Colchester, Vermont, August 21, 2017—Just in time for Clean Water Week in Vermont, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has promising news to report about the positive impacts to water quality in Lake Champlain thanks to conservation efforts by farmers.
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established new limits for how much phosphorus can enter Lake Champlain. USDA-NRCS is one of the agencies that has been working with farmers to implement conservation practices that protect and improve soil and water resources, and ultimately reduce phosphorus runoff.
NRCS reports that recent analysis utilizing models indicates a reduction of phosphorus runoff into the lake as a result of effective conservation efforts. NRCS State Conservationist Vicky Drew applauded farmers for their stewardship which is helping the state meet federal guidelines to clean up the lake. “This data is really a reflection of the hard work and dedication of the farmers in the Basin,” she said.
Phosphorus is a nutrient found in agricultural fertilizers, manure, sewage, and even some household cleaning products. It is a beneficial nutrient in agriculture because it is essential for plant growth. While phosphorus can increase crop production, it also serves as a threat to water quality once it reaches surface waters. Fertilizers, manure, and phosphorus bound sediments can runoff fields into nearby streams. If these streams are part of the Lake Champlain Basin, they eventually make their way through the watershed and into the lake. When high concentrations of phosphorus accumulate in a body of water, plant and algae growth accelerates, which consumes oxygen and creates “dead zones”. These “dead zones” cannot support life and as a result, fish and other aquatic life could die due to the lack of oxygen.
In an effort to help the state meet the EPA phosphorus limits, USDA-NRCS in Vermont developed a Strategic Watershed Planning Approach. This five year plan, initiated in 2015, targets the most impaired watersheds (those known to contribute heavy concentrations of agricultural phosphorus runoff to the lake). These watersheds include St. Albans Bay, Pike River, Rock River, and McKenzie Brook in Addison County. NRCS is working with state and local partners to allocate financial and technical assistance to these areas through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This Farm Bill program helps farmers install conservation practices that protect and improve soil and water quality including reduced tillage, nutrient management, cover crops, permanent seeding, buffers, and prescribed grazing. “The conservation practices installed in the Lake Champlain Basin over the last few years are already making a positive impact on soil and water health,” says Drew. “Our goal was to show measurable water quality improvement, and we are.”
The phosphorus limits set by the EPA helped guide phosphorus reduction goals set for the four targeted watersheds. Using tools developed by EPA, NRCS estimated total phosphorus reductions for the first year of the five year project. The estimated reductions can be viewed at:
Ag—it’s who we are
Vermont has a robust agricultural community that’s engaged in providing healthy food for consumers in our state and across the country. From dairy and maple, to beef and vegetable products, our farmers are the best of the best.
Our family has worked with Vermont farmers for more than 40 years, providing them with safe seed and fertilizer treatments, and doling out healthy portions of advice on best land management practices, soil testing and nutrition, and animal care.
We’ve seen a lot change over the years—new and improved seed, like GMOs that can withstand attack from insects and allow farmers to use less pesticides, less fertilizers and less land while simultaneously achieving higher yields and improving the quality of their forages.
We’ve also witnessed new and improved conservation techniques that allow our farmers to preserve the land, such as cover cropping and no till or reduced till. By using seasonal cover crops such as small grains, farmers are able to protect the soil from eroding and improve the quality of the soil—these crops are high in nitrogen which is a natural fertilizer.
Not tilling the land, or tilling it less, increases the amount of water that soaks through the soil and increases organic matter and the variety of life in the soil. This makes soil more resilient.
Right now, many farmers are starting their late summer seeding planting small grains and certain grasses. At other times of the year they’ll rotate crops on that same land. These are all practices that have developed as needs have evolved. And, along with myriad other agricultural techniques practiced by our farmers, they certainly reduce the carbon footprint.
Every year, Bourdeau Brothers, Inc. has hosted the Addison County Ag Showcase. Before it was that, it was known as our “Corn Day.” Vendors from all parts of the farming system participate and it’s always proven a great environment for the exchange of innovative ideas. We will always need those.
There are more than 800 dairy farms in Vermont. Each one represents a family who has dedicated themselves to a job that’s tough and, often not in their control thanks to the ever-changing climate. Some are organic and others aren’t. Every farm has its challenges.
For example, some have fields that get easily waterlogged and they use tile drainage to siphon off the excess water below the soil’s surface. This allows plant roots to take hold, get strong and produce high yielding, healthy crops.
Some of the state’s dairy farms have methane digesters which convert manure into electricity via a generator. The compressed and dried-out manure also serves as a good bedding alternative to wood chips for animals on the farm.
Farming is the economic backbone of this state providing thousands of jobs and generating millions of dollars in business annually. What makes this state so great, are the variety of farms we have.
Unfortunately, over the years we’ve seen too many that have shut their barn doors, simply unable to make it work. As the U.S., and indeed the world population increases, supporting each other is critical.
