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Control Runoff From Your Farm – or Else

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Learn how to control water runoff from your farm, or the government will force you to make changes in your business. That’s one message resonating from the latest battle over runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. The same regulations bay area farmers may face could be visited on other U.S. farms.



An article in the Virginia Farm Bureau’s January, 2010 magazine claims, “If new legislation to authorize the Chesapeake Bay program is passed, it poses a threat to the long-term survival of many Virginia farms.” The article goes on to claim that if you have a small farm, it will be almost impossible to expand; producers will have to fence their livestock out of streams. It is estimated, according to the article, the average farmer with livestock would have to spend approximately $100,000 to fence their farm.



Renewed commitment


What is causing this concern by the Virginia Farm Bureau? It is an Executive Order issued by President Obama on May 12, 2009, where he is requiring a renewed federal commitment to control all sources of pollution that run into the Chesapeake Bay. This means runoff from farms. It is also another attack on the agricultural stormwater runoff exemption set forth in the Clean Water Act.



An article in the February 2009 Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay Journal states, “Agriculture is responsible for the largest share of sediment and nutrient pollution which makes its way to the Chesapeake and any hope of meeting water quality goals depends heavily on the ability to ratchet up implementation of best Management Practices, or BMPs, on the 87,000 farms in the watershed.”



These actions for the Chesapeake Bay should serve as a warning to all of us in production agriculture as to what is coming in terms of controlling runoff from our tillage or animal production operations.



I have written before that a federal court Consent Order in Florida will require the setting of limitations on runoff from our farms. Two substances are targeted for control. Nitrogen and phosphorous are considered the main contributors to poor water quality, not only in the Chesapeake Bay but in any number of water bodies around this country.



You can expect to see similar proposals in your state if you have water bodies which are not meeting water quality standards. By the end of 2011 Virginia, for example, would be expected to reduce its nitrogen runoff into the Chesapeake Bay by 3.39 million pounds, and reduce phosphorus runoff by 470,000 pounds. To achieve these goals, the following will be required: 119,000 acres of cover crops planted; 12,500 acres of reforestation; 9,000 acres of stormwater management controls; 10,000 acres of forest buffers; 258,000 new acres of nutrient management control; 13,000 feet of agricultural stream restoration; 233,000 pounds of wastewater nitrogen reductions; and 126,000 pounds of wastewater phosphorus reductions.



It is estimated these actions will cost either the taxpayers or producers $1.2 billion.



Other states such as Pennsylvania would be required to plant 175,000 acres of late planted cover crops, and haul 56,000 tons of poultry litter out of the watershed. New York and West Virginia, to reach their goals, would require their farmers to have thousands of acres allotted for rotational grazing and both states would require thousands of acres to be fenced to protect water quality.



Old computer models


All of these requirements would be imposed based on old computer models. It is believed that when the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Model is published this summer, it will show even more nutrient reductions will be needed from agriculture.



The goal of the President’s Executive Order is to reduce nitrogen, which is estimated to be 259.4 million pounds per year entering the bay, to 175 million pounds per year.



After reading these numbers, proposed requirements and the President’s goal, you can see why the Virginia Farm Bureau members might think that President Obama’s expansion of federal authority over water runoff from farms might lead some in Virginia to believe the survival of family farms is at stake in the Commonwealth.



Though his column does not explicitly address Virginia, Gary Baise, a Virginia resident and nationally recognized agricultural and environmental expert offers critical insight into issues that impact our state’s agricultural economy. Reprinted with permission from

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