If you farm or if you eat you will be affected by a lovely body of water many of us will never see called the Chesapeake Bay. This is because “The Bay” as it is known affectionately is being used as a test case or a template for how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will deal with watersheds across the nation. Unfortunately, those pushing the agenda blame many of the Bays woes on agriculture.
So, although this largely political fight will take place on the east coast, the ramifications are real and they may soon come to your city, town, village, burg and farm.
We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Virginia Grains Producers Association for taking the lead in this fight. The primary concern regarding the EPA process is the lack of complete data about current implementation of conservation practices already in place. The shortfall of real information significantly skews water quality reports and results in misleading pollution load reduction assignments for any one sector.
In recent testimony before the United States House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Molly Pugh, executive director of the Virginia Grain Producers Association (VGPA), stressed the actions growers have taken and are taking to be responsible stewards of their natural resources.
First and foremost, environmental goals cannot be addressed without assessing the effect on farm profitability. “VGPA has committed to working with all our partners including environment and government partners to achieve our region’s environmental goals and long-term farm profitability,” Pugh said in written testimony. “Our growers are committed to environmental stewardship and making their operations as efficient as possible. Reducing soil erosion, improving field efficiency of nutrient use and improving water quality are all goals that make our growers more profitable and improve the quality of the land on which they depend.”
For farmers and others, sustainability is about economic survival as well as environmental survival, Pugh says.
“Farmers are strongly committed to innovation and implementation in achieving water quality goals,” Pugh said. “They are in the business of providing the worlds’ safest, most abundant food, fiber, feed and fuel sources while providing environmental benefits to an entire region. As we continue to ask more from their operations, a commitment must be made to provide clear and reasonable programs through which long-term farm profitability can still be achieved.”
Waving a magic wand does not make it so. Bay restoration programs must include provisions for technical assistance and production research. Within each program, adequate funding needs to be established for technical assistance and production research, Pugh notes. Farms need assistance in implementing more practices, which requires additional resources such as certified nutrient management plan writers, crop consultants, web-based programs and researchers.
So, what can you do? If your state hasn’t documented conservations practices in place recently, contact your land grant university and make this a priority. Document the specific benefits of current practices on water quality. Then make sure the data makes it into the hands of state legislators lest they get “itchy fingers” and do something even before their federal counterparts.