New Funding Announced for Reforestation of Timberland and Fire Suppression Programs

RTGovernor Terry McAuliffe announced today that the Virginia Department of Forestry (DOF) will receive increased funding to support two vital forestry programs – the Reforestation of Timberlands (RT) program and the fire suppression program. Investments in both programs solidify Virginia’s commitment to the Virginia forestry industry which contributes more than $17 billion to the Commonwealth’s economy and supports more than 103,000 jobs in Virginia.

“Virginia’s forestry industry supports thousands of good jobs in our rural communities and provides important market opportunities for the Commonwealth’s private forestland owners,” Governor McAuliffe said, speaking at today’s announcement. “Partnering with Delegate Landes and others in the General Assembly, we have secured funding to ensure that Virginia’s forests are sustainable and healthy for years to come. As we continue our efforts to build the new Virginia economy and promote Virginia’s forest products domestically and internationally, it is imperative that we ensure our forestlands are protected, productive and healthy for the future of this vital industry.”

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Virginia Farm Bureau achieves nine out of 11 budget successes

The General Assembly passed a budget on Wednesday, April 18. The next step is for the Governor to review the budget report and offer any amendments or veto the bill. If he signs the bill with no changes then the bill will become law on July 1, 2012.

Virginia Farm Bureau policy was achieved on nine out of 11 on the budget amendments. This brings our final total of successful issues for the General Assembly to 43 out of 51 policy issues.

Where Farm Bureau Policy Prevailed in the State Budget

Coyote Program: $40,000 was added each year of the biennium to bring the funding to a minimum amount of $120,000.

Reforestation of Timberlands Program; Computer Program Needed to Operate RT Program: $130,000 was added each year of the biennium to increase the amount of state matching fund to a total of $557,570. In addition, the General Assembly provided $120,000 each year of the biennium to replace the dysfunctional computer program used to distribute the funds to landowners. This was necessary to keep a functional RT Program.

Soil and Water Conservation District Operational and Technical Assistance Funding: The General Assembly restored $2.046 million for each year of the biennium for district operations. The General Assembly further requested the Secretary of Natural Resources to convene a stakeholder group to develop recommendations for a long-term adequate, consistent and reliable funding formula for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The General Assembly also prohibited the State Soil and Water Conservation Board or Department of Conservation and Recreation from changing any district boundary lines until after the General Assembly had time to respond and act upon the recommendations of the study.

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Both the House and Senate appropriated an additional $500,000 each of the fiscal years for a total of $1 million for the biennium.

Weights and Measures Program: The General Assembly eliminated the per device fee for weights and measures inspections. They added $250,000 for the first year of the biennium to the program to address the $2 million gap that has existed in the program for the last several years.

Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund: The General Assembly maintained the $1 million in funding for each year of the biennium.

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services International Marketing Opportunities: The General Assembly maintained the $260,000 each year of the biennium to support international marketing opportunities for Virginia agriculture and forestry products.

Beehive Grant Program: The General Assembly appropriated $250,000 to support the legislation creating the Beehive Incentive Grant Program.

Strengthening Virginia Cooperative Extension at Local Level

Virginia Farm Bureau believes very strongly that every locality needs at a minimum of one agriculture agent, one 4-H agent and one administrative staff person. Senators Edwards and Hanger and Delegate Sherwood carried budget amendments to help VCE get one step closer towards meeting this goal. The amendments were partially accepted in the proposed versions of the House and Senate budgets that were released this week. Both the House and Senate included $500,000 in each year of the biennium for additional extension agents. This will be part of the ongoing discussions regarding the budget this will be passed by the General Assembly over the next few weeks.

In July 2011, VCE had 179 agents across Virginia. By January 2012, with the funding provided, Virginia Cooperative Extension is projecting to have over 210 agents across Virginia. While this is a huge improvement, there are still vacant positions across Virginia and every locality fails to have at least one agriculture and 4-H agent and one administrative staff person. While the budget amendment will not completely meet Virginia Farm Bureau members’ wishes, we are pleased that the General Assembly’s intentions are clear that they are still willing to continue to work towards this goal by filling a few critical vacancies in many localities across Virginia.

As the front door to the land-grant university system, VCE uses objective, research-based educational programs to lead to more productive lives, families, communities, farms, and forests while enhancing and preserving the quality of the commonwealth’s natural resources. VCE provides every citizen of the state local access to the wealth of knowledge available through our two land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. Recognizing that knowledge is power, Extension uses the resources of the land-grant university system to deliver educational programs through a network of 106 local, county, and city offices; six 4-H Educational Centers; and 11 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers. Extension is funded through the cooperative efforts of local, state and federal governments. In addition, over 40,000 citizen volunteers contribute millions of hours every year helping identify and deliver needs-driven educational programs.

Coyotes lose at the General Assembly

It’s bad news for coyotes this year at the General Assembly.

Both versions of the House and Senate budget restored $40,000 to a cooperative state and federal program to help landowners to learn how to control and abate coyote predation on livestock. This brings the program back to a minimal amount needed to continue.

The coyote population has been escalating based on surveys by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. This is evidenced by a 32 percent increase in the reported sheep predation by coyotes and a 69 percent increase in calf predation by coyotes from FY2010 compared to FY2011.

This program was established in 1990. It is a cooperative service agreement between the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services (WS) established to provide necessary technical and operational assistance in identifying, controlling, and abating coyote predation to livestock. During FY2010, WS provided direct control services to 159 livestock farms in 24 western and southside counties in federal fiscal year (FY) 2010. During this period of time, 348 sheep, 35 calves, and 5 goats were reported and verified killed by coyotes in Virginia on these 159 farms. This level represents a 19 percent increase in reported sheep predation and a 6% increase in reported calf predation over the previous fiscal year. This only represents the number of farmers that were able to receive help. Many other farmers have suffered losses without assistance.

A big thank you should be extended to Delegate Poindexter and Senator Ruff and their General Assembly colleagues for tilting the scale back in the landowner’s favor by keeping tools in place to deal with coyotes’ depredation on the livestock industry.

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.