Healthy communities and a healthy environment are critical components for economic success and prosperity. Conserving and protecting prime agricultural soils and farmland is critical to a healthy, vibrant, resilient food system in Virginia. And yet, urban and suburban development continues to threaten prime agricultural soils and arable farmland in Virginia. Virginia lost over 649,000 farm acres from 1997 to 2007.
On average about 7,500 acres of prime agricultural land are developed annually in Virginia. This change and loss is an indicator of development pressure and does not bode well for the prospect for long-term agricultural economic vitality in Virginia. Once these agricultural soils are developed or paved over, agricultural production opportunities cease and there is no turning back.
Farmers value their soil and water resources; therefore, environmental stewardship of their land and Virginia’s working landscapes is critical to long-term profitability and sustainability. Agriculture and the Chesapeake Bay are two incredible valuable assets for Virginia’s economy so balancing profitable land management and conservation practices is an ongoing need.
Of Virginia’s 47,383 farmers, approximately 10,883 farms or roughly 25% of the farms have implemented some conservation measure on their farm. An additional 11,618 farms practice some form of rotational or management intensive grazing. Virginia farmers have made significant progress in protecting and conserving Virginia’s natural resources, and these estimates may not include all soil and water conservation practices voluntarily installed on farms. However, the percentage of participation indicates broader participation in soil and water conservation programs and on-the ground implementation is still needed moving forward.
To continue to support agriculture and protect water quality, the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) such as nutrient management plans, riparian buffers, livestock exclusion, no-till, cover crops, crop rotations, green manures, organic mulch, compost, grazing, and integrated pest management (IPM) strategies must continue to be emphasized in extension education and natural resources conservation programs.