The Waste Solutions Forum: An Innovative and Cooperative Approach to Support the Agricultural Community and Protect Water Quality
Nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) contamination of water resources is a significant concern for the Chesapeake Bay and threatens the economic viability of farming communities within the Shenandoah Valley. Nutrient reduction challenges in the Shenandoah Valley are greater because the excess nutrients in the region are largely in the form of manure and poultry litter, which have traditionally been applied to cropland and are difficult and expensive to transport long distances. Poultry is Virginia's top revenue earner for receipts in the agricultural sector and employs 12,000 people statewide. Dairy farming generates about $300 million in farm receipts in Virginia and 40 percent of the state's 795 dairy farms are located in the Shenandoah Valley. The Waste Solutions Forum was convened in April 2005 by Virginia Tech faculty and a planning committee comprised of individuals representing the agricultural and environment conservation communities and other interest groups to explore innovative, economically viable, and long-term solutions to these nutrient challenges and issues. Nearly 80 invitees from the agricultural, business, regulatory, environmental, and academic communities participated in a facilitated "outcome-based" discussion that resultedin a detailed strategy for addressing excess manure and litter, including specific priority actions for research, pilot projects, policy, and education. The Forum and its steering committee continue to focus on these strategies and long-term solutions to the nutrient challenge facing animal agriculture in an effort to support the agricultural community and protect water quality. This collaborative approach of traditional and non-traditional partnerships has allowed the Forum to make significant progress toward long-term solutions and achieving the defined priority actions, including receipt of over $2 million in grant funds, implementation of multiple on-the-ground pilot projects, numerous educational events, and coordinated policy to support agriculture and improve water quality.