RD99 - Agricultural Farm Activity and Best Management Practices Implementation Report - March 2013

Executive Summary:
The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) with assistance from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has compiled the following information regarding Virginia’s agricultural industry and their efforts to implement best management practices (BMPs). Some of the data requested for this report are not collected by state agencies at the level of resolution requested and some of the data cannot be disclosed for proprietary reasons. Aside from these limitations, this report was compiled using the best available data on Virginia’s agricultural farm activities and the agricultural best management practices implemented in 2011 and 2012.

Across Virginia more than 47,000 farms span 8.1 million acres. The two main categories of farming operations are crop production and livestock operations. Virginia’s top two localities with the most farms are located in the Shenandoah Valley: Rockingham and Augusta Counties. Rockingham County has 1,440 crop farms on more than 114,500 acres and 1,514 livestock operations on 67,868 acres. Augusta County has the second most agricultural operations with more than 1,200 crop farms on almost 108,000 acres and 1,260 livestock operations on 105,703 acres.

In 2005, Virginia identified a suite of five priority practices to reduce runoff of manure and nutrients from agricultural operations. Based on their cost and capacity to reduce nutrient runoff and protect water quality, those practices are: nutrient management, vegetative buffers, conservation tillage, cover crops, and livestock stream exclusion. Of the available funding for Virginia’s Agricultural Cost-Share Program, 80 percent was at that time directed towards implementing those five key practices statewide.

The most current data available for fiscal year 2012 shows that 1,466 participants received state funding assistance to voluntarily implement these five BMPs (up from 1,353 participants in 2011). Nutrient management was utilized on 111,931 acres (up from 89,442 acres in 2011), cover crops on 89,647 acres (500 acres less than 2011), stream buffers on 601 acres (up from 562 acres in 2011), continuous no-till on 338 acres (remained constant with 2011 levels), and livestock exclusion on 167 miles of streams (up from 131 miles in 2011). These levels of participation are expected to reduce edge of field nitrogen pollution by 4.07 million pounds, phosphorous by 861,333 pounds and sediment by almost 600,000 tons.

These achievements for the five priority practices are notable and help the Commonwealth in meeting its pollution reduction goals. According to the latest agricultural census published in 2007, there are over 3.1 million acres of cropland in Virginia. Those acres that received state financial incentives for the key practices in 2012 make up 3.6 percent of the total cropland acreage for nutrient management, 2.9 percent of the total for cover crops, and 0.01 percent of the total for continuous no-till.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed, which required Virginia to develop a Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) to describe how it plans to meet pollution reduction goals. Virginia must complete 60 percent of the overall implementation plan by 2017, and 100 percent of the plan by 2025. Progress to complete the goals of the WIP in each of the four sectors of pollution (urban stormwater, agriculture, onsite septic systems, and sewage treatment plants) will be measured and reported to EPA through two year milestones, which will be developed by the Commonwealth.

As farmland covers so much acreage in the state, its potential impact on water quality is quite significant. Using the Chesapeake Bay Phase 5.3.0 Model, Virginia estimated the total need for agricultural BMPs based on the amount of nutrient and sediment reductions to be achieved from agricultural lands. Virginia’s Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP I) approved by EPA on December 29, 2010, set a goal for 95 percent of the total cropland acreage in the Bay watershed to implement nutrient management practices (1.29 million acres), 45 percent of the total to use cover crops (264,627 acres), and 60 percent to use continuous no-till (306,962 acres).

In 2012, the next iteration of the Chesapeake Bay model was released, Phase 5.3.2. This model was used for calculating needed BMPs in the next stage of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. Virginia’s Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP II) was submitted to EPA in March of 2012. The WIP II refined the WIP I numbers and raised the goal to 1.16 million acres of cropland in the Bay watershed to implement nutrient management practices, 308,860 acres to use cover crops, and 304,400 acres to use continuous no-till.

The December 7, 2012 report, entitled 2012 Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ Funding Study, from the Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources (2012-RD403), provides additional information on options to calculate funding needs for Virginia’s agricultural BMPs pursuant to the WIP II. The report also presents an in-depth analysis of the process used to determine multiple funding scenarios to meet the 2025 TMDL pollution reduction goals.

Additional information on both point source and nonpoint source efforts to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 is presented in the two recent Chesapeake Bay and Virginia Waters Clean-Up Plan – Progress Reports, January 2012 (2011-RD416) and November 2012 (2012-RD331) from the Secretary of Natural Resources to the Governor and members of the General Assembly. These two comprehensive reports focus on water quality achievements made through the Water Quality Improvement Fund, annual funding options for effective implementation of agricultural BMPs, and progress made towards implementing strategies to clean-up the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s Southern Rivers.