Farm Bureau Continues to Advocate for Funding for Conservation Practices



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.

From previous deposits, DCR reports that a little over $21.7 million will be made available for agriculture conservation practices in fiscal year 2013 (FY 2013) which begins July 1, 2012 and $14.4 million in fiscal year 2014 (FY 2014) which begins July 1, 2013. This is a decrease in funding from the funds available in fiscal year 2012. In addition, the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) operational and technical assistance funding was cut by $2.046 million.

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.

Farm Bureau concerned about AgBMP Cost Share Funding

Creek crossover for cattle

Farm Bureau has raised concerns about the cuts to the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The Governor’s budget cut $2.046 million of support for operations and technical assistance distributed to the 47 local Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

This concerns Farm Bureau because of the water quality goals contained in the Watershed Implementation Plan for the Chesapeake Bay that apply to agriculture hinges on implementation of conservation practices by farmers. Local Soil and Water Conservation Districts are the “hands on the ground” in working with farmers in implementing voluntary and cost-shared conservation practices. Without a strong local delivery and reporting system, farmers may not be able to achieve the goals set forth that are applicable to agriculture.

Farm Bureau is encouraging its members to ask the members of the Virginia General Assembly to restore these funds and look at adequate and stable funding for this local delivery system.

Farm Bureau has also raised concerns about the funding available for farmers for implementation of agriculture best management cost share practices. While Farm Bureau appreciates the infusion of funding in the 2011 General Assembly, this infusion is not consistent for the next two fiscal years. Farm Bureau is awaiting the Secretary of Natural Resources Ag BMP Cost Share Needs Assessment analysis. Farm Bureau believes this analysis will show that this conservation practices cost share program will not be funded at a level in order to allow farmers to meet the water quality goals.

VFBF News Leads: State begins tracking owner-financed farm conservation practices

*News Leads are the weekly top agriculture stories written by Farm Bureau’s Communications Department and sent to local newspapers and TV stations around the state as a news release. This story was released on Oct. 13. 

Virginia farmers in six soil and water conservation districts are being urged to participate in a pilot program to collect information about conservation practices they’ve implemented.

“Farmers need to know what’s going on, and they should participate,” said Wilmer Stoneman, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation associate director of governmental relations. “This is a program that is valuable to them. It’s a direct response to Farm Bureau’s complaints that incomplete data is being used by the Environmental Protection Agency to draw up mandatory conservation programs to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

Best management practices are changes farmers and other landowners make to their property to reduce or eliminate soil erosion or contamination of water. They include switching to no-till planting methods, fencing livestock out of waterways, using nutrient-management planning for crop production, and covering manure storage facilities.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation has records only of practices installed using cost-share funds from federal and state conservation programs. Those were the records the EPA used for its Chesapeake Bay computer model in recent years.

“We know that a lot more conservation practices have been installed or are in use on Virginia farms than are on record,” Stoneman said. “They have to be, since there has never been enough cost-share funding to meet the demand for financial assistance. So many farmers paid for these practices out of their own pockets, but they are not being credited in the EPA model.”

In response to that complaint, the 2010 Virginia General Assembly passed a bill requiring the secretary of natural resources to establish a data collection program for voluntarily implemented agriculture and forestry BMPs. Virginia’s 47 soil and water conservation districts are the primary collection agents, and six pilot districts started that work this summer.

The pilot districts are located in and around Bristol, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, the Northern Neck, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. For more information, visit vaswcd.org.