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Hagerstown woman recognized for land conservation

Ann Bowers was the first to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)

Ann Bowers was the first to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)

April 26, 2008|By JANET HEIM

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- When Ann Bowers signed up almost 17 acres of her Broadfording-area farm in 1997 for inclusion in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), she didn't realize she was a pioneer.

It turns out Bowers' enrollment was the first such contract written for the national program in the country.

Bowers was assisted in the process by Colleen Cashell, executive director of the Washington County Farm Service Agency.

A decade later, acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner announced the enrollment of the 1 millionth acre at a Jan. 17 ceremony at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. Bowers attended with Cashell and was honored for signing up the first acre.

"Protecting our natural resources - our soil and water - should be an integral part of every farming operation," Bowers said during her presentation at the ceremony. "I am pleased to play a small part in our national conservation effort, and I feel that my farm, under the CREP program, is having an impact upon the national initiative to enhance conservation. Thank you again for the honor, and I trust that similar programs will continue."

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Aerial photographs of Bowers' property before and after CREP, as well as video detailing the conservation practices in use on the property, were shown. Photos and video of a 60-acre plan in Pipestone County, Minn., recognized as the enrollment that brought the program to the 1 million-acre mark, were shown.

Bowers returned home with an engraved clock and the aerial photographs as mementos.

CREP, a component of USDA's Conservation Reserve Program, is a voluntary land-retirement program that the agency uses to help agricultural producers protect environmentally sensitive land, decrease erosion, restore wildlife habitat and safeguard ground and surface water, according to the USDA's Web site.

The contract period is 10 to 15 years, with possible re-enrollment. Bowers said her CREP land is rented to the federal government during that period.

"What started on one family farm has now become more than 300,000 acres of land protected in the Chesapeake Bay watershed," Conner said at the ceremony, according to a press release.

A goal of CREP was to rally support of farmers to put into place practices that would help the health of local waterways, namely the Chesapeake Bay and state waterways in Maryland.

To accomplish this on Bowers' farm, 4,000 hardwood, walnut, oak and ash trees were planted along Conococheague Creek. A fence and watering system for the livestock were installed to keep them from the creek.

Cashell said these actions reduced the amount of both sediment and nutrients that entered Chesapeake Bay. She said it can take three or four months to put together a CREP contract because it is a multiagency effort.

There are 121 CREP contracts in Washington County protecting a total of 1,054 acres, Cashell said.

Bowers went on to improve the wildlife habitat on her farm by enrolling almost 13 acres of cropland in the Conservation Reserve Program, of which CREP is an offshoot. Native warm-season grasses were planted, and the result has been an increase in wildlife.

Bowers has been helping farm the land, known as Cunningham Acres - Cunningham is Bowers' maiden name - since she was 12. She married Junior Bowers, and they produced mostly sweet corn, cantaloupes and strawberries in Washington County.

They moved back to the family farm in 1994 and built a new home. The couple farmed what property they could, but had difficulty with the wet ground near the creek.

It didn't work well as pasture either because of flooding, so when they heard about the CREP program through a friend at the extension service, they were interested. It also eased some of the work for Ann Bowers, who also works as an X-ray technician at Robinwood Surgery Center, when her husband became ill and after his death in 2005.

Bowers raises potatoes and hay, and maintains a small herd of cattle, goats and sheep.

She is involved with the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, an agricultural organization. Bowers is on the state Grange's executive committee and holds the title "master" at the regional Pomona and local Wacohu Granges.

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