A Jan. 25 program at the Link may be an eye-opener for farmers as it will explore holistic management practices.
The program has been spearheaded by Cliff Miller, a longtime farmer in Sperryville who raises cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens at his Mount Vernon Farm, where for the past decade he has made concerted efforts to connect local agriculture with global — or at least regional — conservation efforts, and to open the ancient trade to innovation.
“This is not a government program. It’s meant to help farmers as a group farm more intelligently and make sure when we make decisions that we don’t do something that may help us in the short term but hurt us in the long term,” he said during an interview Monday. He made a presentation earlier in the day to the board of county supervisors.
Miller said he had been looking for what could be done to help agriculture in Rappahannock County. He served as a member of the agriculture subcommittee of the county’s Economic Revitalization Advisory Committee, a citizens group tasked by the county to review the local economy and consider ways to help businesses and spur job growth.
The county supervisors have provided $2,000 toward the cost of offering a one-year pilot program using Holistic Management International farming methods.
Miller said Holistic Management is providing another $10,000 for the pilot program and he is trying to raise $15,000 from larger foundations. He is working on raising $10,000 “from the community” and has secured $5,000 so far, including the $2,000 from county supervisors.
Miller said he will be one of what he hopes will be five to 10 farmers participating in the pilot program.
A Holistic Management brochure explains that its “proven methods have taught them [farmers and ranchers] to successfully manage their land resources in partnership with nature.” Doing so results in healthier crops, higher yields and increased profits.
The methods work to optimize the use of rainfall and conserve water resources, improve soil health and the biodiversity of range lands and pastures, and restore damaged grasslands.
Miller said the program is open to anyone who makes his or her living off the land, such as vegetable growers and those who tend orchards and vineyards, as well as ranchers.
He said Holistic Management will have a representative in Rappahannock for four days in March working with grass-based ranchers on new methods of raising cattle. Representatives will make four visits to the county during the one-year pilot program. A representative will be at the opening session at the Link community center in Sperryville.
“I’ve been to one- or two- or three-day programs in the past and it’s been in one ear and out the other,” Miller said, but he has found the holistic approach to be different.
“This isn’t a touchy-feely group. They taught me to look at things in a different way and I’ve been a cattle farmer for years,” Miller said.
He said he hopes “at this time next year there will be another meeting with a report from the farmers” on the results of the pilot program.
Miller envisions the program continuing for another two years with more farmers participating.
The Jan. 25 session at the Link runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with lunch provided. Miller said there is no cost to attend the session.
Open space category
In other business, the supervisors voted to drop adding an open space category to the use value chapter of the county tax code. Open space was defined as land used for park or recreational purposes, conservation, wetlands, riparian buffers, and historic or scenic. The designation would apply to parcels of 200 acres or more.
County Administrator John McCarthy said there are currently seven properties not already in easement or in an existing government conservation program whose owners could apply for open space status. They are properties “not productively farmed because of weather conditions.”
Commonwealth Attorney Peter Luke said that the assessed value on property designated open space couldn’t be lower than property designated for agricultural use.
The board was provided with a copy of a draft resolution. If the board had adopted it, the matter would have moved ahead to a Feb. 6 public hearing.
Supervisor Chris Parrish, however, was concerned that the county “may lose some revenue” if it created the open space category. “All of these programs, even if they’re reimbursed by state or federal monies, there’s a lot of waste. I don’t see where the county is going to benefit. If not broken, why fix it?”
Supervisor Ron Frazier said he also feared that it could end up costing the county money. “I’ve not been contacted by anyone who was in favor” of creating the category.
The board vote to delete the open space provision was approved by a vote of 4 to 1, with Hampton District supervisor Bryant Lee voting against.
Lee said landowners who are accepted into federal or state land management programs do have to spend money on improvements to the water, soil and grass on their land.
“When we looked at open space, we didn’t want a free-for-all. We attached it to federal and state programs. They [property owners] do have to invest money.”
The owner is eligible to be in a land conservation program for a certain length of time and can get a percentage of his investment back.
Lee said he saw the open space category as helping keep property from being sold for development.
The board will consider an amended resolution at its February meeting that will update other aspects of the taxation code to bring it in line with the state code.
In electing its officers and appointees for 2011, the board of supervisors made no changes. Roger Welch continues as board chairman and Lee as vice chairman. Frazier remains the board’s representative to the planning commission, Welch serves on the regional commission, Parrish and Lee on the Rappahannock River Basin Commission, Mike Biniek and Parrish on the public safety committee and Frazier on the fire levy board.
Line of duty
The county administrator told the board that a provision in the current state budget would require counties to assume the cost of providing “line of duty” benefits insurance to law enforcement and fire and rescue workers — an expense that is now paid by the state. In the case of Rapphannock County, it would apply to coverage for employees of the sheriff’s office but not the fire and rescue units, since the latter are volunteer forces.
The benefits come on top of workers’ compensation, McCarthy said. Originally intended to cover police and fire officers injured in the line of duty, the coverage has been extended over time to include a surviving spouse and children below a certain age, and stretched to include treatment for such as cancer, heart attack and stroke.
This “unfunded mandate” may not survive the budgetary process of the Virginia General Assembly but McCarthy said he wanted to make the board aware of it so that they could plan to include it in their next fiscal budget beginning July 1. At this point, McCarthy said he doesn’t know how much the mandate would cost the county.
Civil War anniversary
The supervisors voted to appoint additional members to the Civil War Sesquicentennial Local Committee. Members will be planning commemorations in Rappahannock County as the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
New members named to the local committee are Art Candenquist of Amissville, Brian Taylor of Sperryville, Danny Hitt of Castleton, George Kidwell of Amissville, Jim Gannon of Huntly, Jim Massie of Amissville, Melissa Delcour of Salem, Ron Maxwell of Flint Hill, Sammy Forback of Flint Hill and Tom Taylor of Sperryville. They join Ron Frazier and Rudy Segaar who are already on the panel.