Conservation, forestry and wildlife control have all taken huge hits in Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s reductions to the state budget.
The governor’s fiscal year 2018 budget appropriated just $7.6 million for the best management practices cost-share program that helps farmers pay for voluntary conservation practices to help the state achieve its water quality goals. “This is dramatically short of the $100 million needed, and Farm Bureau will be asking the General Assembly to look at sources of funding to keep the program moving forward,” said Martha Moore, vice president of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
She explained that Virginia is under a court order to meet specific water quality goals by 2025. Farmers have been voluntarily using costly conservation practices for years, and the state’s cost-share program helps fund them. Additionally, farmers receive technical assistance from their local soil and water conservation districts, which also took a significant hit. Only $1.2 million was earmarked for 47 districts to provide technical assistance to farmers. “This falls short by $6 million of what was provided for this same help in fiscal year 2017,” Moore said.
The only bright side is that the governor retained level funding for operational support for the SWCDs.
Other budget cut areas of concern to farmers are related to wildlife damage control and reforestation.
The governor’s budget eliminated the state’s matching portion of a program that provides assistance to farmers whose livestock have been killed by coyotes or black vultures. Virginia farmers incur an estimated $2 million annually just from coyote losses, Moore said. Current wildlife services “only help a fraction of the farmers who need assistance in dealing with these wildlife predators. Farm Bureau will be asking the General Assembly to restore all of this funding to save this vital program for farmers.”
Additionally, more than $300,000 was eliminated from the Department of Forestry. That cut is from an incentive program that helps landowners with the cost of replanting harvested tracts with pine. “Raising pine timber is a 20-year investment and without incentive programs, landowners could choose to plant houses instead of trees,” Moore said.
All of the cuts could have a “drastic economic impact on the largest industry in the commonwealth,” she explained. In previous years, the General Assembly was able to allocate some money from the general and reserve funds to help with agricultural programs.