Initiative Encourages Virginians to Commit to Soil Conservation

Soil is at the heart of all of Earth’s ecosystems, providing critical resources needed to support plant, animal and human life.

To raise awareness about the importance of soil health, the Virginia Soil Health Coalition is launching the 4 the Soil Awareness Initiative in partnership with Virginia Tech, Virginia Cooperative Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Soil is a fundamental element of all food production, and conserving soil health is crucial to sustaining the food supply for a growing global population. Because of that, the initiative encourages Virginia farmers and landowners to adopt four principles: keep soil covered, minimize soil disturbance, maximize living roots; and energize with diversity.

The project will kick off June 23 in conjunction with National Soil Health Day.

“The really neat thing about the initiative is that it has a lot of pieces and potential audiences,” said Virginia Soil Health Coalition coordinator Mary Sketch. “Right now, it’s targeting soil managers and all of the ways that looks—farmers, technical assistance providers, landowners in general or master gardeners. Meeting those people where they are, and using the initiative to educate and raise awareness, creates a large umbrella that really pulls everyone together.”

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EPA’s Move to Reverse the Navigable Waters Protection Rule Put a New Spin on an Old Threat to Farmers

On June 9, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of the Army (the agencies) announced their intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS), and reverse the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) currently in place. At the same time, the Department of Justice is filing a motion requesting remand of the rule.

This action reflects the agencies’ intent to initiate a rulemaking process to develop a new rule that defines WOTUS and is informed by stakeholder engagement, as well as the experience of implementing the pre-2015 rule, the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, and the Trump-era Navigable Waters Protection Rule. The agencies have stated their new regulatory effort will be guided by the following considerations:

  • Protecting water resources and our communities consistent with the Clean Water Act.
  • The latest science and the effects of climate change on our waters.
  • Emphasizing a rule with a practical implementation approach for state and Tribal partners.
  • Reflecting the experience of and input received from landowners, the agricultural community that fuels and feeds the world, states, Tribes, local governments, community organizations, environmental groups, and disadvantaged communities with environmental justice concerns. 
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Producers with Crop Insurance to Receive Premium Benefit for Cover Crops

Agricultural producers who have coverage under most crop insurance policies are eligible for a premium benefit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) if they planted cover crops during this crop year. The Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP), offered nationally by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), helps farmers maintain their cover crop systems, despite the financial challenges posed by the pandemic.

The PCCP is part of USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative, a bundle of programs to bring financial assistance to farmers, ranchers and producers who felt the impact of COVID-19 market disruptions.

“Cultivating cover crops requires a sustained, long-term investment, and the economic challenges of the pandemic made it financially challenging for many producers to maintain cover crop systems,” said RMA Acting Administrator Richard Flournoy. “Producers use cover crops to improve soil health and gain other agronomic benefits, and this program will reduce producers’ overall premium bill to help ensure producers can continue this climates-smart agricultural practice.”

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Farm Bureau Looking Forward to Working with New Ag Officials

Copenhaver

Brad Copenhaver was named Virginia’s 17th commissioner of agriculture by Gov. Ralph Northam on May 21.

Copenhaver comes to the post after serving as deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry since May 2018. Prior to that he was director of government affairs for the Virginia Agribusiness Council and worked as a legislative correspondent for Rep. H. Morgan Griffith, R-9th.

“From his farming roots to his advocacy on behalf of agriculture, we have had many opportunities to work with Brad and look forward to continuing our collaboration with him as commissioner,” said Wayne F. Pryor, president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “We are confident in his abilities to provide leadership for a number of critical programs that support farmers and agribusinesses in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.”

Copenhaver, a native of Washington County, grew up on his family’s beef cattle and burley tobacco farm. He was a Pamplin Scholar at Virginia Tech, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and agricultural economics. He also holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Washington.

Hertz

Northam also appointed Heidi Hertz as Virginia’s deputy secretary of agriculture and forestry. Hertz previously served as assistant secretary of agriculture and forestry, and prior to joining the Northam administration she held positions in the office of the former first lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth and the Virginia Department of Health.

“We appreciate all of the work that Ms. Hertz has accomplished in connecting farmers and food banks to increase access to healthy food for families facing food insecurity,” Pryor said. “We look forward to working with her as she starts this new role as deputy secretary, and we know that she will be taking on several initiatives to fortify agriculture and forestry as the top industries in Virginia.”

Raised in Lunenburg County, Hertz holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech and a master’s degree from James Madison University.

Virginia Dairy Farmers Help Quench a Need

Milk is a rich resource in Virginia, with 505 dairy farms producing 173 million gallons of milk in 2019.

But not all Virginians have access to milk, so some dairy farmers and food banks have teamed up to help those in need.

“Fluid milk in particular is one of the most requested items by the people we serve, but it’s simultaneously one of the least donated,” explained Eddie Oliver, executive director of the Federation of Virginia Food Banks. “The logistics of milk are just challenging because of shelf life. It’s perishable. It has to move quickly.”

During June Dairy Month, Oliver wanted to highlight the “Milk for Good” campaign, a collaboration of food banks, milk processors and dairy farmers. Launched in 2019 with grants and donations from Farm Credit of the Virginias and The Dairy Alliance, the campaign helps the federation purchase, store and distribute milk.

“We just recently crossed the 200,000 half-gallon threshold,” Oliver noted.

In rural Franklin County, dairy farmer Joanna Shipp and her father, Laird Bowman, sprang into action last spring to help their local food bank, Heavenly Manna, during the pandemic.

“There’s a statistic that says most food pantries give out 1 gallon of milk per person per year, which isn’t very much,” Shipp said.

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EPA Report Finds Agriculture Remains Small Part of Emissions Pie

A recently released “Annual Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report” from the Environmental Protection Agency revealed good news for agriculture.

The report captured emissions for all industries in 2019. U.S. agriculture remains a small slice of the greenhouse emissions pie at just 10.2% overall compared to other economic sectors, including transportation, electricity and industry. That small percentage is attributed to farmers’ conservation efforts.

“We’re actively trying to make our footprint even smaller, converting waste into energy, applying conservation and working lands programs into our everyday cropping systems, and really utilizing the tools at hand to work on things like carbon sequestration,” noted American Farm Bureau Federation economist Shelby Myers.

“And if you look over the last 70 years, U.S. farms have nearly tripled in production, but the amount of resources we put into that, like land, energy and fertilizer, have remained nearly stable,” she added.

AFBF President Zippy Duvall noted that the results of the report show great achievement for agriculture. “When you factor in land management and forestry practices, agriculture boasts net emissions of -2%,” he explained.

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