Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Environmental Quality
State Water Control Board
Virginia Stormwater Management Program (VSMP) Regulation (formerly 4VAC50-60) [9 VAC 25 ‑ 870]
Action Plasticulture Operations Regulation - Initial Adoption
Comment Period Ended on 3/29/2010


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2/2/10  12:19 pm
Commenter: Megan Gallagher

Adopt Plasticulture Regulations

To the Secretary of Natural Resources and the State Water Control Board,

I fully support the State Water Control Board's efforts to regulate plasticulture operations, particularly the requirement that tomato growers and other plasticulture farmers employ the full array of best management practices to eliminate impacts on local water quality. Failure to comply should result in financial penalties.

On a visit to the Eastern Shore in early January, I watched swirling columns of soil blow over fallow tomato fields with no cover crop or other steps taken to hold the soil in place. Subsequent heavy rains washed sediment, fertilizer and chemicals into local ditches and creeks, a waste of a precious resource, soil, and an unacceptable impact on local water quality.

Clam aquaculture is entirely dependant on high local water quality. It is also one of  the few financial success stories in the fishing industry on the Eastern Shore in the past decade. The demand for Eastern Shore clams has put dozens of watermen back to work. We cannot allow the impact from agricultural producers to erode or destroy the gains in the clam aquaculture industry on the Eastern Shore or elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

Thank you for your efforts to preserve our water quality in Virginia.

Megan Gallagher

The Plains







CommentID: 11260

2/2/10  1:56 pm
Commenter: Peter N. Henderson

Plasticulture regulations

To the Secretary of Natural Resources and the State Water Control Board,

I fully support the State Water Control Board's efforts to regulate plasticulture operations.

I am a 39 year-old Eastern Shore native and have never seen top soil blow away and wash away like it has on some of the tomato fields in Northampton and Accomack Counties.  On January 2, 2010 we experienced 25-30 knot winds from the northwest.  A certain field in mid-Northampton County looked like a sand storm in the Sahara Desert.  I have never seen anything like it and there was no cover crop in place to keep this from happening.  I understand that a lot of cover crops were washed out due to the excessive rainfall earlier in the year, but cover crops should have been planted and established in the early fall to prevent this.


Peter N. Henderson

Bridgetown, VA

CommentID: 11261

2/5/10  5:43 pm
Commenter: john Roberts

CommentID: 11272

2/5/10  5:45 pm
Commenter: john robertrs

Plasticulture farming concentrates runoff, including that of toxics and sediments, and needs regulat
CommentID: 11273

3/10/10  8:14 pm
Commenter: Eugene R. Hampron CBES; Virginia Easternshorekeeper

Plasticulture water quality regulations

Please go forward with substantive regulations for the plasticulture industry, especially as it applies to the VA eastern shore.  I have lived on the shore for 16 years, own a small farm, and live at the headwaters of Jacubus Creek. I have personaly observed the humongous sediment runoff from plasticulture fields to tidal streams, and clouds of wind blown sediment from these same fields during the winter, if they have been cultivated, but not seeded with cover crop, or not tilled in the fall before freeze-thaw events in both Accomac and Northampton counties. I have also observed, from the ground, and from the air, "temporary drains" cut through field-edge berms following heavy rain events, with massive sediment runorr to adjacent tidal streams. Not all growers who use plastic mulch employ careless, lowcost tactics, but those who do are destroying the quality of the aquatic environment in the tidal streams adjacent to their fields. The best management practices for plasticluture , published by VA tech several years ago--"Protecting water quality: Best management Practices for row crops grown on plastic mulch in Virginia"  Mary Leigh Wolfe et all, 2002 provides good guidance .

CommentID: 13423

3/12/10  5:18 pm
Commenter: Dave Lovell

Give the ESSWCD a chance

Just this past  Wednesday the Eastern  Shore  Soil and Water Conservation District voted to approve a memorandum of agreement that was presented by  Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality with the intent that  the tomato companies would CONTINUE to work closely with ESSWCD as they have in the past to address any issues of water quality and runoff.  The local tomato companies have spent many thousands of dollars installing best management practices in the last  several years and  have exhibited a  very willing spirit of  cooperation to work with ESSWCD  whenever an issue has arisen.  To resort to regulation of the tomato companies due to issues that have arisen after the fourth wettest year and THE wettest fall on record seems extremely heavy handed.  Acts of God such as the record breaking rainfall this past fall cannot be predicted and are impossibe to deal with in a real world situation like farming.   The MOA has enforcement provisions through the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services under the Agriculture Stewardship Act.  Give the tomato companies a chance to work with ESSWCD under this new memorandum of agreement before resorting to more regulations. 

