Last week in class, we played the Bay Game, which is a simulation on the roles of farmers, developers, policy makers, and watermen have an effect on the health of the Chesapeake Bay. I was assigned to be a cattle beef farmer. Not only was I surprised that there were cattle beef farmers in Virginia, I was also curious to know how the actions of the farmer would have an effect on the health of the bay. After reading about my role on the Bay Game’s website, I learned that the manure from cattle contains high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus from the fertilizer used on the farms. This nitrogen and phosphorus ends up in the Chesapeake Bay through runoff throughout the watershed. The high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus create an imbalance in the bay and effect the health of all of the living organisms in it.
As a beef cattle farmer, I had the ability to choose between conventional and sustainable farming and how to deal with waste treatment.
I think the most surprising experience I had with the Bay Game was my attempt to switch to sustainable cattle farming practices. It took several years after switching to sustainable practices to see results in profits and in nitrogen/phosphorus reduction. This showed me that there can be a significant lag and that it is hard to keep moving in a certain direction without receiving the benefits immediately.
One thing that policy makers can institute to improve the bay health is a policy which requires farms operating at a specific size to use certain sustainable practices on a part of their land. This requirement wouldn’t put a significant burden on the farmers, but it would give them the opportunity to explore the benefits to sustainable practices. I also believe the ability farmers to use both methods of farming in the bay game would allow the players to find a balance between conventional and sustainable methods of farming.