|The Harvesters (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
(WEYERS CAVE) – Governor Terry McAuliffe today joined Virginia agricultural and conservation leaders in endorsing and promoting the state’s new agricultural Resource Management Plan (RMP) program. The program encourages farmers to increase their use of conservation best management practices while providing the agricultural community quantifiable credit for the practices they already have in place.
“This voluntary program makes sense for farmers and for Virginia’s ongoing push to keep the Chesapeake and surrounding waters clean,” said Governor McAuliffe. “ My administration has worked closely with agricultural and conservation groups to develop a program that is a ‘win’ for all those involved by promoting best conservation practices, while also better tracking the programs that farmers already have in place. Building a new Virginia economy means growing key industries like agriculture while protecting the natural assets that are essential to Virginians’ health and quality of life. I want to thank the agricultural and conservation groups that have come together on this important new plan.”
The Governor touted the new program at Cave View Farm in Weyers Cave alongside First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Natural Resources Secretary Molly Ward, Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Todd Haymore. They were also joined by representatives from the Virginia Farm Bureau; the Virginia Agribusiness Council; the Virginia Dairymen’s Association; the Virginia Cattlemen Association; the Virginia Poultry Federation; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation; and the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Delegate Ed Scott (Madison) and Senator Emmett Hanger (Augusta), the Patrons of the legislation creating the program, and Delegate Steve Landes (Augusta) also joined the Governor in endorsing RMPs.
“The Resource Management Program will be a critical part of our efforts to protect and restore our rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Secretary Ward. “I am pleased how the partnership between our natural resource agencies and the agricultural community is working to make this program a success. Virginia’s waters and farms will both benefit.”
“Virginia growers have a reputation of producing some of the highest quality agricultural commodities in the world and they rely on healthy lands and clean water to do so,” said Secretary Haymore. “They also have a reputation of being good stewards of these precious natural resources, so I expect that we’ll see our growers utilizing fully the RMP program and getting full credit for the conservation practices they are using now and will be using in the future.”
The program, which was approved in the 2011 General Assembly session, encourages farmers to have a private sector RMP developer create a plan for their farm or any portion of it. The plan will incorporate the property’s current stream buffer, soil conservation, nutrient management and stream exclusion practices and recommend other practices needed. Once the plan is approved and implemented, the property is deemed to be in compliance with state nutrient and sediment water quality standards. This certainty remains in place during the plan’s nine-year lifespan. Virginia is the nation’s fifth state, and the first in the Chesapeake Bay region, with an agricultural certainty program.
“The idea behind the RMP was to advance water quality improvement and at the same time provide farmers an opportunity for some regulatory assurance,” said Delegate Ed Scott (R-Culpeper), a patron of the legislation. “We’ve got farmers who have put literally thousands of best management practices on the ground, through this process we’ll give them credit for those practices and help identify other practices available to make further progress on water quality goals.”
RMPs can assist farmers in becoming more efficient and profitable by helping them use fertilizers more wisely, increasing yields and improving livestock health, safety and productivity. The certainty afforded to farmers with an RMP plan will also provide them greater confidence as they plan for investments in their operations going forward. Knowing that investments made now in protecting water quality will afford safe harbor over the nine year life of the plan will make it easier to invest in additional production activities, giving farms greater opportunities at revenue and profitability.
“I am pleased to join in the roll out of this program after my colleagues and I in the General Assembly approved this program with support from the agricultural and environmental community,”said Delegate Steve Landes (R-Augusta). “As we continue to promote the agriculture and forestry industries in Virginia, we know that a commitment to our conservation practices will reap economic benefits as well.”
In addition to encouraging farmers to implement practices to receive the certainty, the program willdocument practices in use, providing verified data to validate the agricultural sector’s level of conservation implementation. Better tracking of agricultural conservation practices through the use of resource management plans will also provide decision makers more accurate data when determining future funding needs for cost-share and other incentive programs.
“Resource management plans can provide many benefits to make our region’s farms more efficient and profitable while crediting our farmers for their stewardship of Virginia’s natural resources,” said Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta County). “Protecting our farms and our natural resources are one in the same, and Virginia benefits from having so many united public and private partners on this effort.”
Money is available through the Virginia Agricultural Cost Share program to fund both the development and implementation of RMPs and the practices needed to complete one. Farmers can work directly with RMP developers to apply for development of a plan on their property. DCR is currently working to expand the number of developers available to farmers and is accepting applications for certified resource management plan developers.
For more information on resource management plans, farm operators can contact their local soil and water conservation district or go to DCR’s website at www.dcr.virginia.gov and click on “Soil and Water.”