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Corn growers group hears of Bay issues, tours DuPont facilities
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
LORETTO, Va. — As the reigning king of corn growing, David Hula said he's heard just about every question you can ask about increasing corn yields.
“I’ve heard them all and they’re all the same — equally important,” said the Charles City, Va., farmer. “But you've got to be willing to change.”
Hula was speaking to the inaugural class of the New Leaders Program, a joint venture between the National Corn Growers Association and DuPont to foster agricultural leaders in new and young farmers. The group of more than 40 farmers from across the United States was visiting program participant Tyler Franklin's Essex County farm as part of its second and final session together which included meetings last week in Washington D.C. and a tour of DuPont's research facilities in Wilmington, Del.
Hula told the growers he’s very “task and plan oriented” and sets a goal every year and then works to exceed the goal. He said first and foremost, though is to keep a positive attitude, a notion he said he didn't put a lot of stock in years ago.
While Hula’s remarks focused on growing better corn, adapting to change, whether it's regulation or communicating with non-farmers, was a recurring theme during the visit.
Wilmer Stoneman, Virginia Farm Bureau's assistant director of government relations, and Katie Frazier, executive director of the Virginia Agribusiness Council, briefed the group on Chesapeake Bay issues and the changes farmers have faced.
With the Environmental Protection Agency implementing a Total Maximum Daily Load, or pollution diet, for the Bay, “it has created a new world for our farmers in the Bay region along with pressures on livestock producers,” Frazier said, and while farmers are willing to install more conservation practices on their farms, the cost is high. She said the need for funding for conservation practices statewide to meet the pollution reduction goal is estimated at $100 million.
Stoneman said farmers in Virginia have been early adopters of conservation practices like no-till and nutrient management planning but if they didn't get cost share for it, it’s not counted toward reducing pollution.
“We did all those things and I didn't mention anything about a regulation,” Stoneman said. “The economy of the farming industry kind of pushed those things.”
He talked about the Resource Management Plan program that Farm Bureau and other state farm groups advocated to improve water quality and document what farmers are doing to protect the environment. Once a plan is in place on a farm, it will be effective for nine years and undergo compliance inspections every three years.
The program took effect July 1 and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will be introducing the program to farmers at events throughout the summer.
“Basically it's old school conservation planning and we're just dusting it off,” Stoneman said. “It’s a systems approach to conservation. Not a lot has changed in the practices themselves.”
The New Leaders Program kicked off its first class with a plenary session in Des Moines, Iowa in January which included a class in improvisation.
“By the end of the day, you would have thought they were siblings,” said Susan Power, NCGA’s communications manager. “Some of these people are talking to each other every day now.”
And many, like Franklin, Neb., farmer Ryan Bonham are talking more to non-farmers through social media. Bonham, who farms 3,000 acres with his brother, father and brother-in-law, said he had little interest in Facebook or Twitter until he joined the New Leaders class, but has since become an avid user.
He said the advocacy component of the New Leaders Program drew him to it and said he sees social media as a farmer’s best tool.
“In our generation, certainly, social media would be the biggest advocate we have,” Bonham said.