Support farm efforts for clean water

Published 10:02 pm Thursday, February 16, 2017

By George Birdsong

Our waterways are integral to life here in Suffolk. The city was originally founded as a port town on the Nansemond River at Constance Wharf. Locals have long received sustenance from oyster reefs laden with fish and crabs.

These waters are still an important part of our community. When you think about it, pretty much everyone here crosses over the Nansemond or James nearly every day. We spend our free time boating, fishing, crabbing and hunting on our beautiful local waterways.

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As a longtime resident of Suffolk, I’ve seen increasing interest in the health of our rivers and creeks. People are now highlighting what a precious resource they are that we need to protect and restore.

In recent years, a federal-state partnership called the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint has launched a regional effort stretching from Hampton Roads to Pennsylvania and New York to ensure the Bay’s waterways are restored.

In our area, many sectors of government have worked to improve water quality under this effort, known as the Blueprint. I am a member of two conservation groups — the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation — that have been a key part of this progress.

But it is important to recognize the role of Virginia’s farmers, whose conservation practices on the land reduce pollution in our waterways. For farmers in Suffolk, that includes planting cover crops to protect soil during the winter so it doesn’t erode and wash into creeks. Also leaving buffers of trees along waterways to prevent pollution is a great conservation practice.

While most farmers want to do their part for the environment, many need support from state programs to implement these conservation practices. Fortunately, Virginia’s agricultural cost share program has helped many farmers put these practices in place on their farms across the Commonwealth.

The Peanut Soil and Water Conservation District, which covers Suffolk, Surry and Isle of Wight, has had about 120 farmers in the past year sign up to receive state cost share funds for conservation practices.

State support for farm conservation work has been up and down in recent years. This month will be key for the future of this program, as right now Virginia’s legislators are deciding how much funding to allocate to agricultural cost-share.

Strong, consistent investment gives farmers the support they need to help restore our local rivers. It will also help local Soil and Water Conservation Districts give technical assistance to farmers so they can put these projects into effect.

While there has been a lot of progress in restoring rivers and streams, it is vital that we keep up momentum. That is why Virginia must live up to its commitments to both healthy waterways and its farmers.

Continued state support for agricultural practices is needed for Virginia to meet the goals it has set under the Clean Water Blueprint.

This not only supports the farms that are such a part of our landscape, but also the rivers and creeks we all depend on.

I’m sure that most reading this can remember wonderful moments connected to the Nansemond and James rivers and to Chuckatuck or Bennett’s creeks. The culture, economy and continued success of our community owe so much to these waters.

Let us make sure we keep heading in the right direction.

George Birdsong is the chief executive officer of Birdsong Peanuts and an avid tennis player. Contact him at