Introduction:

Virginia is embarking on a survey to help us learn more about voluntary conservation practices on Virginia farms in the Chesapeake Bay watershed…like yours!  The information you provide in response to the survey will help Virginia tell the story of what farmers are doing to conserve soil and improve water quality. This is incredibly important information that can help agriculture achieve its water quality goals for the Watershed Implementation Plan for the Chesapeake Bay.  Please feel free to read the full introductory letter here.

Survey link:

Access the survey directly at https://tinyurl.com/VAfarmersurvey or via the take survey button below. The survey period will run thru March 12, 2021.


Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the purpose of this survey?

We know that Virginia farmers have done much to improve water quality and soil health. Yet many of the conservation practices that farmers have implemented are not accounted for in tracking progress toward water quality goals, including cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. This is especially true where farmers have implemented practices voluntarily, using their own means to do so.  This includes those years when no cost share was available to all farmers because of lack of funding.  By capturing this information, we will be able to document unreported practices and have them count toward Virginia’s agricultural water quality goals for the Chesapeake Bay.  This survey will inventory these practices and ensure that the agricultural community receives the credit it deserves for improving water quality.

Is participation in this survey voluntary?

Yes. Participation in the survey is completely voluntary. Nonetheless we hope that all farmers will choose to fill out the survey and help tell a very positive story about Virginia agriculture’s role in protecting and improving the quality of Virginia’s streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. It is important to understand that farmers have to meet the nutrient reduction goals by 2025 or legislation that passed the 2020 General Assembly mandates practices for implementation by farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Taking time to complete the survey is a significant way you can contribute information to stop mandatory requirements from becoming effective.

How can I tell if my farm is located in the Chesapeake Bay watershed?

We are hoping that all Virginia farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed will join in completing the survey.  If you are not sure whether your farm is located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed you can look up the address of your farm on this interactive map to help make this decision.  Please note that you might have to zoom out to see where your farm is located in relation to the Chesapeake Bay watershed boundaries, which are represented by a blue line on the map.

How long will it take me to complete the survey?

We think it should take about 20 minutes to complete the survey.  It might take more or less time depending on the amount of information you need to enter and if you have documents handy to use.

What timeline should be considered in responding to the survey?

When answering the survey questions, farmers should take into consideration their farm operation(s) during the last calendar year (January 2020 through December 2020). Farmers should also consider all best management practices that exist on their farm, regardless of when they were installed. The survey will ask if a best management practice was developed with cost share or not, and it will be important to indicate if that practice remains supported by a current cost share contract. The survey administrators do want to know if a farm operation includes best management practices that were not supported by cost share as well as practices that were supported by cost share but are no longer under a BMP contract.

What documents should I have with me when I am completing the survey?

You will be able to more quickly and completely answer the survey questions if you have farm, tract, and field acreage data and farm records on crops and fertilization, length of fence, and length and width of buffers.  Copies of your conservation plan(s), nutrient management plan(s), and any BMP contracts will be helpful to have with you.  You can review the survey here in advance to see the type of questions that are asked.  Please note that this is a sample copy of the survey and not intended for responses.  

Do farmers have to fill out the survey online?

We are hoping that as many farmers will fill out the survey online as possible.  However, we recognize that not everyone has access to—or is comfortable with–a computer.  Paper copies of the survey are available by calling your local Extension office.  A list of local Extension offices is located here:   https://ext.vt.edu/offices.html. Your local SWCD office can be found by using the VASWCD directory and local SWCD staff will work to assist you where possible with completion.

Is there a recommended web browser to use?

The survey should function well on Google Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge web browsers.  We also know that the survey should be fine on more recent versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer.  If you try to open the survey online and it doesn’t display properly please reach out to your local Extension or SWCD office for assistance. 

Is the survey easy to fill out on a smartphone?

Unfortunately, no.  There are several questions that are accompanied by tables for responses.  So, while you can use a smartphone to fill out the survey, these tables will be difficult to navigate on a smartphone and thus we recommend using a laptop or desktop computer if possible.

May a farmer seek help with filling out the survey?

Yes. Farmers can contact their local Virginia Cooperative Extension office, local SWCD office, or their agricultural consultant for help with completing the survey.To determine your local SWCD review the SWCD map or our SWCD Directory. A list of local Extension offices is located here:   https://ext.vt.edu/offices.html.

What if a farmer is retired and rents his ground out to another farm operator?

Retired farmers should have the farm operator who rents his ground fill out the survey.  Operators may fill out one survey for all ground that they operate (owned and rented).

How should a farm landowner who is not a farmer approach the survey?

Farm landowners who are not personally involved with farm management activities should have the farm operator who rents the ground fill out the survey. Operators may fill out one survey for all ground that they operate (owned and rented).

I noticed there is a set of questions about barnyards.  What types of facilities are included in the term “barnyard”?

For the purposes of this survey, “barnyard” is a designated livestock heavy use area, strategically located on the farm for the purpose of concentrating animals to feed, shelter, separate and care for them.  This would include sacrifice lots, feedlots, maternity lots, loafing lots, exercise lots, sick lots, etc.

When does the survey close?

March 12, 2021.

What happens after the survey closes?

Once the survey closes, researchers from Virginia Tech and Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) will analyze the survey responses and provide cumulative results to Virginia’s Voluntary Agricultural Best Management Practices Task Force members.  Results from all survey responses will also be confidentially submitted to a limited number of staff at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation to document the practices that Virginia farmers are doing to conserve soil and water and protect water quality. These data will be compared to DCR data in order to remove duplication, then combined with other data and aggregated to the county level to preserve farmer confidentiality before it is submitted for nutrient reduction credit.  Ten percent of the survey participants will be randomly selected by Virginia Cooperative Extension for farm visits with the help of your local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) to follow-up on the overall inventory.  The data from the survey and farm visits will not include names or locations of participants.  Please note that, if your farm is selected for a visit, you will be contacted in advance and asked for permission.  This follow-up is part of the process required by the Chesapeake Bay Program Partnership to confirm the accuracy of survey responses so that credit can be applied to everyone who completed the survey.  The final summarized data will be included in Virginia’s annual data submission to the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program Office to be counted toward Virginia’s goals for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan.  The summarized results will also be shared widely through media outlets to tell the story of how Virginia farmers are working proactively to improve water quality.

Is my name and location kept confidential?

All names and location information about individual farmers and farms will be protected. The results reported by Virginia Tech / VCE will be cumulative by county and will not include individual names or locations. Names and addresses will be removed from all inventory and farm visit results to prevent identification of participants. Virginia Tech researchers have extensive experience in data confidentiality protocols and will ensure these protocols are strictly followed as this survey is administered.

Who developed the survey?

The survey was developed collaboratively by Virginia’s Voluntary Agricultural Best Management Practices Task Force.  Task force members worked closely together and include representatives from the:  Natural Resources Conservation Service, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (VASWCD), Virginia Agribusiness Council, Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Farm Bureau (VFB), and Virginia Tech Office of Analytics and Institutional Effectiveness, among other partners.  Questions were pre-tested by a group of Virginia farmers, Extension agents, and conservation professionals with VCE, VASWCD, and VFB and the survey was refined based on their input.

Who is administering the survey?

The survey is being administered by the Virginia Tech Office of Analytics and Institutional Effectiveness in partnership with Virginia Cooperative Extension and Virginia’s Voluntary Agricultural Best Management Practices Task Force. Read the full VCE press release on this effort here.