                                                                 Dave Lovell








CommentID: 13448

3/13/10  5:16 pm
Commenter: dave vaughn

farmers are not the bad guys


Dear Sirs,

     While it may be argued that some farmers/growers in the past were unconcerned about soil loss and polluting the waters around their fields, this is rarely the case today.

     Tomatoes are big business on the Eastern Shore. The growers have expressed to the Soil and Water District that they want to work with the District and implement BMP's so that they can achieve their objective (make $) while helping the District meet their objective (balance various interests in keeping the watershed healthy). The ESSWCD and growers recently worked together on a MOA so that they will be monitored in a spirit of cooperation in 2010 and beyond.

The weather has been disastrous the past 3-4 months for accomplishing all the BMP's that the growers would ideally implement. I know this situation firsthand, as I live outside Onley in the country. The local growers have basically bulwarked 'catching lines' for the dust that will move as it dries out. The growers could not put in cover this fall. Should they? Of course. Could they? Heck no.

Should DEQ/SWCB continue to monitor the growers? Of course. However, DO NOT CONFUSE A TEMPORARY SITUATION AND ASSUME THAT THESE GUYS ARE 'BAD GUYS'. We need tomatoes on the Shore. Once multiplier effects are considered, next to the Wallops area, tomatoes/ag are the biggest engine driving this county.

And yes, I am an environmentalist, and moderate/liberal in my political views.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Sincerely yours,

Dave Vaughn

Onley, VA


CommentID: 13463

3/17/10  12:04 pm
Commenter: John Chubb

Plasticulture BMPs Need to Be Implemented


- I live downstream from over 100 acres of plasticultured tomatoes. For more than ten years I have observed the effects of this practice on the waters adjacent to my property (less than 1/2 mile from the fields).

- I cannot comment on the quantity of nutrients flowing from these fields.

- In years past (but not the past 3 or 4) I have observed serious marine fauna kills after heavy rains when active tomato growing was in progress.

 - Every year the amount of sediment transferred to the tidal creek where I live is HUGE; the entire creek will turn chocolate brown after a major rain event. The water depth has decreased an estimated 3 feet during the past decade. The soft, unconsolidated sediment is 4 to 5 feet thick. I recommend focusing on sediment control.

- The Northampton County E&S Control Ordinance "exempts farming" from sediment control. Therein lies some of the problem. While traditional farming (tilling, etc) should be exempt, the growers who use plasticulture employ large, heavy equipment like that used to build roads to sculpt the land, sometimes even changing drainage direction. This is no longer "traditional" farming. I have sent several pictures to Melanie Davenport at DEQ.

- A Pasticulture BMP manual was issued in 2002 geared specifically for near coastal growing conditions. Effective practices for preventing degraded waters are known. They have been available for nearly 8 years.

- The ESSWCD has worked with some growers to implement BMPs with limited, but meaningful, success. The ESSWCD has drafted a standard MOU for growers re: having fields evaluated and BMPs recommended and checked. Grower agreement is pending (and completely voluntary).

-  The Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District (ESSWCD) should not regulate of enforce environmental standards. It is an advisory service and manages BMPs.

CommentID: 13503

3/19/10  2:46 pm
Commenter: Robin Rich-Coates, Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District

Good Stewardship for Economic and Environmental Sustainability

The ultimate goal of the State Water Control Board, the Department of Environmental Quality, the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District and the tomato growers is to conserve the quality of the land and water. Good stewardship is both economically and environmentally sustainable. Therefore, all parties benefit from science-based technical advice to install tried and true as well as new and innovative plasticulture “best management practices.”

The Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District embraces the philosophy that voluntary programs with education, technical support, and monetary incentives work the best to get conservation “on the ground.” In the past several years, the District, working closely with the tomato growers, has made considerable progress to accomplish the goals of improving soil and water quality. Is it perfect? No. Does unusually harsh weather conditions make efforts difficult? Yes. Is there still more work that needs to be done? Absolutely.  And the work will continue to progress with the development of a formal agreement, the MOA, between the District and the tomato growers with the endorsement of the State Water Control Board and the Department of Environmental Quality.

