EPA: Chesapeake Bay clean-up progressing in Virginia

Published 3:32 pm Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A 2014-2015 interim report card on efforts by Virginia farmers to reduce pollutants reaching the Chesapeake Bay found producers are “generally on-track for meeting programmatic milestones” in a multi-year effort.

The report, prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “notes that many farmers are taking the steps required to reduce soil erosion and runoff of nitrogen and phosphorous,” said Wilmer Stoneman, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation associate director of governmental relations.

“Farmers have said all along that there’s no quick and easy fix to bay restoration. We’re pleased to hear that we’re on track to make that a reality.”

The Interim Evaluation of Virginia’s 2014-2015 Milestones and WIP Progress was published June 10. WIP stands for watershed implementation plan, a specific set of conservation improvements and benchmarks established for each watershed in the state by the EPA under the overall Chesapeake Bay Program partnership.

Conservation efforts in different sectors are being tracked by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which supplied the numbers to the EPA for evaluation. They include activities related to agriculture, urban and suburban storm water, wastewater treatment plants and nutrient-reduction credit efforts. The EPA found that farmers are currently on track for reaching the overall 2017 target for reducing nitrogen and phosphorus runoff by 60 percent compared to levels measured in 2009.

“Virginia farmers are doing well in implementing best management practices to reduce erosion and pollutants, although the report said additional BMP steps may be needed in the future,” Stoneman said. “It also noted that the state of Virginia has committed or spent almost $25 million in the bay watershed since 2012 to help farmers install fencing to keep cattle out of waterways.

“Farmers are grateful for the assistance, but much more cost-share funding will be needed in order to continue with this good progress. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to fence some properties—money that many producers just don’t have available to spend.”

The report noted that Virginia is expected to have 274 individual farm Resource Management Plans developed by the end of this year, well above the goal of 40 plans. The voluntary RMP program was introduced last year and entails plans developed by professional nutrient management specialists for participating farms.

“Farmers are eager to do their part to clean up the bay under voluntary programs like RMPs,” Stoneman said, “but we need the additional staff and financial resources to carry out these recommendations. And we will continue to ask the General Assembly to fully fund these efforts.”

Recent rains are mixed blessing for grain and produce farmers

Ample rains in the past week have delayed some wheat harvests and soybean planting but generally benefitted row crops and hay.

The July 6 crop progress and condition report prepared by the Virginia field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service noted that weather conditions last week limited field work; “however, most crops were looking good. High temperatures were in the 90s, and lows were in the 50s. Precipitation was up from the previous week with heavy rains.”

The report cited adequate topsoil and subsoil moisture in at least two-thirds of the state and described corn, cotton, wheat, tobacco, hay, apple, wine grape, peanut and peach crops as being in good to excellent condition.

In Rockbridge County, “a week of moderate temperatures and showers with significant rain (last) Tuesday and Sunday nights helped maintain soil moisture to the benefit of row crops, pasture and hay,” reported Thomas Stanley, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources agent.

To the east, in Caroline County, Extension agent Mike Broaddus reported that “abundant” rainfalls “have kept the crops looking very good and doing their best. Some early-season (and) early-planted corn has already had enough rainfall to guarantee a good yield, and it is suspected that this will be a bumper year for all corn producers.”

Farther southeast, in Gloucester County, Extension agent David Moore said rain has created a detrimental effect on the winter wheat harvest and (late) soybean planting. “Haymaking is also on hold. … Cantaloupes, tomatoes, squash, peppers and sweet corn are being picked, and quality is pretty good so far.”

On Virginia’s Eastern Shore, in Northampton County, Extension agent Ursula Deitch noted that the region’s potato harvest has begun and that the wheat harvest is being wrapped up, with some rain-related delays.

Rain kept some farmers out of their fields in Southside as well last week. Lindy Tucker, an Extension agent in Lunenburg County, reported that crops generally are growing well, “but we will have to keep our eyes peeled for disease issues, as it has remained very humid. The corn looks great, the tobacco and beans look good, sorghum is coming along nicely. Pastures are green, as most have been mowed at this point.”

Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, was in agreement that crop conditions are generally good to excellent. “And while some summer crop harvests may be slowed a bit and there may be some disease concerns here or there,” he said, “the weather so far this year is by far better than dealing with extended dry periods and droughts, which we have experienced in the past several years.”

Tobacco remains a top Virginia crop

Virginia flue-cured tobacco production has rebounded from a decade ago, when the generations-old auction system and federal tobacco quotas ended.

In 2005 only about 30,000 acres of flue-cured tobacco was harvested in the Old Dominion, and the crop brought less than $50 million. In 2014 production increased to about 58.8 million pounds of tobacco raised on 23,500 acres, with a value of $121.6 million.

“Right where we are in Mecklenburg County, in the last year of the quota they grew 2,800 acres,” said Jim Jennings, Mecklenburg County Farm Bureau president and a flue-cured tobacco grower. “This year it’s about 4,000 acres.”

Tobacco farming in Virginia “is alive and well. It’s flourishing, and people do really well with it,” Jennings said. “You’ve got more options now with the quota gone. You can use a stronger rotation and be able to use more land opportunities in your area.”

The 2015 crop will be smaller, however, according to officials with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Lower demand on the world market for U.S. leaf has translated to 13 percent less acreage planted this year.

“The current system of growing and raising tobacco is strictly contract,” Jennings said. “You contract with either a tobacco manufacturer or a leaf dealer. You deliver to one of their receiving stations. It’s not like in the old system where there was an auction where you took your tobacco … and you had a group of buyers who came along and it was auctioned off and they bid on it.” Today growers have a better idea of what their income will be each year.

“You know how many pounds you’re going to grow. You know what (buyers’) grading scale is. You know what the prices are for the grading scale that they have,” Jennings said.

He noted that, while the current system makes selling tobacco easier, the standards are much higher than before. Tobacco is Virginia’s 10th largest agricultural commodity in terms of cash receipts.

Farm Bureau video of the week

Pruning a holly bush now can help ensure beautiful berries this winter. Find out more on the Virginia Farm Bureau website at VaFarmBureau.org and Facebook page (facebook.com/VaFarmBureau).

Media: Contact Sherri McKinney, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1148.

Farm Bureau accepting 2015 Journalism Award entries

If you cover Virginia agriculture, don’t miss this opportunity to have your work recognized with one of the 28th annual Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Journalism Awards.

The awards program recognizes exemplary ongoing coverage of agriculture issues, practices and events by print and broadcast news operations.

Guidelines and an entry form are available online at VaFarmBureau.org/NewsVideo/JournalismAwards.aspx, and this year’s entry deadline is 4 p.m. on Sept. 4.

Contact Sara Owens, VFBF special projects coordinator, at 804-290-1133 for more information.