Grant Aims to Accelerate Sustainable Aquaculture Farming in Virginia

To help put aquaculture farming on par with its land-based counterparts, the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The grant will allow researchers at the seafood AREC to analyze the economics of incorporating smart farming technologies into shellfish aquaculture. Sustainable farming methods for Virginia oyster, mussel and scallop growers will incorporate technologies like robotics, automation, computer sensing and imaging, and artificial intelligence.

Dr. Jonathan van Senten, an aquaculture extension specialist and assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, will collaborate with the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Louisiana State University, Pacific Shellfish Institute and the Fraunhofer USA Center for Experimental Software Engineering. Collectively, they will analyze the economic viability of the technologies developed by the research team.

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Farm Bureau Urges Resolution of EU Trade Dispute

The European Union’s recent retaliatory tariffs on agricultural goods stand to affect Virginia agriculture, but Virginia Farm Bureau is optimistic the Biden administration can work toward resolving trade tensions.

The EU recently announced it would impose a 25% tariff on several farm commodities and foods. This was in response to the Boeing-Airbus case at the World Trade Organization, a long-standing dispute between the U.S. and EU over government subsidies for civil aircraft production.

This is the latest move in the case dating back to 2006, and many Virginia products are on the list of agricultural goods targeted by the tariff, including tobacco, cotton, peanuts, wheat, seafood and grapes.

“As is frequently the case, U.S. food and agriculture are being dragged into a dispute that they had nothing to do with,” said Ben Rowe, national affairs coordinator for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “By consistently running a surplus, agriculture is a routine bright spot in the U.S. balance of trade. However, this also makes it first on the list in retaliatory tariffs, regardless of the type of goods and services directly related to the dispute.”

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VDACS to Expand Virginia Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine to Include Clarke and Warren Counties

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has announced that the agency’s surveys for the spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) indicate that this invasive pest has become established in Clarke and Warren counties. As a result, Virginia’s Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine will expand in mid-March to include Clarke and Warren counties. Expansion of the quarantine is necessary to slow the spread of this insect pest to un-infested areas of the Commonwealth.

To slow the spread of the spotted lanternfly, businesses in the quarantined area are required to obtain a permit from VDACS and inspect regulated articles to ensure that the articles do not contain any life stage of the spotted lanternfly.

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Botetourt County Provides Extra Aid for Area Farmers

When Botetourt County received Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds to help local small businesses, county officials decided to use some of the money to help area farmers.

That led to the August 2020 creation of the Botetourt County COVID-19 Farm Operation Grant Program, which is similar to the county’s small business grant program. The Botetourt County Board of Supervisors voted to appropriate a portion of the CARES Act money for farmers experiencing losses due to the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every part of our community, and our local farms have felt that impact too,” said the board’s vice chairman, Dr. Richard Bailey, who proposed the farm grant idea. “As a county with a strong agricultural heritage, I am proud that the board is able to support our farmers in this time of need.”

Ken McFadyen, the county’s director of economic development, said Botetourt officials recognized farmers also are operating small businesses, as well as providing food and important resources for the community. Many area farms sought assistance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which county officials used as a qualifier for farmers to apply and receive funds from the farm grant program. It helped offset losses not covered by the FSA grant program.

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Farmers Back Budget Proposal for Increased Agency 229 Funding

Virginia’s farmland acreage has decreased considerably over the past several decades, yet farmers continually find ways to improve production.

According to research conducted by the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, farmed acreage in Virginia dropped 50% from 1949 to 2016, while farming output increased by 33%.

Kyle Sturgis, a Northampton County row crop, vegetable and aquaculture producer, credited the added production to advancements in land management practices and expanded crop variety selections, specifically those developed through Agency 229 research.

“The assistance we get from agency research is phenomenal,” Sturgis said. “They’re looking at variety trials and are telling us which crop varieties did best during their research; that way we can pick the right crops that will produce higher yields on those smaller plots of land and feed a growing population.”

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Survey Will Document Farmers’ Conservation Measures

Data from a new agricultural best management practices survey will help document Virginia farmers’ voluntary soil and water conservation efforts. Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is sending its producer members in the Chesapeake Bay watershed a link to the online survey; producers are asked to complete the survey by March 12.

Farmers in the bay watershed must meet certain nutrient reduction goals by 2025 to avoid mandatory conservation practices. The “Voluntary Agricultural Best Management Practices Inventory” will collect details about voluntary farm practices like planting cover crops, installing stream fencing for livestock, and applying nutrient management plans.

The confidential survey was designed by members of Virginia’s Voluntary Agricultural Best Management Practices Task Force. Virginia Cooperative Extension will integrate verified survey results into the state’s reports to the Environmental Protection Agency for documenting nutrition reduction loads required under Virginia’s Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan.

For more information about the survey, frequently asked questions, or to access the survey link online, please visit https://vaswcd.org/virginia-farm-voluntary-agricultural-bmp-inventory. Participants are asked to submit their responses by March 12, 2021.