augusta free press news

Investment in conservation practices to benefit farmers, waterways

Record-high funding for Virginia’s cost-share program for agricultural best management practices will enable more farmers to participate.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s recent announcement of the availability of $73 million to protect water and soil health through farm conservation practices represents the largest-ever investment of state funding in that program.

“Farm Bureau has long supported adequate, stable and reliable funding for cost-share practices, and for flexibility in implementing conservation practices based on site-specific variations,” noted Wayne F. Pryor, president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “We thank the governor and General Assembly for their commitment to implementing voluntary conservation measures by providing adequate cost-share funding and technical assistance to districts.”

Credit: FrankRamspott

The cost-share program is a partnership between the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and Virginia’s 47 soil and water conservation districts. Individuals, partnerships, trusts and other businesses operating farms in Virginia may qualify for cost-share assistance. The program year runs July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020.

Producers may visit their local SWCD offices for information and to apply. Applications are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“Whether growing crops, raising cattle or producing poultry, agricultural best management practices are important tools that can benefit Virginia farms while also helping keep pollution out of our streams and the Chesapeake Bay,” Northam said. “This historic investment is exactly the type of commitment we need to ensure more producers can participate in the commonwealth’s cost-share program to implement conservation practices and continue improving water quality in Virginia.”

Farmers “have always been stewards of the land,” said Martha Moore, VFBF vice president of governmental relations. “This funding gives farmers additional resources to help them implement the conservation practices they want to implement—to help their farms and the state’s waterways.”

For fiscal year 2020, participant caps have been raised to $100,000. This, coupled with a renewed state Agricultural Best Management Practices Loan Program from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, can make the installation of practices more achievable for many farmers. The loan program will offer zero-interest loans and may now authorize up to 100% of loan assistance in the form of principal forgiveness for projects that provide a high water quality benefit.

Virginia’s soil and water conservation districts have administered the cost-share program since its inception in 1984. As of July 1, districts also will receive a record $9.4 million to provide the technical assistance farmers need to implement the program’s practices.

Many program requirements and practice specifications have been modified this year to make participation easier and to get more conservation on the ground. Additionally, more types of practices are available for funding.

augusta free press
augusta free press