A renewed push to pursue the mandated clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay known as the “Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load Watershed Implementation Plan” has led to record funding approved for conservation program assistance for farmers in the commonwealth.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and the General Assembly have approved a package of $73 million to help farmers install practices to protect soil and water resources statewide.
These funds are allocated to local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, which in turn provide assistance locally to farmers through the Virginia Agricultural Best Management Practices Cost Share and Tax Credit Program.
Here in Loudoun, the Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District will build on over 30 years of implementing the statewide program to assist farmers in putting conservation “on the ground.”
“Conservation districts serve as the front line, the boots on the ground, when it comes to implementing agricultural best management practices,” said Kendall Tyree, executive director of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. “Having the adequate resources to accomplish that task is critical to their success.”
Jay Frankenfield, the Loudoun district's conservation specialist commented, “Stream exclusion fencing and water troughs for livestock have been the most popular practices. We can also offer a maintenance payment for existing stream side fences, and funds for planting cover crops and converting cropland to permanent grass. Vineyards can take advantage of funding for chemical handling buildings.”
Once installed, the stream fencing, watering troughs, and cover crops will help reduce nutrient and sediment pollution entering Loudoun’s streams, and in turn the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, which help stop algae blooms, sedimentation, and the related “dead zones” that can kill crabs, oysters, and other aquatic life in the bay. This has obvious environmental and tourism benefits, but also helps support Virginia and Maryland’s critical seafood industries.
In addition to the high levels of funding, the program year also includes new options for producers that can once again bring the level of assistance in installing conservation practices to 100 percent of installation costs.
These include varying widths of buffer between the stream and livestock fencing, from 10 feet to 50 feet, and varying lifespans – from five to 15 years. This gives producers more options that are best tailored to their production model and operation.
“The assistance to farmers in areas like Loudoun where development pressure is high is particularly critical to keeping farms in production and providing crucial environmental services in cleaning up our streams, rivers and the bay,” said Tyree.
For more information on program specifics or to learn how to apply for funds, visit LSWCD.org or call Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District at 571-918-4530.
Chris Van Vlack is a conservationist with the Loudoun County Soil and Water Conservation District and the president of the Loudoun County Farm Bureau.