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Anson Tebbetts: Agriculture sector working for water quality

On 25, Jan 2018 | In Blog, Featured, latest-news, Progressive Farming, water quality | By Admin

VT Digger

As you go about your day, it’s likely you pass a farm – or two or more – along the way. Hidden in hamlets and stretched out in the valleys, Vermont’s farms are part of our daily lives.

And although farmers have worked the land for over a century, there may be something unexpected, yet rooted in Vermont, happening behind the scenes.

Something innovative. Something progressive. Something that’s making a difference, over time, in our land, waterways, farms and communities.

Vermont farmers, along with many others in our state, are working for water quality.

A closer look at Vermont farms shows how cutting-edge technology is increasingly becoming the new norm. From state-of-the art waste management systems to cover crops that keep agricultural fields growing biomass year-round preventing soil from eroding, Vermont agriculture is evolving once again. New generations, along with legacy farmers, are actively making improvements on their farms and they are networked for change: In 2017, 3,137 farmers, partners and members of the public took in 5,011 hours of education at 93 water quality events. Last year 70 Vermonters received advanced certification in manure application. It’s progress.

And that’s just the beginning. In 2017, the state invested $17 million in related water quality projects across all sectors. As part of this investment, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture devoted $5.2 million in technical and financial assistance, engagement and outreach, rules and regulation, and inspection and enforcement — it’s the biggest water quality investment in the history of Vermont.

The Agency of Agriculture’s work over the past year includes $1.1 million in grants for on-farm projects such as fencing, manure storage and barnyards, $1.7 million in Clean Water Initiative grants to partners for education, implementation and phosphorus reduction alternatives beyond traditional conservation practices. There are 31 people at the Agency of Agriculture’s water quality division focused on ensuring the regulations are achieved, designing conservation practices, and offering education and technical assistance to help farms make the necessary changes for water quality. Grants and the technical support offered by the agency are a tool for farmers who are motivated for change and all grants require money from the farmer.

In addition, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, in partnership with the Department of Environmental Conservation, inspects farms and jointly enforces water quality regulations. In 2017, Agency of Agriculture investigators performed 392 inspections including investigating 150 complaints – 100 percent of those received. Farmers who knowingly do not comply with laws face action: In 2017 farmers received 93 enforcement actions from the agency, a 145 percent increase over 2016. This increase is due to more boots on the ground inspecting.

Despite this progress, we at the agency must do more. We will expand implementation of best management practices as well as thinking of innovative ways to reduce phosphorus. We need policies that create new markets to export phosphorus and create incentives for farmers to keep phosphorus off the land.

Farmers are stepping up because they, too, are passionate about the land, water, animals and communities. They are passionate about the jobs that they provide and committed to making the best award-winning products from Vermont. Passion extends to many others as well. The Agency of Agriculture is working closely with partners such as the Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Vermont Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lake Champlain Basin Program and many more.

Certainly, there is much more work to do. But by working together with investment, education, enforcement and assistance, Vermont is on an upward trajectory, aiming high for quality in land, water and agriculture. We are all committed to a greener Green Mountain State, and unified, we will get there.

23

Jan
2018

In Featured
Progressive Farming

By Admin

History Space: 100 years of dairy farming in Swanton

On 23, Jan 2018 | In Featured, Progressive Farming | By Admin

Burlington Free Press

Jan. 20, 2018

How do you build a business that lasts 100 years? For dairy farmer Robert Manning, owner of the Manning Farm in Swanton, it’s about family support and playing an active role in the community too.

“Farmers have deep roots and are invested in the long-term vision of the town they live in,” said Robert Manning. “It means a lot to me to see 100 years of what we’ve accomplished, especially with how much it’s changed s

ince the farm was started.”

The Manning Farm celebrated their 100-year anniversary in November of last year. The farm has been a family operation ever since it began with Robert’s grandfather, Gerald Griswold in 1917. The Manning family has always been active in their community – Robert served for more than 20 years on the town zoning and regional planning boards – and he says those connections helped people better understand farming.

“Back in the old days people were once removed from a dairy farm – now it’s three or four generations removed and they may not understand farming,” Robert said. “We work seven days a week around the clock to make food so that other people don’t have to.”

