Stream Fencing Too Popular?
Interest In Program To Keep Livestock From Fouling Waters Outstrips Funds
WEYERS CAVE — Many of Virginia’s farmers have been persuaded to fence their streams to prevent cattle from spoiling the state’s waterways.
But the cost-reimbursement offering that triggered interest in livestock stream exclusion has been so successful that the demand for assistance has exceeded the amount the state budgeted for the effort through fiscal 2015 by at least $8.7 million.
To try to figure out how to solve the funding problem, a group of state, federal, environmental and agriculture industry officials gathered at Cave View Farms on Friday to assess the situation and brainstorm solutions.
“We’ve got people signing up for money we don’t have, and I know we don’t have the political will to raise taxes,” Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, a member of the Virginia delegation to the Chesapeake Bay Commission, said near the end of the event.
“We know we’re going in the right direction [to encourage fencing compliance], so I don’t see a risk in going forward. But I do see a risk raising expectations we cannot meet.”
The gathering, sponsored by the CBC, aimed to find way to manage the success of Virginia’s SL-6 practice, which combines stream fencing with grazing-land management to create a best-management practice for beef and dairy farmers. Its aim was to protect the Chesapeake Bay and to reduce harmful bacteria in the state’s rivers, a major recreational asset.
Jack Frye, Virginia director of the CBC, said farmers implementing SL-6 measures could receive up to 100 percent of eligible costs for their fencing projects, including money for substitute water sources.
The event featured a tour of several farms in the area, including Cave View, where Gerald Garber has fenced his streams and added 35-foot riparian buffers on either side to filter out contaminates. Though livestock exclusion has been encouraged for years, Garber said anecdotal evidence indicates that only 15 percent to 25 percent of the streams in the state have been fenced.
David Paylor, director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said 16 percent of the state’s rivers monitored to date are classified as “impaired.” Bacteria in the water is a factor with 68 percent of those designations, with an agricultural source the cause 40 percent of the time.
Justin Hill of Dayton Veterinary Services told the group bacteria in streams sometimes cause disease in the cattle themselves.
Including the 438 projects valued at $1.5 million now under construction, the commonwealth has spent $80.3 million on 9,864 best-practice efforts over the years, said Clyde Cristman, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
But farmers already have signed up for nearly $9 million more in reimbursement than was allocated for the practice. That’s not a final tally, either, because farmers can enroll until June 30, 2015.
One method of covering the gap that was discussed was persuading farmers to shift to similar practices that offer reimbursement, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Services Agency’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or a combination of practices.
Their rules might vary, but Frye said some practices reimburse up to 140 percent of the cost of fencing.
“If the farmers know the other options,” he said, “they might get a better deal and the environment might get a better deal.”
Cory Guilliams, a Rockingham County resident who is the district conservationist for the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation, said some practices provide money upfront to cover stream-exclusion projects, which might be advantageous for some farmers.
Providing engineering assistance also can reduce the amount the state has to cover for a project, Frye added.
Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William County, who is the CBC’s vice chairman, said scaling back some projects could free up money to be spent elsewhere, with the most ambitious projects perhaps done in phases if and when the state provides more money.
“I see this as a bang-for-your-buck proposition,” Lingamfelter said. “Maybe, I don’t take the Cadillac version; maybe I take the Chevrolet version.”
A key problem evident at the meeting is that no one has determined how many miles of streams remain unfenced or calculated estimates on how much farmers might seek for fencing reimbursement over the next year. That, Lingamfelter said, must be rectified.
“We’re chasing a problem and trying to find the amount of money we need,” he said, “without knowing what the texture of the problem is. We need to define the need and phase execution.”
Contact Vic Bradshaw at 574-6279 or firstname.lastname@example.org