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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

New Budget Gives Virginia’s Farmers Record Funding for Soil and Water Conservation

A farmer plants crops using a no-till drill. No-till farming is one of many practices for which producers can receive cost-share funding. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation)

RICHMOND — The new state budget includes “never-before-seen levels of conservation funding” for Virginia farmers, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) announced Tuesday.

Benefits include expanded cost-share and tax credit opportunities, according to DCR, as well as changes to applying that will streamline the process for farmers.

“We are very excited about the historic level of cost-share funding for farmers in the new budget, and grateful to the General Assembly for providing it. The governor has prioritized meeting Virginia’s Bay water quality goals, and with this money comes the responsibility to provide meaningful results,” said Matt Wells, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

“We also know that we cannot meet our goals without true partnerships with our Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the agricultural community. This includes engagement, open lines of communication and mutual trust. We look forward to working with all of our partners to support agricultural best management practices across the commonwealth.”

Increased cost-share and tax credits

The Virginia Agricultural Best Management Practices Cost-Share Program, or VACS, is funded at a record high for the 2022-23 program year with $123 million, DCR said in a press release.

The state program helps farms implement a range of conservation practices that protect water quality, and by improving animal and soil health and reducing nutrient waste, help increase farm profitability.

DCR administers the state program in partnership with Virginia’s 47 soil and water conservation districts.

“Virginia’s soil and water conservation districts are the one-stop shops for state cost-share signup and practice implementation,” said Dr. Kendall Tyree, executive director of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. “We applaud the governor and the General Assembly for this record show of support for voluntary conservation efforts and look forward to serving Virginia’s agricultural community in our district offices.”

Farmers may receive up to $300,000 in state cost-share reimbursement.

There are more than 70 best management practices, according to DCR, many of which can be funded through a combination of state and federal funds, reducing the farmer’s expense to less than 25% of the total cost.

Those practices include:

  • Cover crops
  • Nutrient management plans
  • Forested or herbaceous buffers
  • Animal waste systems
  • Livestock stream-exclusion systems

Additional funds available this year:

  • Up to $25,000 in state tax credits for fully implemented agricultural best management practices.
  • Up to $50,000 in tax credits for best management practices on lands with an approved resource management plan.

To apply for funding or tax credits, farmers should contact their local soil and water conservation districts.

Streamlined paperwork 

Additionally, farmers in many localities will now find it simpler to apply for funding using what is sometimes called a “whole farm approach,” where a producer only has to submit one cost-share application to cover all of the nutrient management practices, or all the cover crop practices, established on as much acreage as desired.

Previously, this option was only available in Essex, King and Queen and King William counties, and in the Chesapeake Bay watershed of the Eastern Shore.

This year, farmers in Carroll, Gloucester, Grayson, Halifax, Mathews, Middlesex, Page, Rockingham, Washington counties — and all of the Eastern Shore — may participate.

More information on Virginia’s soil and water conservation programs can be found on the DCR website.

The program year ends June 30, 2023.

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