Farmers offered option to peanuts

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 19, 2002

When farmers met Wednesday morning for the peanut maturity seminar at Tidewater Agricultural Research and Extension Center, they received a lot of information about changes in the industry.

With the loss of price supports and quotas, most farmers are vowing never to plant another peanut. Now, they are looking for alternative ways to support their families.

James D. Wright Jr., a speaker at the seminar, brought welcome news to the growers, how to make money on land formerly used for peanuts.

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Wright is the district conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture serving the Suffolk area from his office at 1548 Holland Road. He came with information about paying landowners to place their land into conservation programs.

&uot;This is an excellent way to use your land and it will help improve water quality in our area and the Chesapeake Bay,&uot; said Wright. &uot;Through the &uot;Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP),&uot; we can also treat environmentally sensitive areas by promoting voluntary establishment of forested streamside buffers and filter strips and by restoring wetland areas.&uot;

The CREP program will provide farmers and landowners with annual rental payments and through the cost share component built into the program, farmers are helped with establishing or restoring the wetland areas on their property. There are also additional incentives that pay up to 40 percent of the project’s costs.

Wright said any pasture or cropland near a stream, wetland, pond, or sinkhole is eligible for participation in CREP. Also, any land that was drained or degraded for pasture and former wetlands converted to cropland is eligible.

Participating farmers will be paid annual rental payments based on soil types, said Wright.

&uot;Those annual rental rates range from $70 to $100 per acre and include incentives and maintenance,&uot; he added. &uot;Rates are capped at $100 per acre for Chesapeake Bay watershed and $90 per acre for the eligible portion of the Southern Rivers watershed like we’d be a part of. And, landowners have the option of enrolling in CREP for 10 or 15 years.&uot;

According to Wright, farmers enrolled in the program would establish &uot;forest riparian buffer&uot; zones, which would be plantings of mixed hardwoods. They could also set up filter strips to be planted to warm season grasses on cropland fields near water.

&uot;The conservation practices necessary to establish the buffers, filter strips or restored wetlands include fencing, alternative water facilities for livestock, limited stream access and stream crossings,&uot; Wright continued. &uot;They may also include dikes, water control structures, and tree planting and site preparation.&uot;

He added that farmers/landowners would receive from the USDA 50 percent cost share of the total eligible cost to install practices necessary to establish and protect the buffers.

As Wright explained, the Commonwealth of Virginia also provides an additional 25 percent of the cost share, not exceeding $200 per acre.

The icing on the cake: organizations like Ducks Unlimited and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation also provide their share of the costs.

Those living on land where water flows into the Bay receive 25 percent additional from those two agencies if their establish forested buffers that are at least 100-feet wide.

Any farmer or landowner interested in the CREP program should see Wright to sign up at the USDA Service Center or see Melanie Lassiter, executive director of the Farm Service Agency, both located at 1548 Holland Road.