When Robert was a kid, there were 17 farms on the same road. Today, there are two, including his own.

“We had 135 acres when we started and now it’s around 1,200 between what we own and rent,” Robert said. “When you look out over the land after you’ve tended to it – it’s rewarding.”

After Robert’s grandfather died in 1966, Robert and his wife Sandy bought the original farm, which was across the road from where they are now, and in 1971 they purchased what is now the current Manning Farm. Today, three generations of family members work alongside each other to keep the farm running smoothly, and the fourth generation, Robert’s great-grandkids, provide some comic relief.

Family members work on the farm

Many Vermont dairy farms, like the Manning Farm, have expanded to allow for additional family members to work on the farm. In 1980, Robert and Sandy’s son David returned after college and helped shape the future of the farm. David played a big role in transitioning the farm to a free stall barn in 1980, and putting an addition on the barn in 1997 and again in 2016.

“The barn is self-regulating and has fans and curtains that run automatically based on the temperature outside to keep it 50 – 60 degrees in the barn, which cows prefer,” David said. “For bedding, we use water beds with sawdust on top and rubber non-slip mats in the alleys. Cows generally are sleeping or lounging an average 12 to 14 hours per day. The barns are really comfortable for them.”

In the 1980s many Vermont farms made the switch from the use of tie stall barns where cows are kept in fixed milking stalls, to the free-stall barn where they can roam freely. The cows are moved to a milking parlor designed to milk many cows at the same time, greatly improving efficiency. When the farm started 100 years ago they had just five cows. Today the farm milks 500 cows three times a day. This is possible because three of David’s six children decided to work on the farm, too. David’s daughter Rebecca Howrigan manages the health of the cows.

“I’m proud of the advances we’ve made to ensure our cows are healthy and in turn provide high-quality dairy products,” Rebecca said. “My favorite technology we use is the pedometers that the cows wear on their ankles. I have a FitBit and I track my steps, but I also track the steps our cows take, among other things.”

Computer keeps track of cows

On average, the cows at the Manning Farm take about 3,000 to 5,000 steps a day. The data is sent to a computer and Rebecca monitors it constantly throughout the day. Like a person, if a cow isn’t feeling well she’ll be laying down more. The computer has an algorithm that alerts Rebecca so that she can be proactive to help the cow feel better.

“We take the health of our cows very seriously because their health is directly related to their ability to make high-quality milk,” Rebecca said.

Rebecca didn’t always know she would be a dairy farmer. She has an English degree from the University of Vermont and gained experience working for a heifer breeding service, before returning to the farm where she and her husband Patrick are raising their kids – Regan, 6 and Ryland, 3.

Rebeca’s younger brothers, Nick and Oliver Manning, ultimately decided that the farm was where they wanted to be as well. Nick manages maintenance on the farm, Oliver focuses on the calves, and they both manage the farm land that is used primarily to grow crops. Just like the barns, the way fields are managed have evolved too. The Manning Farm tractors are outfitted with GPS that allows them to drive themselves, leaving just the turning to the driver. It’s called precision agriculture and it allows farmers to keep a closer eye on their fields.

“It helps us get a better understanding of what the fields need, and it can eliminate human error. We put the GPS system on our corn chopper and so it records all the yield information, and we can see if we needed more fertilizer or less in other places – also what varieties of crops grow better in certain soils,” Oliver said. “In the past, you might put a set quantity of fertilizer or manure on a field – especially with runoff concerns – this technology helps us to make sure the right amount is applied in the right spots to help protect the environment and waterways.”

Farming for the next 100 years

The evolution of the Manning Farm is a familiar story in Franklin County, where there are 184 dairy farms out of the 868 total in the state according to 2014 updates by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture to the U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The number of dairy farms in Vermont has steadily been decreasing, but according to USDA data, the milk being made has remained stable as individual farms have grown, consolidated and adopted new technology to become more efficient and sustainable.

Most recently, farms have been under increasing pressure to adopt sustainable farm practices to reduce the impact of manure on local watersheds. The Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) were introduced last year by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets, and are a set of requirements farmers must adopt to improve water quality.

