Virginia has set aside about $4.3 million for agriculture producers to accelerate the implementation of conservation practices to benefit the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Culpeper Soil & Water Conservation District (CSWCD).

The CSWCD serves Madison, Greene, Orange, Culpeper and Rappahannock counties.

Greg Wichelns, CSWCD manager, said the amount is nearly three times the commonwealth usually sets aside and wants to see it all gone by the end of the fiscal year.

“We’re in the final phase of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan III (goes until 2025),” Wichelns said.

The CSWCD has been identified as one of the eight districts in the Bay watershed area of Virginia that contributes nearly 70% of the nitrogen pollution entering the bay from agriculture.

In the past 10 years, Greene County producers have installed 72 stream fencing/grazing management projects, Wichelns said, which has protected 81.3 miles of stream bank and created 339 acres of stream side buffers.

“All those projects now have better utilization of forages and cleaner water,” he said. “This data does not include any projects by USDA for CREP or EQIP or other, nor does it include many other projects we did that accomplish many other conservation objectives, such as cover crops, animal waste management, cropland conversion to grassland and nutrient management. We also provided over $200,000 in maintenance payments for older infrastructure.”

He said the whole idea of this large pot of money in one year is trying to get all the threshold reductions accomplished under the voluntary program.

The funds are available to agricultural producers to create best management practices for stream exclusion fencing and more. To make it sweeter for the producers to sign up for the program, every buffer option includes a cost-share program and there are tax credit benefits to a new “rental” payment for the lost useable pasture land with the larger buffers.

The program has new options from a 10-foot buffer for the streams to a 50-foot buffer and in between.

“This is the big deal and we’re trying to get the word out that the conservation district has record levels of cost-share funding,” Wichelns said. “The state is trying to meet its obligations under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan so it’s putting the money on the street; we just need the people.”

Adding the stream exclusion fencing for livestock producers keeps the water cleaner for the livestock, too, whether they drink water from a well or spring.

“The water is not from a stream they’re defecating in,” he said. “It’s also grazing management.”

The most nutritious parts of forage are when it’s allowed to grow between 4-10 inches, he added.

“By not overgrazing you have not stunted the plant and it’ll rebound quicker. Good rotational grazing, grazing management gets you more pounds of beef per acre per year and better control over where your cattle are on any given day or time,” Wichelns said.

While the water quality improves for producers’ livestock it will also improve for the public—and subsequently the Chesapeake Bay.

“You’ll have less sediment like in the Rivanna River and less bacteria like in the Rapidan River,” he noted.

Producers who allow livestock to overgraze are also losing a precious resource—water—when it runs off the land after hard rains.

“All that water is leaving your land and you want that to get into your ground,” he said. “It’s another reason to keep good forage on your land because keeps the water where it needs to be. Good grazing management also extends the length of the grazing season for producers.”

There are additional programs, including riparian buffer plantings, cover crops, nutrient management planning, reforestation of erodible crop and pastureland, woodland buffer filter area and more.

“I was surprised they gave us that much money in one year,” Wichelns said. “They decided to really push it and they gave us a one-year contract, so it’s a tall order. We just need the volunteers.”

For more information on these programs, contact Spencer Yager, conservation specialist, at the Orange County office at (540) 308-6301. Amanda McMullen and David Massie, both conservation specialists at the Culpeper County office, can be reached at (540) 825-8591. For much more information, visit the website www.culpeperswcd.org.

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