- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 29, 2009

RICHMOND | Virginia’s largest agricultural advocacy group is rallying against a proposed cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay, contending the new federal regulations could put small farmers out of business.

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation begins its annual convention Monday in Richmond, and the proposed regulations are likely to be the buzz among 800 farmers and others attending. Farm Bureau officials will outline their opposition to elements of the cleanup plan at a news conference Wednesday, the final day of the convention.

The Farm Bureau, which claims 155,000 members statewide, is especially critical of a reauthorization bill for the Chesapeake Bay Program, a state-federal initiative to environmentally restore the Bay.

The new regulations would hit dairy farmers with fewer than 200 milkers especially hard, said Wilmer Stoneman, associate director of governmental relations for the Farm Bureau.

He said smaller dairy farms could be required to build manure storage facilities at a cost of $100,000 or more and fence in streams to prevent cows from fouling water that ultimately flows to the estuary.

John Goodwin, a Spotsylvania County dairy and beef cattle producer, estimated the cost of fencing on an average farm at up to $100,000. “Most average farms are not going to be able to afford that kind of hit,” Mr. Goodwin said in a Farm Bureau publication.

Mr. Stoneman said Farm Bureau members are “as disturbed about this as they’ve ever been” in his 15 years with the organization.

“They very much see that the economy is threatening their business, and this is salt in that wound,” he said.

Agricultural runoff is responsible for about half the pollution entering the Bay, creating low-oxygen dead zones from algae blooms fed by nitrogen and phosphorus runoff. Pollution from urban sprawl is also a big part of the problem.

Pollution and overfishing, as well as disease, have been blamed for huge declines in the Bay’s crab and oyster populations.

Mr. Stoneman contends that farmers have done much through the years to reduce runoff. State agencies such as Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality have also tightened regulations.

“The Virginia Farm Bureau believes that Chesapeake Bay water quality needs to be addressed. We want to restore Chesapeake Bay,” he added. “But we’re also saying agriculture has done its part.”

The Bay’s cleanup is moving on two levels: the reauthorization bill for the Chesapeake Bay Program and an Environmental Protection Agency-led effort.

A draft of the EPA plan includes expanded regulation of farm and urban-suburban storm-water runoff, but leaves room for states to cut pollution before expansion of federal regulation.

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