Bill is bad for bay-state farms, communities, Farm Bureau says

RICHMOND—Virginia’s largest farm organization is continuing its opposition to Chesapeake Bay legislation it says threatens the viability of agriculture—and communities in general—in six states.

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation is encouraging its producer members to let their U.S. representatives and senators know their concerns about Senate Bill 1816, the proposed Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2010.

Farm Bureau contends that the bill takes a flawed approach toward bay restoration by disregarding economic and social considerations of communities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. SB 1816 would grant the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unprecedented authority over states to set any regulations that will directly influence land use, to second-guess state decisions, and to override state enforcement efforts.

"Regulation on top of regulation does not lead to a cleaner bay," said Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations. "This scenario simply leads us to unrealized goals and broken promises, the very thing the bill is attempting to address."

That’s a concern, he said, because "the federal government doesn’t have any more money than the state government, than the local government or you and I, to do a lot of new programs and new practices. They’re pushing from top down, and pushing us toward something that we’re already doing. Farmers are doing these things in voluntary measures and in compliance with state regulations that are three times more restrictive than anything EPA can come up with."

In a June 29 letter to members of the Senate Committee on Environmental and Public Works, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said that allowing the federal government to mandate environmental practices "will only push more farmers and ranchers from the land" in a region where agriculture already is waning.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly 14 percent of tillable farmland and 20 percent of all agricultural land in bay states was converted to another use between 1987 and 2007. During that same time period, the bay watershed lost 41 percent of its farms.

Farm Bureau also contends that the bill is based on a flawed computer model that does not take into account many practices farmers have put in place to protect water quality.

"They’re willing to do their part, in fact are doing their part," Stoneman said. "Farmers are implementing voluntary best management practices across the state in record numbers. We’ve got regulations on livestock operations. We’ve got local government regulations that require buffer strips next to streams for fields. Farmers have to do nutrient management plans. They’ve got to do soil conservation plans.

"And so farmers are a little frustrated that they just really haven’t been given credit for what they have done."

Contact Stoneman at 804-290-1024.

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