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The Virginia Nutrient Management Leadership Team Releases Report on How to Improve Virginia’s Nutrient Management Program and Encourage More Farmers to Participate. 

RICHMOND, Virginia. –November 3, 2017. From turkeys and grains to fruits and vegetables, fall is a time of year to celebrate the abundance of produce and meats produced by Virginia farmers.

Good yields and farm profits depend on things that farmers can’t control, such as the weather and commodity pricing, as well as things farmers can control, such as how much fertilizer is applied to feed growing crops.  Applying too much fertilizer not only wastes money, but can also increase the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface and groundwater.  Nitrogen and phosphorus are powerful fertilizers for plants that people want (like food crops) as well as plants that cause problems, like overgrowth algae in streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in surface waters (ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and the Bay) fuels algae growth.  Too much algae degrades water quality and ruins habitat for underwater grasses, as well as fish, crabs, and oysters. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus in surface waters comes from many sources, including city storm drains, wastewater plant discharges, air deposition (nitrogen), and farm lands.

Many farmers use nutrient management plans as a decision tool to help determine the right amount of fertilizer to apply.  The goal of these plans is to maximize farm profit by reducing excess nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizer application.  At the same time, nutrient management plans prevent the loss of excess nitrogen and phosphorus to surface and groundwater resources.  Because they provide a triple benefit to farm profits, crop production, and water quality, they are recommended for adoption on virtually all of the farmland in the Chesapeake Bay region (95%) and would likewise benefit water quality in Virginia’s Southside region.

However, while many farmers have adopted nutrient management plans, there is still a long way to go to achieve widespread adoption in Virginia. According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the agency charged with implementing Virginia’s Nutrient Management Program, nutrient management plans have been written for 50% of the hayland and row crop acres statewide, and 75 percent of the hayland and row crop acres in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. That’s great progress.  But why aren’t more farmers participating in Virginia’s Nutrient Management Program?

With support and participation from DCR, the Virginia Nutrient Management Leadership Team (VNMLT), a group of agricultural and conservation organizations, state and federal agencies, supported by land grant university crop and nutrient management specialists, convened in June of 2016 to answer this question. As part of this process, they reached out to 73 farmers and 150 industry experts (including 67 certified nutrient management planners) to seek their feedback. Participants were asked to share their ideas for making the nutrient management planning program a more useful tool for farmers with plans, as well as for ways to encourage more farmers to participate in the program. Participants identified both strengths of the program, and areas where the program could be improved.

Based on this feedback, the VNMLT developed a report titled “Recommendations to Strengthen Nutrient Management Plans on Virginia Farms.” The report includes strategies to improve the usefulness of nutrient management plans for farmers, as well as recommendations to encourage more farmers to voluntarily participate in Virginia’s Nutrient Management Planning Program.  These recommendations include practical suggestions that can be implemented without regulatory changes or changes to Virginia’s Land Grant University guidelines, within a reasonable timeframe.

For the VNMLT report fact sheet, click the link below:

VNMLT Fact Sheet

For the full VNMLT (including the Executive Summary, Full Report, and a Summary of Farmer and Industry Professional Feedback), click the following link:

VMNLT Final Report

VNMLT members represent the following organizations:

Agricultural/Industry Organizations: Virginia Agribusiness Council, Virginia Biosolids Council, Virginia Cattlemen’s Association, Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Grain Producers Association, Virginia Poultry Federation, Virginia State Dairymen’s Association,

Conservation Groups: Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Headwaters LLC, James River Association, James Riverkeeper, Sustainable Chesapeake, Virginia Association of Conservation Districts

State and Federal Agencies: Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Land Grant/State Universities: Virginia Tech

Administration and facilitation of the VNMLT were provide by Sustainable Chesapeake (overall coordination) and the University of Virginia’s Institute for Environmental Negotiation (meeting facilitation and assessment oversight and administration)

Funding for the VNMLT was provided by the Virginia Environmental Endowment, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and The Campbell Foundation.

For more information, contact Kristen H. Evans, Sustainable Chesapeake, 415-730-7503, kristen@susches.org

USDA Awards $4.575 million to Sustainable Chesapeake to Support Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning on Small Dairy Farms in Maryland and Virginia.