At Bourdeau Brothers we’re grateful for the hard work that all Vermont farmers are doing. Farmers face tough odds, and we are lucky that ours are dedicated to preserving the open landscape, water quality and high quality healthy food options. They are shepherds of their land, putting best practices in place so that future generations can work and live on it.
Jacob Bourdeau is a member of the management team at Bourdeau Brothers Inc. His company provides dairy nutrition and crop management services to farmers throughout the northeast. Bourdeau is a member of the Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance.
Lake Champlain is a valuable and treasured resource in Vermont. It provides drinking water, recreational opportunities and, of course, spectacular scenery. Through voluntary conservation, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has worked hand-in-hand with local producers to plan and improve soil and water management practices throughout its adjacent watersheds.
Although NRCS is just one of the many entities working in close partnership with farmers to ensure the future health of Lake Champlain, I am pleased to report that recently analyzed models indicate a reduction of phosphorus runoff into the lake as a result of these effective efforts.
This is encouraging, especially during this time of the year, when we see the impacts of polluted runoff in the form of blue-green algae blooms, which can be harmful to pets and people. This data is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the farmers in the basin. I applaud each and every one of you for going above and beyond to ensure that your farming practices are helping improve soil and water quality.
In 2015, NRCS developed a “Strategic Watershed Planning Approach.” This five year plan targets the most impaired watersheds – those known to contribute higher concentrations of agricultural phosphorus runoff to the lake. Over the past two years, we have targeted financial and technical resources to St. Albans Bay, Pike River, and Rock River in Franklin County, and McKenzie Brook in Addison County. We worked closely with our state and local conservation partners to help farmers install conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, including practices such as reduced tillage, nutrient management, cover crops, permanent seeding, buffers, and prescribed grazing.
I am thrilled we are able to use these early estimates to let farmers know their efforts are making a difference in the health of Lake Champlain. And I urge farmers in these four target areas to visit with their local NRCS office to explore the assistance available to them.
We have estimated total phosphorus reductions for the first year of the five year project, and you can see these encouraging results at http://bit.ly/VTwatersheds
We remain committed to working with Vermont’s farmers, in the basin and beyond, who are doing their part to ensure our state’s natural resources are protected. And, the recent rollout of the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP) is an ideal way to reward and recognize Vermont’s conservation farmers. This unique program is a partnership effort between the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, USDA-NRCS, the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, and the University of Vermont Cooperative Extension.
I believe that farmers who are going above and beyond to protect and improve the natural resources on and around their farming operations should be publically recognized for their stewardship.
Our ultimate goal is to show measurable water quality improvement as a result of targeted conservation efforts, and we will continue to monitor our progress and share the impacts of conservation within the Basin. Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement on additional target watersheds. There is much more work to be done, but I am confident that the dedication and perseverance of Vermont’s farmers will help the state reach its goals, and that collectively, we can protect our beloved Lake Champlain.
Vicky M. Drew, of Georgia, is the the state conservationist with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Most of us don’t spend our days plowing fields or wrangling cattle. We’re part of the 99 percent of Americans who eat food but don’t produce it. Because of our intimate relationship with food and because it’s so crucial to our health and the environment, people should be very concerned about how it’s produced. But we don’t always get it right. Next time you’re at the grocery store, consider these 10 modern myths about the most ancient occupation. Read more…
There are a lot of exciting things happening on Vermont’s farms these days. We’ve just had the second Breakfast on the Farm event this year, where Vermonters from all over got a taste of what it’s like to live and work on a dairy farm. And, the University of Vermont is holding several Crops and Soils Field Days to highlight innovations, research and new approaches to farming. Read more…
Grasses of the future will make animals healthier, more productive and reduce their impact on the environment.
AgResearch scientist Tony Conner said advances in modern grasses would bring many advantages to farming.
The forage science group leader said the conference was timely given the work the organisation was doing in the area of forage science. He said there were many benefits for New Zealand in building upon the DairyNZ forage value index and the emerging pastoral industry forage strategy.
“Our teams are engaged in underpinning science and plant breeding research to create high-performance forage legume and grass varieties for New Zealand farms and the international market,” he told farmers at the NZ Grasslands Association conference in Timaru last week.
“We develop animal safe endophyte strains that add value to production from elite grasses, and are also pursing research and development related to biofuels, speciality forages, new endophyte traits and animal/forage interactions. Our group is home to world-leading teams in the genetic development of forages and encompasses a broad range of capabilities with staff working in areas from fundamental to applied research.”
Most of the cultivars are commercialised through Grasslanz Technology.
An investment of $25 million over five years into genetically modified forages research was made possible with a grant from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Endeavour fund
“What we are doing is enhancing the ryegrass so that there is more energy and nutrition stored in the grass,” Conner said.
“This means the animals feeding on it are healthier, and therefore they become better producers for the farm. The result will be a major boost for the agricultural economy.”
“What we are also finding is that a by-product of these changes to the grass will be important gains as far as the impacts on the environment. This includes less methane gas produced by the animals and the change in nitrogen requirements with these grasses could reduce nitrate runoff.”
