The Chesapeake Bay watershed touches six states and is home to 17 million people and almost 84,000 farms and ranches. Agriculture contributes about $10 billion annually to the region's economy.

Conservation practices have other environmental benefits, such as sequestering carbon and making farms more resilient to extreme weather events linked to climate change.

In order to better target conservation efforts in the region, USDA launched the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, or CBWI, in 2008. USDA targeted CBWI funding to priority watersheds and practices that would have the biggest impact on watershed health.

Due to these efforts, the report highlights a wider acceptance of innovative conservation practices. Notably, some form of erosion control has been adopted on 97 percent of cropland acres in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

While this does not mean all acres are fully treated to address sediment and nutrient losses, it is a positive indication of a willingness by farmers to do their part to help restore the Bay watershed.

Additionally, the report shows an increased use of cover crops by Bay watershed farmers. Since 2006, land with cover crops in a cropping system increased from 12 percent of acres to 52 percent.

Farmers are using a variety of other conservation practices, such as no-till, that help keep nutrients and sediment on fields and out of nearby waterways.

In October, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative expired due to the expiration of the 2008 farm bill, reducing the technical and financial assistance available to bay watershed producers.

The CEAP report is part of USDA's effort to quantify the benefit of conservation efforts on private lands in major watersheds, including the Mississippi River and Great Lakes, as well as the Chesapeake Bay.

The first CEAP report for the Bay was released in 2011 and included data from farmer surveys conducted from 2003 to 2006. Today's release is the first CEAP cropland report to revisit a particular region, and it includes data from an updated farmer survey in 2011.

CEAP reports combine farmer surveys, natural resource information and advanced modeling techniques to assess the effects of conservation practices on cultivated cropland, which account for 10 percent of the land in the Bay watershed.

By comparing losses of sediment and nutrients from cultivated cropland to losses that would be expected if conservation practices weren't used, CEAP reports give science-based insight into the approaches with the most benefits.

The full report, along with a fact sheet, summary and infographic, is available here. Learn more about USDA's Conservation Effects Assessment Project.