article from The Rappahannock Times
BY G.C. ROSE
Around 75 local farmers gathered in the banquet room of the Tappahannock Essex Volunteer Fire Department in Tappahannock on July 12 for the Middle Peninsula Producer Conference.
The event was sponsored by the Three Rivers Soil & Water Conservation District with attendees from Essex, King and Queen, and King William counties.
Conservation Specialist Waring Baylor and Conservation Coordinator Sarah Cole, both of the Three Rivers Soil & Water Conservation District, reviewed changes to the Whole Farm Approach Cost Share Program.
“The overarching goal of the program is to basically clean-up the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Waring told the gathering. “The goal is to keep nitrogen and phosphorus out of the water.”
The Department of Conservation and Recreation administers the state cost-share program in partnership with Virginia’s 47 soil and water conservation districts. Farmers may receive up to $300,000 in state cost share reimbursement for more than 70 best management practices (BMPs)
Locally, the program benefits producers who successfully execute Cover Crop and Nutrient Management BMPs.
Under the “whole farm approach,” a producer only has to submit one cost-share application to cover all of the nutrient management practices, or all the cover crop practices, established on as much acreage as desired. This year’s application deadline is August 16.
“You must have five contiguous acres to be eligible, and the BMPs (best management practices) are for agricultural lands only,” Baylor explained. “You must have $1,000 of annual income to qualify for our program.”
Baylor noted that a record amount of funding has been allocated locally for the program in fiscal year 2024, to the tune of $$6,189,189. Last year, $4.4 million was allocated to the Three Rivers Soil & Water Conservation District.
“This will allow us to fully-fund everything you all signed up for,” Baylor told the producers. “We didn’t get the money until June, but now we should get the checks rolling.”
Baylor also noted that Three Rivers Soil & Water Conservation officials have thus far met with about 20 percent of the 115 producers it services.
Cole, meanwhile, voiced the importance of producers filing nutrient management plans.
“You cost-share payment is dependent on your nutrient management plan,” she cautioned. “If it is not in the plan you are not getting paid for it. So, if you make any changes between sign-up and when you report, let us know. “
She also noted that Cover Crop changes must be reported to her office by December 15.
“If you have it in the ground, let me know,” she said.
Moreover, she noted that no nutrients can be applied between fall harvests and March 1.
“Don’t feed any crop anything— including sludge—until after March 1,” she said.
“The amount of money you guys are getting to do these things is up there,” said Robert T. Bland, the chair of the Three Rivers Soil & Water Conservation District’s Board of Directors. “To make Waring’s and Sarah’s job easier, get this information right the first time.”
The producers also heard from Cameron Bermand, a National Resources Conservation Services soil scientist, who reviewed wetland conservation compliance.
Bermand noted that goals of wetland conservation include reduction of soil loss, ensure long-term potential to produce food fiber, clean-up water, and make sure wetlands that still exist maintain their values, functions, and acreage.
He said his review of wetlands issues involve only agriculture purposes.
Also on hand was James Gibson of Virginia State University’s Small Farm Outreach Program. The VSU Small Farm Outreach Program received funding in 2018 from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to begin building the Virginia Small Farm Resource Center (SFRC), a web-based clearinghouse for information, resources and news, that can improve the profitability and sustainability of the state’s small and beginning farmers.
Gibson detailed some of the program’s offerings: mobile education unit; fully-automated high tunnel production system; drone technology; small ruminant mobile processing unit; and The Cattle Project.
The evening’s presentations closed with Jim Wallace, the district manager of the Colonial Soil & Water Conservation District, and Robert Waring, a precision agriculture nutrient management specialist with the Department of Conservation and Recreation, leading a discussion regarding Cover Crop challenges.
Cover Crops are planted to protect and enrich soil. Adding them to crop rotations improves soil health by rebuilding organic matter and supporting a strong microbial community.
“If we are going to promote Cover Crops because they are good for the soils and water quality, then we may be offer how to mitigate some of the challenges that come along with these Cover Crops,” Waring stated.
“One of the most cost-effective ways to spend our money is through the Cover Crop program,” Wallace said.