“We are mindful of the need to continue strong working relationships in this sector, including the scientists and its many stakeholders so that our advances are relevant to the industry.”
NZGA president, David Stevens of AgResearch, said the conference had been an opportunity for farmers and their agricultural industry business partners to hear from and quiz scientists who were taking the industry forward.
“It’s really about the interface of science and practice: what works and how can you get it to work. It’s summed up in the association’s motto: fuelled by science, tempered by experience.”
Leading local farms hosted field trips during afternoon sessions including a robotic but pasture-based dairy farm, intensive sheep and beef finishing with and without irrigation, and a more traditional breeding-finishing operation making use of some of the latest forages.
November 9, 2016
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Clara Ayer on behalf of Fairmont Farm. She is a third-generation dairy farmer at Fairmont Farm Inc., which has two East Montpelier farms and one in Craftsbury. Fairmont currently employs 40 full-time and part-time employees and is a member of Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
More than one billion people will celebrate Earth Day all around the world on April 22. Here in Vermont on our dairy farm we treat every day like Earth Day.
Our mission at Fairmont Farm is to be a profitable dairy farm with the utmost consideration for the safety and happiness of our people, the cleanliness of our environment and the health of our animals.
We are responsible for over 3,600 acres of land which is used to plant and harvest corn and hay to feed our cows. We have worked with the Vermont Land Trust and currently own 1,675 acres of conserved land, however the best way to preserve land is to keep farms in business – our farm fields cover East Montpelier, Plainfield, Marshfield, Barre, Berlin, Calais, Montpelier, Craftsbury, Glover, Greensboro and South Albany.
Soil health is crucial to the health of our water and food supply. When a farm field is left bare, the topsoil can get blown away by the wind or washed away by the rain. We keep our soils in place by covering our fields with plants all year long. In the spring, we plant our corn. It grows through the summer and is harvested in the fall. Then, in the fall we plant a protective cover crop like the cereal grain winter-rye that grows through the winter. This keeps the soil in place through the snow melts and spring rains. Each 1 percent increase in healthy soil organic matter helps the soil hold 25,000 more gallons of water per acre.
Our corn and cover crops are planted without tilling up the soil, we leave the land intact and plant the seeds directly into the ground through any existing vegetation. When the soil is undisturbed the healthy root systems, the worms and the bugs all help the soil to retain nutrients much better while also doing the tillage work themselves, creating pathways for the water and nutrients to be absorbed. There are added benefits too – less equipment trips over the field which reduces soil compaction and fuel usage.
In 2016 we began piping manure to many of our fields instead of trucking it. Manure is transported to the fields through a pipeline hose that is connected to a tractor in the field and either spread or injected directly into the soil, sometimes up to 12 inches underground, which protects water quality and improves soil health. This further reduces the equipment trips over the field but also reduces the road traffic again helping with soil compaction and fuel consumption.
And, when you look out on the beautiful fields and open spaces of Vermont, remember the dairy farmers who are working hard to protect our most important natural resources.
On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed into law an Act amending the Agricultural Marketing at of 1946 which provides for a national bioengineered food di
Click on the link below to see the letter.
SHELDON — One Vermont dairy farm is taking a novel approach to reducing polluted runoff in Lake Champlain by spinning its manure in a centrifuge to remove some of the phosphorus that has contributed to toxic algae blooms.
Machia and Sons Dairy LLC is believed to be the first farm in Vermont to use the technology for phosphorus removal after having it installed last year in a pilot project with Burlington-based Native Energy.
A screw press removes the solids from the manure that are then decomposed into bedding for the cows. The manure liquid is put through the centrifuge that rapidly spins it in a large canister to remove half of the phosphorus that then can be sold as a soil additive.
Phosphorus is a nutrient that comes from a number of sources including fertilizer and manure. An excess amount of it — in runoff from rain, snowmelt or erosion — feeds toxic algae blooms in the lake. The state says 40 percent of the phosphorus flowing into the lake comes from farms; the rest comes from roads, parking lots and discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants.
In June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its final phosphorus reduction goals for the lake, calling for a decrease of 33.7 percent in the entire lake and 64.3 percent in Missisquoi Bay in the northern end of the lake, an area known in the state for its dairy farms.
Machia and Sons is one of the larger farms in Vermont, where 725 cows are milked. Like some other local farms, it has taken steps to reduce phosphorus runoff such as planting cover crops and expanding or adding vegetative buffer strips between fields and ditches. The effort is to help clean up the lake and to “keep us in farming, keep the community happy. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” said Dustin Machia, one of the farmers.
The family business invested about $100,000 in the screw press and centrifuge project. The rest of the $525,000 cost is being covered by Native Energy, a seed grant from Green Mountain Power and the purchase of the expected reduction in greenhouse gases from the project by Ben & Jerry’s, according to Native Energy.
Now the Machias are seeking a market for the phosphorus.