Regulations on the surface sound like a good idea but they are often punitive in nature and they do not get the best results like positive reinforcement does. There is limited manpower and funding to adequately enforce the proposed regulations. The regulations would restrict the cooperation that currently exists between the District and the farmers.  There already is a way to ensure that farmers are not violating the law through the Agriculture Stewardship Act. The Ag Stewardship program works well and it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel.  

Therefore, the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District  is confident that the MOA is the most prudent course of action to ensure good stewardship of the land and water of the Eastern Shore of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

Robin Rich-Coates

Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District Board Chair


CommentID: 13519

3/26/10  2:33 pm
Commenter: Steve Sturgis, Association of Virginia Potato and Vegetable Growers

Against regulation of plasticulture operations on the Eastern Shore


As the grower-members of the Association of Virginia Potato and Vegetable Growers, Inc. we are strongly in favor of clean water. However we take exception to the allegations behind the proposed regulation of plasticulture operations and we oppose continuing with the NOIRA.

We believe that structuring the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) as a regulator of agricultural activities will have profound negative impacts on our agricultural economy. The whole idea does not take into account the well-established context of cooperation and improvements that farmers have undertaken to improve soil and water quality. Even within the environmental community, organizations like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, recognize that farmers have made significant progress in reducing pollution loads to the Chesapeake Bay, and tomato growers can be counted among them. They have worked closely with conservation partners to improve field conditions. The poor stand of cover crop this year was entirely weather-related. By the 8th of November, the fields were too wet to work and much of what was planted was drowned. In 2009, rainfall was 10” above average, and that 10” fell in November and December. It affected not only cover crops, but all of our grain farmers, as well. Only about 1/3 of the wheat crop was planted, which will affect the bottom line for many.

We are very concerned that the non-science-based anecdotal evidence paints such a negative picture of agriculture, and plasticulture in particular. According to studies funded by DEQ, there is no “smoking gun” that correlates tomato plasticulture with adverse effects on clam or oyster mortality. The conclusion of the 1999-2000 study stated, “We did not find any association between the presence of plasticulture and sediment toxicity, benthic invertebrate or fish communities, growth or mortality of oysters, or bioaccumulation of copper or organic pesticides in oysters.” The conclusion of a 2008 study of sixteen watersheds on the Eastern Shore noted, “It is not apparent from our dataset that impervious surface attributable to tomato cultivation is correlated with elevated loadings of these materials (fecal coli form bacteria, suspended solids, nitrogen, phosphorus, Chlorophyll a). This finding is somewhat surprising given our casual observations over the past decade of high levels of run-off from tomato fields.” We would also like to point out that in that same study, the watershed with the most plasticulture has some of the best water quality.

Plastic mulch systems are themselves a best management practice (BMP) for agricultural production. Plastic mulch systems utilize drip irrigation and reduce evaporation; thereby reducing water use up to 50% compared to conventional irrigation systems. Similarly, plastic mulch produces a micro-climate under the tomato plants that allows the farmer to have complete control over fertilizer management; which increases efficiency and reduces fertilizer use and losses to the environment.

For a number of years tomato growers have been involved with research projects to improve production practices, most notably cooperating with scientists at both the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), and at the Virginia Tech Agricultural Research Center, to study the effects of different BMP’s on local water quality.

On the ground, growers and their conservation partners recognize the value of BMP’s. In conjunction with a local working group, tomato growers have voluntarily implemented, refined, and innovated on a variety of measures to improve runoff management. Much of the runoff recycles to ponds for use in irrigation and never enters the tidal creeks or Chesapeake Bay. Growers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on BMP’s including sediment retention ponds, rock check dams, and vegetated buffer strips to minimize potential water quality impacts. Scientists at the Virginia Tech Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center continue to work with the agricultural companies to conduct studies that cover the full gamut of agricultural production and conservation. Unfortunately, this work has not bee acknowledged by industry detractors.

The Association fully supports the ongoing efforts of the conservation partners who understand agricultural production. As evidenced by the great strides that have been made to address cropland concerns, the partnership works. We applaud the efforts made by the tomato growers to date. They have stepped up to the plate to install best management practices and these efforts have been undertaken with a cooperative and open dialogue involving many partners such as the Soil and Water Conservation District, NRCS, Virginia Cooperative Extension, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and private consultants, among others.

