Farmers work to keep New River clean

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Blacksburg, Va., May 3- New River: Farmers work to keep the New River a favorite summer spot.

by Katie Lukens, Dylan Holliday–

With summer quickly approaching, the New River will be a highly visited destination for recreation and relaxation. Little thought, however, goes into what is done to keep the river clean.

Recent concern has developed about E. Coli in the Shenandoah River due to livestock, and the question arises as to how the farmers are working to keep water clean.

Farmers have a vested interest in keeping water clean because they rely on water for their families, livestock and crops, explains Dr. Katharine Knowlton, a professor in the Dairy Science Department at Virginia Tech.

Farmers in the New River Valley take extra precautions to keep the river clean, including using nutrient management plans, grass filter strips and fencing livestock out of the water.

Nutrient management plans are a common practice to keep rivers clean. “Nutrient management plans are used by farmers to prevent runoff by helping to estimate the nutrient needs of crops and then help farmers plan appropriate fertilizer or mineral application without oversupplying nutrients,” Knowlton said. “Nutrient management plans balance economic, environmental, and crop management concerns for farmers with the goal of finding the perfect balance so there is no risk of nutrients being lost into the water.”

Virginia dairy and beef farmers have been proactive about addressing cattle in streams and rivers. Fifteen years ago, the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association released a policy which stated that all cattle should be fenced out of the stream, Knowlton said. Virginia continues to encourage farmers to fence out their cattle by offering cost-share money to farmers.

Instead of planting a crop right up to the river, farmers make mindful efforts by using grass filter strips along the border of rivers and streams. Grass filter strips are used to buffer runoff from fields to keep pollutants from entering the water. These not only benefit the water but provide benefits to wildlife and help to prevent erosion of the land.

Immediate results are not always seen from these efforts. It may take up to 100 years to see the impact, but in the end, if you have people making a conscious effort, it makes a difference, Hunter Wyatt from Virginia Cooperative Extension explains.

The New River is a place that will continue to be enjoyed by both wildlife and the people of the New River Valley with the careful efforts made by farmers and community members daily.

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