Cultivating Clean Water in New York

Farms play a key role in the identity and economy of communities in Long Island, the Great Lakes and everywhere in between

Fertile soil on well-managed farms acts as a natural water filter. But, when farms are lost to development or when farmland is not well-managed, soils are degraded and drinking water suffers.

AFT has helped to craft programs to assist farmers in stewarding their land and protecting drinking water for more than nine million state residents in New York City and upstate cities.

Today, we are working with farmers in two targeted New York watersheds to help them do their part to improve water quality.

Benefits of On-Farm Conservation

Target Regions

Conservation activities on farms are most effective when coordinated within a specific community or watershed. In New York, we're currently focused on Long Island and the Great Lakes.

Long Island

Since 2011, AFT and our local partners at Cornell Cooperative Extension have worked closely with farmers on Long Island's East End growing sweet corn, potatoes and other crops to experiment with new conservation practices.

We help farmers get real-world experience with techniques such as controlled-release nitrogen fertilizer (CRNF), conservation tillage, and new varieties of cover crops. These practices help improve soil fertility and farm productivity while retaining nutrients and soil moisture – helping farmers deal with severe weather like droughts or major rainstorms.

Accomplishments to date include:

  • Developing an Economic Case Study on Schmitt Family Farm 
  • Hosting Soil Health Field Days for more than 75 farmers on Long Island
  • Providing support to partners working with farmers to explore conservation practices
  • Helping sweet corn growers reduce nitrogen rates by 20 percent using CRNF
  • Helping potato growers reduce nitrogen rates by 24 percent using CRNF
  • Creating the Farmers' Guide to Protecting Water Quality on Long Island

Great Lakes

In Lake Ontario, excess phosphorous threatens drinking water, wildlife and recreation. We are helping vegetable farmers on the southern side of Lake Ontario experiment with new conservation practices to improve soil health. AFT is also helping dairy farmers and farmers producing field crops learn about soil practices – including tillage practices, cover crops and soil health tests.

AFT is launching a new initiative in the Great Lakes region working with landowners and farmer lessees to incentivize conservation practices on rented farmland. Conservation practices help reduce nutrient runoff and protect water quality, while building the long-term health of the soil. During the planning phase of this project, AFT realized women landowners were interested in conservation on their land, but under-served in education about these practices.

Through AFT's women's learning circles, landowners learn about the benefits of conservation practices and how to work with farmer lessees to develop leasing arrangements that are mutually beneficial and promote healthy soils and clean water.

Accomplishments to date include:

  • Helping farmers plant over 5,000 acres of cover crops in the last two growing seasons
  • Assisting partners working with farmers in demonstrating soil health practices such as cover cropping and zone tillage
  • Sponsoring a Western New York Soil Health Field Day for more than 175 farmers
  • Hosted women's learning circles for landowners about conservation practices

Stories from the Field

Many farmers on Long Island and in the Great Lakes have already taken action to protect water quality and improve soil health. As part of our Cultivating Clean Water in New York project, we'll be highlighting stories of farmers and their conservation practices – why they do them, and how they have impacted their farm.

Schmitt Family Farm (Riverhead, NY, Long Island)

Phil Schmitt's family has grown vegetables on Long Island for over 150 years, spending the last four decades on their 250-acre farm in Riverhead. Their soil is a sandy loam, a common type for Long Island's East End, but is fairly heavy. This proved problematic as the farm grew. Learn about the conservation practices Phil used to solve this problem, and how they impacted his bottom line with an economic case study AFT and CCE Suffolk developed with a former USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service economist. 

Read the full story or download the economic case study.

Pedersen Farms (Seneca Castle, NY, Great Lakes)

Rick Pedersen has always liked growing stuff. That might explain how he came to own a 1,500 acre vegetable farm and hop yard in the Finger Lakes region of the Great Lakes watershed. But it wasn't always easy. Improving the health of the farm's soil has taken Rick on a journey of learning the needs of each of his fields and protecting the waters that surround them.

Read the full story or download the PDF version.

MKZ Farms (Jamesport, NY, Long Island)

The 100 acres Mark Zaweski and his wife Emilie farm on Long Island's East End will always be farmland. Mark chose to protect his land with a conservation easement almost 20 years ago. On top of that, he's taken steps to steward the land with conservation practices that help build soil health and protect water quality.

Read the full story or download the PDF version.

Dueppengiesser Dairy (Wyoming County, NY, Great Lakes)

Brothers Mike and Peter Dueppengiesser own and operate a 2,000 acre dairy farm in Wyoming County, NY. They milk over 1,000 cows and manage 20 full-time employees. Despite the farm's size, the Dueppengiessers are living proof that having more land doesn't mean the farmers care any less about each acre of it.

Read the full story or download the PDF version.

Related Reports