For the next two weeks, I will describe the original Virginia Phase I Watershed Implementation Plan and will follow up describing the Phase II WIP. All farmers should be aware of the plans being developed by EPA as they may impact your freedom to farm.
EPA says these WIPs are needed for agriculture to clean up the nutrients and sediment discharged into the Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia's government officials say they have "…concerns about the process, cost, legality, allocations, and compressed timing in the development of this plan."
Virginia officials also say, "Full implementation of this plan will likely cost more than seven billion new dollars which would be another federal unfunded mandate on the state, localities, private industries, and homeowners."
The officials told EPA they have "…significant concerns with the nearly absolute reliance on [EPA] management by computer model."
The Virginia WIP is 141 pages and the agriculture portion of the WIP is Section 5.
Section 5 begins by describing the Virginia Agricultural Cost-Share Program which will provide financial incentives for farmers, landowners and animal feeding operators.
Virginia claims it will also provide money to producers through its Water Quality Improvement Fund to local governments, soil and water conservation districts, institutions of higher education, and farmers for nonpoint source pollution and prevention reduction. (Does anyone remember the Ag stormwater runoff exemption in the Clean Water Act?)
Virginia claims its Soil Water Conservation Districts will provide 70 full time staff to help agriculture meet the demands of EPA. One district is already telling livestock producers they will be reimbursed 100% of their cost to fence off streams from cattle use.
Virginia, in 2009, allegedly discharged 21,595,047 pounds of nitrogen from all its watershed basins into the Chesapeake Bay. By 2025, the agricultural sector in Virginia must be discharging no more than 15,427,881 pounds of nitrogen from all its watershed basins. Agriculture must reduce its sediment discharge into the Bay from 1,066,368 tons to 781,933 tons by 2025.
Vegetative buffers of grass and forest will be needed with a 35-foot buffer on crop and hay lands. Virginia believes that grass and forest buffers can be achieved through farmer participation in financial incentive programs.
Phase I claims "…buffers would only be required along perennial surface waters (blue line features on … USGS topographic maps)."
Midwest and Northwest farmers, pay attention!
Conservation tillage and soil conservation plans will be set at a 90% level for conservation tillage on cropland and 95% for soil conservation plans on cropland, hay and pasture.
Cover crops, Virginia says, "…comes at considerable expense to agricultural producers…" Virginia's WIP wants cover crops on 10% of available cropland. Financial incentive programs will be available.
Virginia's WIP claims there are approximately 27,000 farms in Virginia managing approximately 1.5 million cattle. Virginia officials state "Achieving livestock exclusion on 95% of riparian waterways will require the establishment of a new expectation within resource management plans."
Once again, Virginia says it will reward early adopters and pay a large percentage of fencing costs in the first few years.
Land retirement plan
Like Maryland, Virginia, too, has an agricultural land retirement program. The WIP states on page 63 that "…approximately 5% of available lands is expected to be [retired] through a combination of financial incentives provided through state and federal programs…"
The Virginia WIP goes on to request that 5% of upland agricultural lands must be replanted in trees. Sixty-two percent of Virginia is forest land now at 15.72 million acres. In 1630 it was 24,480,000 acres out of a total of 25.3 million acres in the Commonwealth.
Poultry mortality composters must be in place by 2017 because dead birds cannot be buried. Swine mortality composters must be in place by 2017.
The transport of poultry manure from two counties must be exported out of the counties by 2017 and by 2025, 75,000 tons annually would need to be either landfilled or exported outside the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Because poultry production is a major industry in Virginia, there must be poultry phytase phosphorus reduction of 30%. The 30% reduction is required by the end of 2014.
A requirement which some in the Midwest may find amusing is that the Virginia WIP targets 50,000 acres of cropland by 2017 to be farmed using "Precision/Decision agriculture." By 2025, the WIP requires 50% of Virginia cropland to be run under precision techniques. Virginia believes these numbers can be met with assistance from the fertilizer industry and possible incentives.
Page 65 Table 5.4-1 provides an excellent summary of all actions expected by agriculture by 2025.
U.S. farmers need to pay attention to EPA's regulatory plan and the American Farm Bureau lawsuit trying to stop it.
Gary H. Baise is a principal at OFW Law (Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Matz P.C.). This article first appeared in Farm Futures magazine. The opinions presented here are expressly those of the author. For more information, go to www.OFWlaw.com.