Conservation on farm land

Published 9:40 am Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Agriculture is a vastly important part of our daily lives. Not only does it provide the food we eat, but it provides non-food products such as oils, resins, fibers, clothing, energy, cosmetics, plastics and forestry products. According to a report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2017 there were 44,300 farm operations spanning 8.1 million acres of land. In 2015, the agriculture industry employed 63,310 people and had a total output of $4.6 billion in 2015, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Emily Gibbs

Just as we depend on agriculture, the land and water that make agriculture possible depends on us. We must be good stewards of our natural resources in order for them to continue supporting us for generations to come. Natural resources do not form in the blink of any eye, so we must maintain their integrity. For instance, it takes 100-500 years (or more, in some climates) for an inch of topsoil to form. Topsoil is the nutrient-rich uppermost layer of the soil, and once it is lost, agriculture production declines. As the world population increases and the demand for agricultural products continues to grow, it is more important than ever to put conservation into practice.

The Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is the local agency serving Amelia, Nottoway, and Prince Edward counties that helps farmers implement conservation on their land, often in partnership with state and federal conservation agencies. District staff work with farmers who want to be good stewards of the land and water resources on their farms. Staff offer technical assistance (non-financial assistance in the form of providing information and expertise) as well as financial assistance through the Virginia Agricultural Cost-share (VACS) Program. The VACS program provides financial incentives, tax credits and cost-share to agricultural producers who voluntarily install conservation practices on their farm to improve soil and water quality. Agricultural best management practices (BMPs) are measures that farmers can take to not only improve soil and water quality but increase the productivity of their land or farming operation. Benefits include decreased erosion, increased soil organic matter, and cleaner streams.

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Some of the BMPs available through the program include: cover crops, which are planted following harvest and act as an anchor to prevent soil and nutrient runoff; stream exclusion, which keeps livestock out of streams and provides an alternative watering facility, therefore improving both water quality and cattle health; permanent vegetative cover on cropland, in the form of cool- or warm-season grasses, to reduce soil erosion; and nutrient management, which allows a farmer to apply the correct amount of nutrients to a crop to maximize growth while saving on the cost of excess fertilizers that wash into local streams.

To learn more about the cost-share program or to schedule an appointment for a staff member to visit your farm, contact Charlie Wootton at (434)392-3782 ext. 128 or Kevin Dunn at (434)392-3782 ext. 116. The Piedmont SWCD is accepting applications for the VACS Program from July 1 – Aug. 10. Requests for cost-share are expected to exceed available funding, so a sign-up period is necessary. The Piedmont Soil and Water Conservation District looks forward to working with you.

EMILY GIBBS is the Residential Conservation and Marketing Coordinator at Piedmont Soil & Water Conservation. You can contact her at (434) 392-3782 ext. 131 or visit