Legislators learn BMPs, conservation easements firsthand in Fauquier

From left: John Jaske, chairman of Virginia LCV; Chris Miller, Virginia LCV board member and president of the Piedmont Environmental Council; Delegate Michael Webert, State Senator Jill Vogel and Trey Davis, of Virginia Farm Bureau, pose with one of Webert's combines during a recent tour of his farms.

From left: John Jaske, chairman of Virginia LCV; Chris Miller, Virginia LCV board member and president of the Piedmont Environmental Council; Delegate Michael Webert, State Senator Jill Vogel and Trey Davis, of Virginia Farm Bureau, pose with one of Webert’s combines during a recent tour of his farms.

Middleburg, Va. – Undeveloped land in much of Northern Virginia is becoming somewhat of a rare commodity. But while touring the grounds of 18th District Delegate Michael Webert’s farm operations just outside of Middleburg in Fauquier County, environmentalists, agriculture experts and state lawmakers were reminded of the value of open space and why it’s so vital that working land remains in production and that it’s managed responsibly.

Thursday, Sept. 24, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters Education Fund hosted “Down on the farm: Why BMPs and conservation easements matter” at Webert’s Locust Hill and Legacy farms.

Del. Webert speaks on the importance of "Best Management Practices" for agriculture Sept. 24.

Del. Webert speaks on the importance of “Best Management Practices” for agriculture Sept. 24.

During the afternoon tour, Virginia LCV Education Fund staff and board members were joined by representatives from Virginia Farm Bureau and the Piedmont Environmental Council, as well as State Senator Jill Vogel and Delegate Alfonso Lopez.

After a dusty, bumpy drive through beautiful pastoral farmland, the group arrived in what seemed an ordinary pasture. But the practices in place there are having a profound impact on ensuring that nutrients on the farm stay on the farm instead of running off into nearby waterways.

Webert demonstrated how simple fencing and natural buffers can help protect water quality, efforts funded in part by Virginia’s best management practices (BMP) program. The program was implemented to prevent agriculture-related pollution from entering the Chesapeake Bay and is currently experiencing a multi-million-dollar backlog of funding requests, meaning more farmers are requesting help to manage their operations than there is funding from the state to assist them.

Delegate Alfonso Lopez and State Senator Jill Vogel tour Michael Webert's farm operations during a Sept. 24 visit.

Delegate Alfonso Lopez and State Senator Jill Vogel tour Michael Webert’s farm operations during a Sept. 24 visit.

According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, “the cost-share program supports using various practices in conservation planning to treat animal waste, cropland, pastureland and forested land. Some are paid for at a flat rate or straight per-acre rate. Others are cost-shared on a percentage basis up to 75 percent. In some cases, USDA also pays a percentage. In fact, the cost-share program’s practices can often be funded by a combination of state and federal funds, reducing the landowner s expense to less than 30 percent of the total cost.”

The land Webert farms is also under conservation easement, meaning he doesn’t have to worry about the large tract ever being developed. In some instances, Webert described farmers he knows being driven off of farmland with little notice. Conservation easements help farmers by supplying an added degree of security, though we have seen a disturbing trend as of late of under-funding these vital programs as well.

The legislative retreat concluded with all participants getting better insight into agriculture and how it can be successfully and sustainably managed. The future health of the Chesapeake Bay is counting on it.

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