If it hadn’t been for state cost-share money, Ronnie Nuckols said, he wouldn’t have been able to install 14 fences to keep his cattle out of streams.
Nuckols, who farms in Goochland County, is one of countless Virginia farmers who are doing their part to protect the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways by using environment-friendly farming practices. Those systems can be costly, and Virginia farmers stand to lose the financial help they’ve been getting from the state coffers.
Nuckols’ fences keep his animals out of the water and protect stream banks, and they allow him to manage the herd with rotational grazing, which replenishes farmland.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s 2018 budget appropriates only $7.6 million for the best management practices cost-share program that helps farmers pay for voluntary conservation practices. “This is dramatically short of the $100 million needed, and Farm Bureau is 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 facing state and federal expectations 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 this year. 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 noted.
“We need to keep a constant funding stream going,” Nuckols said.
Farm Bureau is working with legislators on three different budget amendments to do that.
One amendment, sponsored by Dels. R. Steven Landes, R-Verona, and John M. O’Bannon III, R-Richmond, and Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-Mt. Solon, asks that $8.27 million be taken from the Water Quality Improvement Fund, which was created to provide help when surplus funds aren’t sufficient to meet needs. If approved, almost $1 million would be used for technical assistance, and the rest would go to cost-share funding.
The second amendment, sponsored by Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, and Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., R-Clarksville, requests $10 million from the general fund garnered from the recordation tax. Of that, $1.2 million would be for technical assistance and $8.8 million for cost-share funding.
The third amendment, sponsored by Del. Michael J. Webert, R-Marshall, and Sen. Lynwood W. Lewis Jr., D-Accomac, requests $43.43 million from unappropriated balances in the general fund.