Over the past two years hundreds of Virginia farmers have taken proactive steps to protect water quality on their land. Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Basil Gooden applauded their efforts Nov. 29 at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s 2016 Annual Convention in Hot Springs. Gooden specifically lauded participants in Virginia’s Resource Management Plan program. “Resource Management Plans are designed to advance water quality improvement and offer regulatory assurance to farmers,” Gooden said. “The RMP program was backed by both conservation and farm groups. And as you know, the Farm Bureau was one of its strongest advocates. I’m pleased that, in two years, we have over 320 plans in place.” The original goal for 2015 was 40 plans. Two hundred seventy-eight plans covering 48,500 acres of farmland were registered in the first year, according to a report by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. To celebrate the program’s success and give recognition to participants, Gooden unveiled a new metal sign that was created with the help of Farm Bureau, DCR and the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Farmers with Resource Management Plans in place will receive the sign to display on their property. The RMP program is unique to Virginia. It offers farmers a voluntary way to document and promote the wide variety of soil conservation and environmental best management practices conducted on their farms. Those practices include nutrient management plans, buffer strips, fencing cattle out of streams and no-till farming practices. A number of federal, local and state conservation programs exist, and the RMP program allows farmers to reference them all in one comprehensive plan. Farmers who participate in the program and fully implement conservation practices are exempt from any additional state water quality regulations for a period of nine years. The Farm Bureau convention theme is “Growing for the Greater Good,” and Gooden also highlighted how farmers have been helping grow the state’s economy. With an estimated $70 billion in total impact, the farm and forestry sector is the state’s largest. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has promoted the state’s farm products on several trade trips, and VDACS now has trade representatives in eight parts of the world, including Canada, China, Latin America and the Middle East. “We just got back from an international trade mission to the Pacific Rim, where we opened another agricultural trade office in Singapore,” Gooden said. “What I am keenly interested in is not only increasing our market opportunities here, domestically, within the U.S. and Virginia, but also opening new markets abroad, knowing that 90 percent of our customers are outside of our borders.” Gooden recognized the first two grant recipients of a new Virginia Farm Business Development Program. Designed to help smaller-scale famers and agribusinesses improve their business functions, it awards grants of up to $5,000 to recipients with fewer than 20 employees. Potential uses for the funds include creating a business development plan or preparing a farm succession plan, he said. “You can’t use this $5,000 to buy a new tractor, which many of us would need, but you can use it to expand your Web presence to market your commodities,” Gooden said. Sue Bostic of Joe’s Trees in Craig County and Ben and Shannon Ellis of Essex County are the first two recipients of the development grants. The new program will award up to 30 grants each fiscal year. Applications are accepted on a continual basis, and awards will be made quarterly while funding is available. With 126,000 members in 88 county Farm Bureaus, VFBF is Virginia’s largest farmers’ advocacy group. Farm Bureau is a non-governmental, nonpartisan, voluntary organization committed to supporting Virginia’s agriculture industry and preserving the Virginia way of life. View more convention news as it becomes available at VaFarmBureau.org/NewsVideo/ConventionNewsroom.aspx, or get updates via Twitter (@vafbnews). Contact Greg Hicks, VFBF vice president of communications, at 804-290-1139.