A quarter century ago, Weyers Cave farmer Gerald Garber began using best farming practices such as installing buffers to prevent agricultural runoff and fencing to keep his dairy cattle out of streams and rivers near his farm.
"I was thinking about my cows first and the environment second,'' Garber recalled. His hope was that his herd would stay free of disease if they were restricted in their movements.
But now, Garber is one of the first farmers in Virginia who will be certified as having a farm resource management plan. The new RMP program, run by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, credits farmers who voluntarily install soil and water conservation practices to prevent runoff pollution. The ultimate goal is to provide cleaner water and reduce the nutrient pollution flowing to the Chesapeake Bay.
On Monday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe will visit Garber's farm to promote the new resource management plan. The governor will be accompanied by Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore and other state officials.
The practices needed in a resource management plan include fencing of livestock, buffers along streams to prevent agricultural runoff, no till farming and having a nutrient management plan, said Chuck Epes, assistant director of media relations for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Once a resource management plan is approved by the commonwealth, a farmer is exempt from new water quality regulations for nine years. Epes said the idea for resource management plans came from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The state legislation for the program came from two Virginia legislators, including area Sen. Emmett Hanger.
Hanger, R-Mount Solon, said he introduced legislation so that Shenandoah Valley and Virginia farmers who voluntarily do such conservation receive credit for it.
Hanger said those who have RMP plans such as Garber will be put into a state database and given credit for their practices.
"This is a way we can verify the information and get in the model for the voluntary practices,'' he said. "This also provides farmers assurances over a fixed period of time that nothing more stringent will come along."
Hanger said research done at both Virginia Tech and Penn State University some years ago showed that the best way for removing nitrogen from streams and rivers was by upgrading wastewater treatment plants. But close behind the wastewater treatment option was best farming practices.
"The intent is a healthier bay. But this protects farmers and gives them credit for their voluntary practices,'' Hanger said.
Virginia First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe has done a public service announcement on the new program to promote it. Hanger is hoping that Garber's RMP plan will be followed "by dozens and dozens'' of farmers doing the same across the commonwealth.