Small farms, when viewed as one, represent a large portion of the agricultural sector in the Shenandoah Valley and other parts of the Potomac River watershed. In the Shenandoah Valley, we're going "site by site" to all the farms in the area, opening a dialogue with farmers about improving the practices that endanger the health and jobs of people living downstream.
Many small farms are not regulated and difficult for government agencies to monitor. So far, the best way to improve water quality downstream from farms is to persuade farmers to adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) on a voluntary basis. Small changes can make a big difference. Here are a few of the most common and most effective changes we ask farmers to make:
- prevent cattle from using the river as a restroom by fencing cattle away from rivers and streams
- not feeding cattle on the banks of rivers and streams
- planting a buffer to catch rainwater that carries animal waste, dirt, fertilizers and pesticides into the river during rain storms
The program begins by initiating dialogue with the farmers to build trust and understanding about the way their farming practices may be damaging our water supply. We offer assistance including our Shenandoah River Conservation Fund, links to cost share programs and other support for farmers who are willing to implement BMPs. In the event that discussions break down, or improvements stall, the program will use local regulations where they exist that may compel farmers to make changes.
In 2012, we surveyed over 1000 farms and agricultural practices, such as cows in the water and cattle feedlots on river banks that pollute streams and rivers, have been documented. Forty-eight farms are implementing or have plans to implement improvements.