We fully agree with the comments submitted by Robin Rich-Coates, Chair of the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District (and 19-year Director). “There is already a way to ensure that farmers are not violating the law through the Agricultural Stewardship Act. The Ag Stewardship program works well and it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel.”




CommentID: 13594

3/27/10  4:50 pm
Commenter: Richard Ayers, resident, Northampton County

I support preemptive controls for row-crop plasticulture practices.

I commend the State Water Control Board for considering rules to protect our waters from runoff from row-crop plasticulture operations.

As a current resident of Northampton County, former resident of Accomack County, and someone who has worked on the Bay and coastal waters most of my life, I have seen many detrimental impacts of land conversion over the decades.

While commercial row-crop plasticulture practices create acres of impervious surface, it seems to be the leveling, channeling and deep ditching of the lands that creates these huge conveyances for mud to discharge into our waters.

I acknowledge the benefits of plasticulture. Our nurserymen employ similar practices with much success.  I also recognize that the row-crop plasticulture industry has been an important part of the Eastern Shore for over thirty years. But it’s the routine modification and changes to the land to quickly drain some of these row-crop operations that concerns me.

The local farming community has done an amazing job adopting conservation tillage practices to many of our local grain crops.  Meanwhile, the row-crop plasticulture industry has seemingly focused on practices that facilitate rapid drainage.

Following litigation in the late 90’s, the row-crop plasticulture industry and the state and local agriculture community came together to develop Best Management Practices (BMP’s), specific for the industry. Back then it was touted that the industry was going to “voluntarily” comply with the practices they helped to develop.  Some operators did employ many of these BMP’s and were commonly acknowledged for their effort. But by 2004 bulldozers, levelers, and excavators returned to wholesale drainage modification.

During 2004 a local group of citizen formed to try to work with the plasticulture industry and the local agriculture community.  Regular flights over some of the plasticulture operations documented massive soil erosion and sediment plumes into our tidal waters.  These efforts seemed to reluctantly bring the industry back to the table to discuss more “voluntary” compliance. And some progress was made.

Then the NOIRA announcement seemed to really bring the industry back to the table. And as could be predicted, the row-crop plasticulture industry wants an opportunity to “voluntarily” comply…

The question for me is should companies who wish to employ row-crop plasticulture on coastal lands install adequate sediment controls before it rains or after it rains and then only if someone complains.

I think before it rains…

CommentID: 13618

3/29/10  2:56 pm
Commenter: Stuart Burnley

We support good stewardship of the land.

I am a resident of Willis Wharf and have witnessed erosion of many types to our agricultural lands.  I am familiar with the tidal creeks of the Shore and have seen the effects of man's existence.  I have read and am familiar with this NOIRA.

My partner, Bill Neal, and I are owners/operators of Hermitage Farms Nursery and practice good stewardship of the land and water.  We go to great efforts to preserve and protect what we use every day beyond any requirements other than our own.  In recognition of this, we were awarded the 2007 Ground Water Award by the Eastern Shore of Virginia Ground Water Committee. 

We are not too sure that more government regulations and more monitoring by a government agency in relation to a broadly defined term, plasticulture, is the answer to this challenge.

Designing regulations to make 'one law that catches all'  is usually the method implemented to solve whatever the challenge may be.  What would be the definition of plasticulture as it pertains to agriculture and how many different ag businesses would be affected by a broad catch-all law?  The public comments that have come in so far show a wide variance of knowledge about plastic use in general agriculture production.  We also know by experience that leaving interpretations of a particular law with the responsible government agency in charge can be very inefficient and frustrating.

It is our opinion that creating another law protecting the environment should be done so as a last resort.  Good stewardship of the land starts with the owners of the land and is benficial to all, short and long term.  We would hope that good stewardship of the land could be attained by mutual agreement of all interested parties.

CommentID: 13687

3/29/10  4:31 pm
Commenter: Wilmer Stoneman, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation

Oppose Promulgation of Plasticulture Regulations

On behalf of members of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, I ask that regulations not be promulgated for growers that raise tomatoes utilizing plasticulture methods. 


Concerns expressed to date have focused on sediment and only three operations.  This is easily addressed by establishing or continuing a working relationship with the local Soil and Water Conservation District or by the Agriculture Stewardship Program in the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  Both offer the needed individual attention to the issue rather than blanket regulation that will effect not only operations in question but also innocent growers state wide. 


CommentID: 13691