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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

New York: Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III

Begin Page Links Story 1  |  Story 2  |  State Water Quality Site Exit EPA Disclaimer  End Page Links Story Separation Bar Keuka Lake Watershed:
Grape Growers Implement Soil Conservation Practices

Lester Travis
District Manager
Yates County Soil and Water Conservation District
110 Court Street
Penn Yan, NY 14527
Primary Sources of Pollution:

agriculture (animal operations, vineyards, croplands)
Primary NPS Pollutants:


Project Activities:

revised fertilizer and pesticide management practices

diversion ditches

buffer strips

alternative vineyard layout

reduced erosion

increased crop yields

decreased applications of nutrients and pesticides

The Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) Program has put New York State in the forefront of a national effort to help farmers identify and address agricultural nonpoint source pollution. New York's AEM Program is a statewide voluntary, incentive-based program. It provides cost-sharing and educational/technical assistance for the development and implementation of agricultural plans that enable farmers to remain good stewards of the land, maintain economic viability of the farm operation, and comply with federal, state, and local regulations relating to water quality and other environmental concerns. (Refer to special feature section on Innovative State Programs for more information on New York's AEM Program.)

The New York Department of Agriculture and Markets selected Keuka Lake as a pilot watershed to test some of the new Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) concepts developed under "Whole Farm Planning" efforts under way elsewhere in the state. Keuka Lake is an outstanding natural and cultural resource, as well as a primary drinking water source for more than 20,000 people. The surrounding watershed, encompassing 99,700 acres of land that drains into the lake, supports a diverse and thriving agricultural community of about 34,000 acres of dairy/livestock, vegetable/cash crops, grapes, and fruit trees. Vineyards occupy one-quarter of this acreage. Grape production in the Finger Lakes area directly contributes $15 million per year to the regional economy, and associated services and tourism contribute even more to the local economy.

Soil and water conservation practices for vineyards

Grape growers have a history of good land stewardship and recognize the benefits of conservation practices for both environmental and economic reasons. Through the AEM program, grape growers are implementing a number of soil conservation practices to prevent contamination of lake water by soil, fertilizers, and pesticide residues. Diversion ditches are being constructed to collect water from slopes and divert it away from the vineyards and into natural drainageways; buffer strips are being added around the perimeters of vineyards; and alternative vineyard planting layouts and vineyard floor management options (including no-till seeding of row middles) are being implemented.

Grape growers are also adjusting their fertilizer and pesticide application practices through the AEM program. Practices used to manage fertilizer use with grapes include soil and petiole (stem) tests (to avoid deficiencies and excesses of nutrients needed for efficient production) and split nitrogen applications (with revised timing periods for fertilizer applications). Growers are also using a variety of techniques under the umbrella of Integrated Pest Management to efficiently use pesticides only when they are economically justified: insect scouting is being conducted, resulting in revised spray schedules; disease forecasting is helping to define critical periods for applying fungicides to control diseases; and canopy management, which reduces shading, is resulting in better penetration of spray materials while enhancing the development of desirable flavors that contribute to wine quality.

Promising results

Soil conservation practices are yielding both environmental and economic benefits for grape growers. The construction of diversion ditches is reducing the amount of water running through vineyards by up to 80 percent. Using an alternative vineyard layout—planting vineyards so that the rows run across the slope rather than up and down the slope—is reducing erosion by up to 50 percent. Alternative floor management options, such as applying straw mulch to row middles, can directly increase yields by up to 20 percent on some sites.

Efficient use of fertilizer and pesticide inputs directly improves the bottom line. For a 100-acre vineyard operation, each spray applied to the vineyard represents an investment of $2,000 to $3,000—ample motivation for avoiding "recreational spraying." Revised spraying practices are resulting in documented reductions in the average number of insecticides applied, from three to four per year in the 1980s to an average of 1.3 per year in the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of New York grape growers.

Continued innovation by area growers and researchers will be a key factor in maintaining the economic viability of the industry and protecting soil and water quality in the Keuka Lake watershed.


Begin Page Links Story 1  |  Story 2  | State Water Quality Site Exit EPA Disclaimer   End Page Links Story Separation Bar
Wappingers Creek Watershed:
AEM Program Plays a Vital Role

Ed Hoxsie
Dutchess County Soil and Water Conservation District
ed@nymillbroo. fsc.usda.gov Primary Sources of Pollution:

agriculture (animal operations, vineyards, croplands)
Primary NPS Pollutants:


Project Activities:

nutrient management practices

Integrated Pest Management

riparian protection on 3,000 acres

In 1996 the Dutchess County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) took the lead in organizing partners at the local level to initiate the AEM process in the Wappingers Creek watershed. Contained entirely within Dutchess County, the Wappingers Creek watershed drains 134,900 acres into Wappingers Lake. Some 30,000 acres is agricultural land, consisting of 108 agriculture enterprises, primarily concentrated in the northern portion of the watershed. A broad diversity of agriculture is represented, ranging from traditional animal operations to vineyards and specialty cash crops.

All 108 agricultural operations in the watershed elected to participate in the AEM Program. The process involves farm inventory and assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation. An array of nutrient management practices were implemented on more than 3,000 acres of agricultural land, covering a diversity of operations including crop farms, horse operations, and tree farms. Strip cropping techniques, in which alternating strips of different crops are planted in the same field, were used to minimize wind and water erosion.

Soil and manure were tested to assess the nutrient levels so that proper application rates could be determined. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Conservation Reserve Program, fences and alternative watering systems were constructed to eliminate cattle's access to surface waters. Stream crossings were constructed to prevent damage to the water body from equipment and cattle, and rotational grazing systems were tested. Integrated Pest Management practices were used, providing the dual benefits of reducing production costs and increasing environmental protection.


Peter Coon prepares to power up the primary pumping station to the farm's new waste storage facility.

Of the 38 farms reaching the planning level, 50 percent have completed implementation of best management practices, resulting in a significant reduction in agriculture-related nonpoint source pollution entering Wappingers Creek. The AEM process has provided an inventory that has enhanced the Dutchess County Farmland Protection Program, helping to preserve agricultural enterprises in the headwaters of the creek.

Keeping farms viable is important for the environmental health of the watershed. As development pressure increases in Dutchess County, the AEM Program continues to play a vital role in maintaining the county's agricultural heritage.


Winner of the 2000 Environmental Stewardship Award, the Coon brothers' farm was one of the first in the state to participate in the AEM Program.

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