For Love of Land and Water: Essex County Farmers Practice Effective Conservation, Part One

  RiversFarmsAn ariel view of Cloverfield Farm. Photo by Brenda Gladding.

Just as several members of Congress are drafting a new reduced five-year Farm Bill, which will likely include significant cuts to critical conservation programs, we talked with several Virginia farm families who have learned how important these conservation programs are both for their and their communities' livelihoods as well as the health of the environment. The following is the first of a series of blogs from those conversations adapted from an article in the Essex County Countryside Alliance 2011 Report. Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow.  

Part One:

Some people have farming in their genes. Bob Baylor's family has been working Port Tobacco Farm since the 17th century. Jay Hundley comes from a multi-generation farming family near Center Cross. Now he, his father, and one brother work their Upper Essex farm, Clover Field, on Farmer's Hall Creek, plus rented land in Essex, Caroline, and King George Counties. David Taliaferro went to college and graduate school but returned to Montague Farms, where he had grown up between the Rappahannock and Dragon Swamp (Piankatank watershed) in Lower Essex, to farm with his brothers, Bill and Bryan, plus his son and nephew.

All three of these operations focus on soybeans, corn, and small grains, but they are strikingly different. Bob Baylor sells his crops to Perdue and Old Dominion Grain for poultry and livestock feed. The Hundleys raise seed that they sell through another brother's Hundley Seed Company in Chance, near Occupacia Creek. Over the past 25 years, the Taliaferros have developed highly successful edible soybean markets for natto, tofu, sprouts, soy sauce, and similar products in Japan and other Asian countries. They also raise corn, barley, and wheat. But the one factor all three farmers have in common is a thoughtful, whole-farm approach that successfully blends profitability with strong conservation measures which work together to protect and enhance land and water resources.

Long-Term Protection

One valuable tool for these farmers has been placing conservation easements on parts of their lands. Bob Baylor, for example, has placed all of Port Tobacco under a conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and The Nature Conservancy, ensuring that the land will remain in agriculture in perpetuity. His son, Waring, is already farming part-time with his father while he studies at Virginia Tech. Bob manages Port Tobacco's 600 acres of woodland under a forestry management plan with Essex County.

Likewise the Hundleys have placed easements on Clover Field. For the Taliaferros, easements are part of the family's long-term strategic thinking for Montague Farms, and they will be key factors in estate planning. Bob, Jay, and David believe in easements enough that they serve on the Board of Directors of the Essex County Countryside Alliance. The Alliance helps local landowners conserve their farm and forest lands by educating them about the conservation value of easements with organizations like the Middle Peninsula Land Trust and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. The Alliance also highlights easements as valuable tools in estate planning. In only a few years, ECCA has assisted a significant number of Essex farm families in protecting thousands of acres from development in the Rappahannock watershed ....

--John Page Williams

Stay tuned tomorrow for more on how these Virginia farm families have successfully incorporated strong conservation efforts--such as planting stream buffers and fencing cattle--into their farming practices.

In a matter of days, several members of Congress will pass along recommendations to the "Super Committee"� for a new reduced five-year Farm Bill, which will likely include significant cuts to critical conservation programs. Please help us prevent this from happening. Protecting this funding in the Farm Bill means not only an opportunity for cleaner streams and healthier rivers throughout the Bay watershed, but stronger economies and a growing workforce as well. Please act today for a chance to save this critical funding for clean water in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. 

Emmy Nicklin

Issues in this Post

Agriculture   Community   Conservation   Federal Farm Bill   CBF in Virginia  



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