Ag groups seek stable cost share funding

AFP Correspondent

RICHMOND, Va. (April 18, 2017) — The Virginia General Assembly gathered in Richmond last week to finalize the budget for the 2018 fiscal year that originally forecast a decrease in Virginia’s agricultural cost-share program from the 2017 level of $61.7 million to $17 million.
While the decrease is a significant drop, Dr. Kendall Tyree, executive director of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Districts said the 2017 $61.7 million level was an unprecedented amount for funding Best Management Practices in the state.
She said that fiscal year 2015 ended with a state surplus that greatly increased the money available for BMPs and technical assistance.
There was no end-of-fiscal-year surplus in 2016 but she said she hopes that may be different at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.
She said support for cost share funding from legislators and the present administration remains; however, long term needs for BMP funding which relies on recordation fees and general fund support, will need to be revisited.
Martha Moore, vice president for governmental relations at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, hesitated to call the $61.7 million a surplus but noted the sum was more the result of circumstances that occurred because the funding for the state’s agricultural cost-share programs is not stable.
The VASWCD and VFBF are members of a stakeholder group to be formed to find ways of stabilizing the cost-share program funding.
The budget directs the formation of this group to recommend methods to stabilize the fluctuations in funding farm conservation practices, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, another stakeholder member, said in a news release in March.
The Virginia Agribusiness council is also a stakeholder in the group.
The budget also directs a separate group to look into what is needed for the continued progress with Resource Management Plans, which help farmers take advantage of practices that improve both farming operations and water quality while receiving safe harbor from new regulations.
This Resource Management group includes the same agriculture and conservation groups and adds the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry.
Moore said these circumstances occur when revenue exceeds budget projections.
A percentage of such funds goes for water quality improvement.
These funds go to point source water quality projects such as wastewater treatment plants and non-point sources such as agriculture BMPs such as fencing streams, cover crops and other conservation practices.
“Part of the challenge is the funding source is inconsistent,” Moore said. “The funding source is not something you can count on year in and year out.”
Both Tyree and Moore pointed to a $10 recordation fee that is collected throughout the state when deeds and other documents are filed at local courthouses. This brings in about $8 million in stable funding.
This funding stream was first proposed by Gov. Tim Kaine in his last budget.
“Soil & Water Conservation Districts provide the critical boots on the ground technical assistance for the important agricultural cost share program, which provides water quality benefits to the Chesapeake Bay and Southern Rivers watersheds” said Tyree. “Adequate, stable funding for this voluntary incentive program statewide