“Required Agricultural Practices (RAP’s) are about assisting farmers in improving farm operations to support soil health and reduce erosion and run-off on their farms. Acre-per-acre, agricultural land has four times less phosphorus run-off as developed land; we want to support our farmers to reduce phosphorus pollution in our waterway’s and keep farm land open, rather than lose our farms and risk development that may increase phosphorus pollution. We are here to help continue to grow a culture that supports clean water practices in Vermont, on our farms and beyond,” said Secretary Anson Tebbetts of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets.

The iPhone app for farming

At Copper Hill Farm in Fairfax, dairy farmer Kurt Magnan uses a soil health app on his iPhone to monitor the manure and other fertilizer they put on fields. The app tracks weather conditions and makes recommendations on when to work in the fields, and how much nutrients the soil needs. Additionally, for the past four years, the farm has planted 450 acres of cover crops on their corn fields.

“Specialized equipment allows us, and many other farms, to plant cover crops that grow through the winter on the fields to prevent sediment and water from leaving the fields during the snow melts and spring rains through erosion,” Magnan said.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) data, Vermont farmers planted a record-setting 25,727 acres of cover crops in 2016 on approximately 25 percent of all annual cropland – a 58 percent increase in acres of cover crops planted in 2015. NRCS reported this has resulted in significant reductions in soil erosion and phosphorus in our waterways.

Manure turns into energy

Technology is leading the sustainability efforts in many other ways too. More than a dozen Vermont farms have installed methane digesters to turn manure into renewable energy. In 2015, Nelson Boys Dairy in St. Albans installed a Green Mountain Power ‘Cow Power’ methane digester. The farm generates four times the amount of power it consumes. That extra power is sent back into the grid and is used by local homes. The digester also turns manure into a liquid byproduct used as fertilizer on their fields, and the sterile, dried solids are used as a fluffy bedding for their cows.

“At the foundation of what we do is quality and health and comfort for our animals. Animal welfare and the environment are very important to us. We are, first and foremost stewards of the land, and we’re proud of that,” Dylan Nelson, of Nelson Boys Dairy said.

The milk from Nelson Boys Dairy, Copper Hill Farm, and the Manning Farm is processed at the St. Albans Co-op in St. Albans, along with the milk from more than 360 dairy farms. The three farms also participate in the Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy Program which helps farms that supply milk to Ben & Jerry’s continuously evaluate and improve their practices.

“It covers everything from our hiring practices to our land management to cow care, so it really keeps us on point with social responsibility,” Kurt said.

As the demand for sustainable, responsibly produced food increases researchers are exploring the impact of different types of diets on the available land base in the U.S. A 2016 study from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University found that a vegetarian diet that includes dairy products could feed the most people from the area of land available in the U.S. when compared to other diets, although diets with low to moderate amounts of meat also fared well in the study.

“Before we go about converting land to other uses, to develop sound agricultural policy, we have to understand the impact of dietary patterns on land use. We don’t want to short-change the equitable distribution of nutritious, life-sustaining foods to the whole population,” said author Gary Fick, Ph.D., professor in the School of Integrative Crop Science at Cornell University.

For the Manning family, this is good news as they look ahead to the next 100 years.

“There’s an opportunity with all the advancements in technology for us to gain efficiencies so we can feed more people on the same land base,” Rebecca said. “Farmers are continuously finding new ways to improve for the good of the environment and our communities.”

To learn more about Vermont dairy farm practices visit: www.MustBeTheMilk.com/FAQ.

Laura Hardie is the Farmer Relations & Communications Manager for New England Dairy & Food Council and New England Dairy Promotion Board.

Louise Calderwood: All farmers care for the land

VT Digger

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Louise H. Calderwood, who teaches at Sterling College, is government relations director for Northeast Agribusiness and Feed Alliance, is a maple syrup producer and an agricultural consultant. She also grazes a herd of 60 goats for meat.

I‘ve been deeply involved in Vermont agriculture for nearly 40 years, first as an employee on a 60-cow hill farm, then as an extension agent, in state government, as co-owner of a 160-cow dairy herd, and now teaching the next generation of farmers at Sterling College.

