Farmers want to collaborate on conservation
For years, Virginia’s farmers, conservation groups and soil and water conservation districts have worked together to address conservation practices on Virginia farms. Among those practices are fencing livestock out of waterways and developing nutrient management plans.
Barriers have included a lack of adequate cost-share funding and a lack of funding for soil and water conservation districts to provide adequate technical assistance.
Sadly, neither of those concerns are addressed in SB 704 and HB 1422. Both bills mandate specific practices by 2026. They read like attempts to cut cost-share funding. Farmers like myself are left to wonder why state agencies would invest time and resources to work on solutions, only to enact strict regulatory control. So much for partnership and collaboration.
Practices like stream exclusion fencing and nutrient management plans are proven to work, but the potential effects of SB 704 and HB 1422 are kind of nebulous. They would require farmers to make significant financial commitments, under compliance rules that are not well-defined and could change at any time before the 2025 deadline.
Most importantly, these bills do not include language indicating an obligation to fund conservation practices between now and 2025. They only indicate the state will “seek funding,” but not that it will fulfill those obligations.
When cost-share funding has been available, Virginia’s farms have stepped up to voluntarily implement conservation practices. Rather than supporting their efforts, these bills create additional bureaucracies at the state level. They also completely ignore the fact that, due to trade disputes and rising inputs, many farmers are struggling to keep afloat.
Virginia’s farmers are committed to water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and in our communities. We encourage lawmakers to take a pause and figure out how to partner with them to get to these goals instead of using a heavy hammer to impose them.