Farmers wary of bay cleanup plans

Published 7:19 pm Saturday, September 26, 2009

RICHMOND—Seven draft reports issued by federal agencies on Sept. 9 call for increased accountability and performance in efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Virginia farmers remain willing to do their part, but many conservation proposals mentioned in the reports are no longer win-win situations for farmers and the environment, according to Wilmer Stoneman, associate director of governmental relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

“Virginia poultry, dairy and swine producers are already regulated more strictly than anything the Environmental Protection Agency is requiring, yet these proposals call for even more regulations,” Stoneman said. “And while in the past farmers felt we were in partnership with conservation agencies and government in addressing these issues, it now appears there are parties eager to force these changes upon farmers with no consideration of the financial costs or ripple effects.”

Stoneman noted that Virginia farmers have a good track record of reducing their environmental impact over the past few decades. “We use less fertilizer. We use less pesticide. We use less land than we’ve used in the past,” he said. “The EPA gives us a little bit of credit for that, but the point is they still look at the water quality in the bay and say, `It’s not enough. We want more.’ And that is going to require things that are going to cost too much for many farmers.”

If a small Virginia dairy farmer is forced to close his business because environmental regulations increase his expenses beyond his profit margin, that land stands to become subdivisions and parking lots, Stoneman noted. “Especially in today’s economic environment, where dairy farmers are struggling, who wins then? Everyone says agriculture and forestry are the best uses for our remaining land in the bay watershed.