Chesapeake Bay, the nation’s largest estuary, has for decades proven to be a fraught enterprise, beset by the interests of researchers, farmers, anglers, multiple governments, and a host of others. A new approach, recently reported in Remote Sensing of Environment, could be an important tool in helping to heal or protect the Bay, as well as other watersheds.

Researchers report how they combined satellite images with data on farmer participation in a winter crop cover program to offer up a new sort of management model. “If we can mix cover crop innovation with a subsidy program, and measure areas where cover crops are performing well, then that gives us a chance to change farming practices for the better,” says coauthor W. Dean Hively, a research physical scientist with the US Geological Survey (USGS) Lower Mississippi Gulf Science Center in Beltsville, Maryland.

Some farmers plant winter cover crops such as barley, rye, and wheat in the fall after they’ve harvested summer crops. These cold-tolerant plants not only boost yields and soil health, they also help hold the soil in place; agricultural nutrients and sediments stay in fields rather than leaching into nearby waterways where they reduce water quality. When farmers kill off winter cover crops in the spring, the plants release nitrogen that is then made available for summer crops. “It creates a green bridge from one season to another,” says Hively. . ."

Read the full article at PNAS


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