1/15/2017 Lancaster Farming: NRCS Funding Targets Small Dairies in Maryland, Virginia

1/5/16 Carroll County Times: Regional Conservation Partnership Program will provide $3.5 million in funding to Maryland dairies.

12/21/16  Today, the  U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Sustainable Chesapeake’s proposal to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program will receive $4.575 million in funding.  Delivered through the Maryland and Virginia Natural Resource Conservation Service offices, these funds will help small dairy producers develop and implement whole-farm nutrient management plans.

Nutrient management planning is a cornerstone of good farm management.  Designed by agronomy and crop fertility experts, nutrient management plans promote robust crop production.  They also protect water quality because farmers that use them minimize over-application of manure and fertilizer nutrients.  When more nutrients are applied than crops can use, that excess can be transported by rainwater to streams and rivers where it fuels algal growth, resulting in poor water quality and degraded habitat.

In addition to working closely with Maryland and Virginia Natural Resources Conservation Service staff to develop the project proposal, the project was made possible because of support provided by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Maryland, both of which offered matching funds through their agricultural cost share programs.

In addition, the following agricultural and conservation partners throughout the project region also supported the project and were critical to securing this funding for Chesapeake Bay dairy farmers:  the Maryland Dairy Industry Association, the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association, the Maryland Farm Bureau, Maryland and Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Shenandoah Valley Soil & Water Conservation District, the Headwaters Soil and Water Conservation District, the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts, the Catoctin & Frederick Soil Conservation District, the Carroll County Soil Conservation District, the Washington County Soil Conservation District,  Virginia Tech, and Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

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Statewide Collaborative Group Seeks Feedback on How to Expand Voluntary Participation in Virginia’s Nutrient Management Planning Program

11/15/16.  All Virginia farmers and ag industry professionals are invited to contribute to a periodic assessment of Virginia’s nutrient management planning, now through mid-February. A collaborative team of 18 agricultural and conservation organizations and state agencies aim to strengthen nutrient management planning efforts on farms throughout Virginia. Members of the Virginia Nutrient Management Leadership Team want to learn about challenges and opportunities relating to nutrient management plan development and implementation, and hopes to expand farmer participation.

Virginia farmers use and implement nutrient management plans to improve yields and reduce input costs. But there are barriers to participation in nutrient management planning, and the Team wants to find ways to make nutrient management planning more useful to farmers without additional regulations.

Nutrient management plans recommend fertilizer or manure application rates designed to achieve crop production yield goals while at the same time minimizing fertilizer inputs and costs.   According to Kristen Evans, with Sustainable Chesapeake,

“Nutrient management plans help farmers maximize their return on fertilizer investments – and in doing so, they also protect water quality, as fertilizer applied in excess of crop requirements can be lost to air and water resources.  Because nutrient management plans support agricultural production, farm profits, and water quality, they are a high priority conservation practice.”

Darryl Glover is with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees the Commonwealth’s nutrient management planning program. He stated that:

“DCR hopes the results of the assessments will provide information that will help us find ways to encourage more farmers to obtain nutrient management plans.” 

Wilmer Stoneman with the Virginia Farm Bureau, also noted that:

 “it is important to do a periodic check-up of Virginia’s nutrient management program.”

Farmers and ag industry professionals can share their experience, ideas and suggestions by completing the assessment on paper or online, now through mid-February.  They are encouraged to share the assessment with their colleagues and constituencies, to help reach as many people in Virginia’s agricultural community as possible.

Virginia Nutrient Management Team Members Include:

  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Headwaters LLC
  • James River Association
  • James Riverkeeper
  • Sustainable Chesapeake
  • University of Virginia
  • Virginia Agribusiness Council
  • Virginia Association of Conservation Districts
  • Virginia Biosolids Council
  • Virginia Cattlemen’s Association
  • Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service
  • Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • Virginia Department of Environmental Quality
  • Virginia Farm Bureau
  • Virginia Grain Producers Association
  • Virginia Poultry Federation
  • Virginia Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Virginia State Dairymen’s Association
  • Virginia Tech

The Virginia Environmental Endowment is providing funding for this important effort through a grant to Sustainable Chesapeake.

For more information:  Contact Kristen Hughes Evans, Executive Director, Sustainable Chesapeake at Kristen@susches.org or 415-730-7503.