Earlier this month, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation announced its critical legislative issues for 2014. These are the issues Governmental Relations staff believe will be at the forefront during the next year’s General Assembly. These issues are also discussed at Senatorial District meetings, regional legislative briefings for legislators held across the state during November and December. Each critical issue will be highlighted on Plows and Politics every day this week. If you are a producer member and would like to attend your region’s Senatorial District Meeting, please contact your Field Services Director for dates and locations.
Virginia Farm Bureau is urging legislators to:
- Adequately fund the Agriculture Best Management Practices Cost-Share Program in order for farmers to meet Virginia’s Watershed Implementation Plan goals by 2017 to avoid mandatory agriculture best management practices requirements
- Adequately fund operational support and technical assistance for Soil and Water Conservation Districts to:
- Administer Agriculture Best Management Practices Cost-Share Program
- Assist farmers in developing Resource Management Plans
- Track voluntary agriculture best management practices to help document water quality improvements for input into the Chesapeake Bay computer simulation model
In total, the General Assembly directed evaluation concluded that $51. 7 million is needed in FY15 and $72.6 million in FY16.
Why is it so important to fund Agriculture Best Management Practices and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts?
On October 4, 2013, Virginia Farm Bureau along with other agriculture and forestry groups in Virginia made a direct plea to Governor McDonnell to fully fund the agriculture best management practices cost share program as well as the operational and technical assistance support for the 47 Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Governor McDonnell will unveil the budget for the two years on December 16, 2013. He will need to include $51.7 million for fiscal year 2015 which begins on July 1, 2014 and $72.6 million for fiscal year 2016.
Where might the money come from?
The Commonwealth ended the 2013 fiscal year with $585 million. Most of these dollars are already designated for specific purposes in the Appropriations Act that the Governor signed last spring. Some of the funding obligations include $313.9 million for the Commonwealth’s Rainy Day Fund, $21.7 million to the transportation trust fund as repayment, $34.5 million to cover the state’s obligation resulting from some natural disasters, $22.5 million for the fund to help the Commonwealth deal with federal downsizing. In the designated amounts, the Water Quality Improvement Fund will be given $31.5 million. Because the General Assembly passed a bond measure to assist the waste water treatment plants with their funding last year, the majority of these funds is expected to be allocated to Agriculture Best Management Practices Cost Share. In addition, $9.1 million is anticipated from the fee on the recordation tax that Governor Kaine included in his outgoing budget that remains as a source of funding. It is anticipated that the Agriculture Best Management Practices may get around $35 million from these sources of funding for FY 2015 – it could be more or less depending on the Governor’s actions. While this keeps stability in the program, it falls short of fully funding these needs identified of $51.7 million. We may or may not have a surplus at the end of FY 2014 in order to fund the FY 2016 need other than the $9.1 million in the fee on recordation tax.
If you wonder why it is so important to fund the needed amount?
The reason is that under the Commonwealth’s water quality commitments in the Chesapeake Bay region that it must achieve a 60% reduction in nutrients overall by 2017 or federal sanctions or additional state regulations may need to be enacted as a penalty. Farmers already feel over regulated. The system of the public private incentive based conservation practices can work if the funding is provided. This is why is so important for farmers to continue educating their legislators as to how this program helps them and the Commonwealth achieve its water quality goals.