Farm regulation and conservation practices are nothing new

RICHMOND—A bill in the U.S. Senate purports to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by regulating farming and other land uses in the bay’s six-state watershed.

Virginia farmers are calling it overkill.

"What the average person might not realize is that farmers in Virginia are already regulated with regard to activities that could affect water quality," said Wayne F. Pryor, president of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. "Regulation is particularly stringent east of Interstate 95, where farms are closer to the bay and row crop production is most prevalent."

Even without regulation, Pryor noted, "there is the shared belief that protecting water quality is simply part of responsible farming and good citizenship."

In some instances producers have had additional incentives. No-till planting requires less diesel fuel while preventing erosion, and careful management of fertilizer use prevents waste.

Those practices and others—from planting buffer strips of vegetation between cropland and waterways to building state-of-the-art manure storage facilities—all cost money. In some cases, farmers have had access to state and federal cost-share funds to supplement what they could pay. In others, they have made improvements at their own expense. Some practices were implemented to comply with government regulations, while others were voluntary.

Consequently, no comprehensive statistics are available from any government agency regarding Virginia farmers’ use of conservation practices or what they have cost.

Farm Bureau producer members statewide are contacting Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb and Virginia’s Congressional delegation to oppose the Senate Bill 1816, the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2010, because they say it is based on limited information about existing conservation practices.

The bill would give the Environmental Protection Agency unprecedented authority to regulate farm activities and to override bay states’ regulatory authority under the Clean Water Act.

That stands to further burden an already-stressed industry—"the very farmers who have done more than anyone else in the past decade to reduce nutrient and sediment loading in the bay," said Don Parrish, senior director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. That organization is opposing S. 1816 because the EPA has identified it as a model for regulatory actions in other parts of the United States.

"If this bill passes, EPA will just be getting its feet wet in the Chesapeake Bay," Parrish said. "Then it will be on to the Gulf of Mexico and the 31-state Mississippi River watershed, the Great Lakes and beyond. Ultimately, all states—and thousands of farmers and ranchers—would find themselves drowning in new regulations and permit requirements."

For nearly a quarter of a century, Virginia has awarded Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Farm Awards and, for farms not in the bay’s watershed, Virginia Clean Water Farm Awards. More than 1,100 farm families have received those honors, and many can be identified by a commemorative sign at their property entrances.

Contact Wilmer Stoneman, VFBF associate director of governmental relations, at 804-290-1024.

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