|New fence line along a creek on a Lake Anna farm|
For decades farmers have participated in voluntary conservation programs to address water quality on their operations, watersheds, and the Chesapeake Bay. Those practices include nutrient management, no-till, cover crops, buffers, and stream fencing and numerous others. As a result of implementation of these practices, water quality improvements have been recognized and achieved. Virginia has relied on voluntary incentive based conservation practices in partnership with farmers in order to achieve the improvements in water quality. These conservation practices were developed by both federal and state agencies. The funding for these practices is a combination of farmer’s share in conjunction with either state or federal funds. In Virginia, these practices are part of the Agriculture Conservation Best Management Practices Program.
One of the strongest elements of successful implementation of these practices is the technical assistance provided as well as adequate, consistent and reliable funding of the program. Farm Bureau is making the case at the General Assembly that more funding is needed for both.
The funding falls short of the $85 million and $90.4 million that is needed for Virginia to implement agriculture conservation practices to comply with deadline for the Watershed Implementation Plan in the Chesapeake Bay region and TMDL plans in the Southern Rivers region. Senator Hanger and Delegate Landes are carrying several budget amendments to restore $2.046 million for local SWCD, increase funding for both technical assistance and agriculture conservation practices in FY13 by $5.1 million and $25.5 million for FY14 to “ramp up” funding for agriculture conservation practices and technical assistance.
Without this cost-share program, the farmer’s economic situation would prevent their ability to implement many of these practices. More and more farmers apply for participation in these programs than funding or technical assistance is available. This indicates that voluntary incentive based conservation practices can yield the appropriate levels of nutrient reductions if the funding of existing programs meets the true needs of achieving water quality goals.
We hope the General Assembly which has traditionally been very supportive of funding AgBMP Cost Share Program will once again help with passage of these budget amendments. It is necessary to continue “ramping up” funding of this program as well as providing the necessary technical assistance so farmers won’t be left to meet the water quality mandates in 2017 without enough funding.