Introduction: Pennsylvania Farm-a-syst Farm Evaluation System

Introduction: Pennsylvania Farm-a-syst Farm Evaluation System
Apr 23, 2021

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Farmstead Evaluation
Eighty percent of Pennsylvania’s rural residents rely on groundwater for their drinking water. Surface water is part of every landscape, from the smallest headwater drainageway to rivers like the Susquehanna that drain into the Chesapeake Bay. Many farmers rely on well water for their farms and homes, and they may also use surface water to supplement the needs of their livestock or to irrigate crops. Some farm areas and activities have the potential to contaminate wells and streams. Key areas and activities where on-farm water contamination occurs include:
  • barnyards and exercise lots
  • milking centers
  • manure storages and stacking areas
  • silage and feed storage areas
  • land application of manure
  • pesticide and fertilizer storage and handling areas
  • petroleum storage areas
  • septic system drainage areas
  • water wells or springs
  • stream corridors
Previous notions that soil and rock layers remove all contaminants from groundwater before it reaches our wells are not necessarily true. The best way to keep contaminants out of well water is to reduce the potential for pollutants to end up in the groundwater. Preventing groundwater contamination is far easier and less expensive than cleaning it up. Once groundwater is polluted, the solutions include treating the water as it is pumped or obtaining water from a new source.
Degradation of surface water quality can affect livestock, fish, water-based recreation, and municipal water systems. Sediment, bacteria, nitrogen, phosphorus, and pesticides are major pollutants that move from farmsteads to drainageways and streams. Responsible management of potential pollutants on farms reduces the possible negative impacts of poor water quality on farm families, neighbors, and livestock.
There are two purposes of the Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst worksheets. The first is to determine which farmsteads are already managed in an environmentally sound way. These farmsteads ensure the protection of surface water and groundwater. The second is to promote awareness of existing site conditions or practices that threaten the quality of groundwater and surface water. After identifying potential contamination sources, it is easier to develop future plans for change that fit the means and needs of individual sites.
The Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst package includes a series of evaluation worksheets. The worksheets can be used individually or together for a more complete evaluation. Pennsylvania Farm-A-Syst worksheets are available to evaluate:
The scoring indicates the potential for contamination based on site conditions and management practices. It does not indicate exactly how much water quality will be affected. Only extensive site investigations can provide such information. 
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