Monday, December 13, 2010

The Revised Watershed Implementation Plan and Farmers

For agricultural operations the revised WIP will require the implementation of resource management plans on most agricultural acres which may include: 35 foot grass or forest buffers between cropland and perennial surface waters; stream exclusion of livestock over time; and implementation of nutrient management plans. The Commonwealth intends to provide cost-share funding to achieve implementation of these best practices through the soil and water conservation districts. The WIP calls for farms to implement "resource management plans" to reduce pollution but does not mandate what those plans should include and requires them only if adequate funding is available through the cost share programs. These programs are cost share programs and do require financial participation of the farmers. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation objects to the seemingly soft requirement of this provision stating that 30% of the nutrient and sediment pollution is from agriculture.

I was thinking about justice and regulations as I was trying to straighten out a problem at my Bank. I found myself waiting interminably for the branch manager with another customer with his own problem. We had both driven the 16 miles from our corner of Prince William County to wait at Bank of America on Route 50 and to face seemingly insurmountable regulations. While we were waiting, my neighbor, a fourth generation cow farmer, told me about his concerns with the WIP. His cattle are sustainably and locally raised and for the most part are pasture raised on grass; however, he admitted that the cows are watered by the streams that come together in our area to feed Bull Run. His concern was if he needs to build stream exclusions, and bridges for the cows to move from one pasture to another then create watering systems for the cows in each pasture that the cost would put him out of business even with cost sharing. He also voiced concerns that nutrient contamination coming from upstream sources would prevent him from being able to achieve the targets of the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. Since he had not read the revised WIP many of these concerns may have not been well founded or researched, but certainly the WIP will have a profound impact on his business and the business of all farmers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

According to the National Association of Conservation Districts, NACD, there are 4.3 million acres of farmland within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that will be impacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new Total Maximum Daily Load, TMDL for the bay. A USDA draft report reportedly shows that farmers and ranchers are making good progress in the Bay, but that is not enough to meet the stricter demands of the TMDL. Of the actively-cropped 4.3 million acres, farmers are actively implementing erosion control and nutrient management practices on more than 4.1 million acres. The NACD states that these actions have reduced sediment pollution on rivers and streams within the Chesapeake Bay watershed 64%, cut nitrogen pollution 36% and reduced phosphorus pollution 43%. Nonetheless, the Chesapeake Bay foundation states that 30% of the nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is from agriculture operations and is pressing strongly for tighter regulations and enforcement against agricultural operations. .

I had no answer as to whether sustainable, humane, local agriculture should be encouraged, or if the world is better with a few high intensity concentrated animal feed lots that have a combined smaller land footprint and are not in sensitive watersheds. Though, I am not at all certain that there are any locations not in some sensitive watershed. In the west (home of many agri-industrial operations) water diversions are having severe impact on the environment. The agricultures economy is manipulated by farm subsidies that distort the market and agricultural practices. To pay for the increase costs of complying with the higher costs of sustainable agriculture, instituting nutrient management and best practices and enforcement of those steps the cost of food will have to rise either directly or indirectly. I only know I would prefer to continue to buy my meat locally from an operation where I can see the cows are grass fed and pastured. Then there are the hobby farm operations, lots zoned to allow horses and the current push for a zoning to allow backyard chickens in the much of Prince William County. It is impossible reconcile the requirements necessary to comply with the Chesapeake Bay TMDL with the personal freedom, small scale local food and population growth.

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