When it comes to water quality protection, Delaware farmers take the job seriously

That’s because Delawareans don’t have much choice when it comes to the source: Groundwater is the only source of drinking water for residents for Sussex, Kent and the southern part of New Castle counties.

Delaware farmer and their families rely on these sources for drinking water, too. That’s why they follow special practices designed to protect the quality and quantity of Delaware’s water.

“As the father of three young boys, it is extremely important to me to make sure that our drinking water is protected and that the wells on our farm – where we get our drinking water and our irrigation water – are safe and clean,” says Jay Baxter, a Georgetown, Del., farmer and chairman of the Delaware Soybean Board. “That’s been my family’s goal since my grandfather began working this land and it’s the legacy I’m leaving to my boys.”

Here are just three ways Delaware farmers protect our waterways:

Nutrient management: Delaware farmers follow a suite of best management practices specially designed for each field that take advantage of the latest research, cutting edge technology and innovations in management. They test their soil, crunch numbers to determine how big of a crop they can reasonably grow, create a written plan and file it with the Delaware Department of Agriculture (DDA). A commission at DDA conducts periodic audits to assure the plans are written correctly, filed timely and followed completely.

Cover Crops: Delaware farmers plant cold-loving crops in the fall to provide a “cover” on the fields during winter. These cover crops have been shown to increase organic matter in the soil and reduce erosion via wind and water. They also take up nutrients from the soil during the winter months to reduce nutrient leaching into groundwater supplies. That’s a good thing, because much of the state’s drinking water is drawn from shallow private wells of less than 75 feet deep.

Irrigation efficiency: More than 125,000 acres of Delaware farmland – over 25 percent of total farmed acres – are irrigated. Irrigation allows farmers to ensure that their crops receive enough water to grow properly, which then allows crops to use all the fertilizer that may have been applied to feed the crops. Too much water can be just as bad as too little: Applying too much water (or experiencing an unexpected heavy rain event) can remove nutrients from fields via runoff or leaching. And applying too much water puts drinking water supplies at risk and drives up farmers’ expenses.

Delaware farmers plant about 180,000 acres of soybeans each year, and the crop generates approximately $60 million in value to the state. Delaware’s agricultural industry contributes about $8 billion per year to the Delaware economy.

The Delaware Soybean Board consists of nine farmer-directors and the Secretary of Agriculture. Funded through a one-half of one percent assessment on the net market value of soybeans at their first point of sale, the checkoff works with partners in the value chain to identify and capture opportunities that increase farmer profit potential. One-half of the soybean checkoff assessments collected by the state boards are forwarded to the United Soybean Board.