The state of Virginia is offering to help farmers in parts of the Shenandoah Valley, Northern Virginia and the Northern Neck pay for writing nutrient management plans.

The state Department of Conservation and Recreation has encouraged such plans for years, and in the past two years has increased the number of people certified to write nutrient management plans.

Now, it is offering to share up to 75 percent of the cost of plan-writing and soil sampling. Nutrient management plans are designed to optimize the application of fertilizer on soil, based on soil conditions, plant needs and other factors to minimize the potential of runoff into nearby streams.

“Nutrient reduction is a key in controlling nonpoint source pollution,” said Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley, Jr. “Increased nutrient management planning not only improves water quality, it also gives farmers another tool in better managing their resources.

A 1998 study of farms using nutrient management planning, conducted by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, also showed the plans can save money. At four of the farms studied, income increased from $395 to $4,598 annually. A dairy farm in the Shenandoah River watershed showed the highest income increase.

Funds for the cost-share stem from the 1997 Water Quality Improvement Act, which helps finance Bay-related nutrient reduction activities.

Counties where the nutrient management plan cost-share is in effect are Rockingham, Shenandoah, Page, Warren, Frederick, Clarke, Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William. Also included are most of Augusta, Stafford and King George, and parts of Northumberland, Westmoreland, Fauquier and Highland counties.

To participate in the cost-share program, farmers must contact their local soil and water conservation district.