Efforts to protect the environment of the Chesapeake Bay watershed should take into account the needs of the many diverse farmers in the area and the work they are now doing to reduce soil erosion and other impacts, a Virginia grower-leader told a Congressional Subcommittee last week.

In her testimony last week before the United States House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Molly Pugh, executive director of the Virginia Grain Producers Association (VGPA), stressed the actions growers have taken and are taking to be responsible stewards of their natural resources. On behalf of VGPA, she delivered to the Subcommittee core principles regarding future changes to the Chesapeake Bay Program.

First and foremost, environmental goals must meet with farm profitability. “VGPA has committed to working with all our partners including environment and government partners to achieve our region’s environmental goals and long-term farm profitability,” Pugh said in written testimony. “Our growers are committed to environmental stewardship and making their operations as efficient as possible. Reducing soil erosion, improving field efficiency of nutrient use and improving water quality are all goals that make our growers more profitable and improve the quality of the land on which they depend.”

For farmers and others, sustainability is about economic survival as well as environmental survival, Pugh said.

“Farmers are strongly committed to innovation and implementation in achieving water quality goals,” Pugh said. “They are in the business of providing the worlds’ safest, most abundant food, fiber, feed and fuel sources while providing environmental benefits to an entire region. As we continue to ask more from their operations, a commitment must be made to provide clear and reasonable programs through which long-term farm profitability can still be achieved.”

Not to be overlooked are other key areas of concern, including mandatory programs. Pugh testified, implementing mandatory programs can be problematic and can ultimately create unfunded mandates. In addition, due to the diversity within the Commonwealth's agriculture industry, there is no "one size fits all" approach that will work in Virginia.

Pugh also stressed that the Chesapeake Bay Program needs to be more transparent to stakeholders. She testified, “The program should allow for a scientific review period for recommended changes to Chesapeake Bay Model and after scientific review, a comment period should be set to allow stakeholders to review the changes and provide feedback.”

Pugh also addressed funding needs stating that all Bay restoration programs must include provisions for technical assistance and production research. Within each program, adequate funding needs to be established for technical assistance and production research. Farms need assistance in implementing more practices, which requires additional resources such as certified nutrient management plan writers, crop consultants, web-based programs and researchers.

Among the other concerns expressed, Pugh stressed the need for a complete reporting system that captures all conservation practices. “We are highly concerned that the obvious lack of complete data about current implementation of conservation practices significantly skews water quality reports and publishes misleading pollution load reduction assignments for any one sector.”

In closing, Pugh stated, “To borrow a phrase — A well-managed farm is the Bay’s best friend.” Supporting one grain farmer that manages 2,000 acres is much easier and cost effective than dealing with 2’000 homeowners who could inhabit that land if farm profitability fails. Acre for acre, agriculture is the preferred land use in the Bay watershed. By effectively supporting production agriculture, we deliver the most efficient, cost effective water quality benefits to the Bay and our region’s waters.”