Ag program encourages best management practices

By Katie Demeria

A new Virginia program will encourage farmers to implement best management practices in order to document ways in which water quality is improving throughout the state.

The resource management plan program began in July, according to coordinator Scott Ambler of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The plans will monitor what best management practices farmers use to increase conservation and help restore better water quality to the Chesapeake Bay.

“The plan came about from the agriculture community wanting to participate in this program through voluntary measures, voluntary participation, and also to demonstrate that there are currently a lot of better management practices being implemented that, outside of the farm, are not known,” he said.

The program came about through lobbying efforts by the agriculture community, including organizations like the Virginia Farm Bureau.

It will allow farmers to set up plans that include such practices as no-till farming or stream fencing, which Ambler said is frequently practiced in the valley to keep cattle out of streams.

Farmers in the area already follow many of these practices. Shenandoah County’s cooperative extension, for example, recently presented a demonstration of better management practices at the county farm.

The impact of cattle on rivers and streams has also been a concern of the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, who has tried to raise awareness in order encourage more stream fencing in the valley.

According to Ambler, the program will allow the state to document when farmers are using those practices to understand how the water quality in the Chesapeake Bay may be improving.

“The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan has various levels of best management practices that are needed to achieve the water quality goals for the bay,” Ambler said.

When the agriculture community got together to figure out how to implement those practices so as to improve the water quality, the potential for harsh regulations became a concern. Voluntary plans, according to Ambler, were considered a positive alternative.

On the farmer’s part, the plans mean certainty, Ambler said.

“A farmer who fully implements their resource management plan will be deemed to be in compliance with any new state requirements,” he said.

Those requirements would likely have to do with the watershed implementation plan, he added. Farmers would have that certainty for a period of nine years after their resource management plans are put in place.

Cost sharing programs are also in place, he added, which help farmers cover the cost of implementing those practices if they have not already. Right now, stream exclusion practices are being funded at 100 percent.

“It makes it easier for farmers,” Ambler said.

The plan is still in its beginning stages, so not too many farmers throughout the state have signed up yet, Ambler said. Right now the department is in the process of certifying program plan writers.

Interested farmers can contact their local soil and water conservation district office at http://lfswcd.org.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com