I have worked across the full spectrum of Vermont dairy, from a family with three cows selling raw milk to the largest conventional dairies in the state. One of my sons owns a 200-head goat dairy and the other son is employed by a 600-head grass-based cow dairy. Heck, my license plate is “BOVINE.” Agriculture is all my family does and we believe strongly in it.

By working with every type of dairy farmer imaginable (even water buffalo), I have come to see that there are many right ways to steward soil and water and animals. I would never impose my choices on others and I would never accuse any responsible farmer of not caring about the land they farm or the animals they raise. All conscientious farmers have a lot in common as they do the best possible job of improving for the resources under their care.

I’ve heard some farmers say Vermont should be organic or bust. But that’s simply not how I see it. And quite frankly, that kind of hostility doesn’t help anyone, nor does it help the situation we’re all facing — a challenging market that has forced milk prices way down.

Consumers are willing to pay more for organic foods and milk because they believe the food is different. If every farm became organic there would be no price differential between organic and non-organic products and organic farms would be in rough shape. Organic farmers rely on their higher-priced products to provide the income needed to allow them to follow the organic standards.

Whether you farm organically or not, the reality is the market is saturated for both types of dairy farms. Our vendors aren’t buying as much and they’re also not paying as much. Every farmer in Vermont is working hard to stay afloat and productive. The key to profitable farming is building the health of our soils. After all, if land is our most valuable resource, why would any farmer not care about improving it?

There are several water quality challenges we face in Vermont connected to agricultural production, including temperature, pathogens, sediments and phosphorus. Vermont farmers have taken the situation of impaired waterways seriously and conscientiously. They are complying with the new regulations, participating in extensive research projects and, in many cases, doing even more than is required. Vermont farmers, both conventional and organic, have been planting vegetative buffer barriers, using methane digesters, cover cropping with winter rye, and implementing many other good farming practices. It’s paying off — the latest USDA report released a few weeks ago found a reduction in phosphorus making its way into Vermont’s waters.

There is no war between organic and conventional farmers in Vermont and it’s not helpful for those on the outside to hurl accusations, many of which are not scientifically backed up. Different types of farming necessitate different techniques, and all farmers are guided by strict regulations. While there’s an ideal sort of farming that every farmer believes in and works to achieve, it doesn’t mean another way of farming is bad. Dairy farmers have much more in common than not.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of Vermont’s economy and farming in Vermont is one big wheel propelled by many varied and important cogs. All our farmers are doing their very best to be good stewards of the land and we should work to support each other.

https://vtdigger.org/2017/11/06/louise-calderwood-farmers-care-land/#.WgHLX7aZPBJ

Jacques Couture: Consider the farmer, not the farming

On 26, Oct 2017 | In GMO’s and The Environment, latest-news, Progressive Farming | By Admin

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Jacques Couture, who milks a 70-cow herd in Westfield, about five miles from the Canadian border. When he’s not in the barn or out in the fields, he and his wife, Pauline, run Couture’s Maple Shop and a bed and breakfast at the farmhouse, which dates back to 1892.

When it comes to organic or conventional dairy farming, I’ve been on both sides of the fence – literally and figuratively – so the current demand by some vocal Vermonters that all dairy farmers convert to organic has got me a little perplexed.

I started dairy farming back in 1970, before organic regulations even existed, and then made the decision to transition to organic in 2006. I made a conscious choice to farm without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. It was a personal decision, one that I made for financial reasons as well, and I’ve never regretted it.

Does being an organic dairy farmer mean I think conventional or non-organic dairy farming is a terrible thing? Not at all. You’ll never hear me say anything bad about conventional dairy farmers in general. Like me, they get up before the sun, work long and hard, care for their animals and their land, as well as their families. They take pride in their product, are dedicated to their communities, and often struggle to make a good living.

Vermont’s conventional dairy farmers, like their organic neighbors, are responsible stewards of the land and produce healthy, nutritious milk.

Organic milk is produced without antibiotics, but “regular” milk is free from antibiotics as well. Cows sometimes get sick and require medicine, just like we do, and conventional dairy farmers are able to use antibiotics sparingly to help their cows get better. Their milk is separated from other cows’ milk on the farm, is disposed of immediately, and never enters the food supply. On organic farms, antibiotics are only used as a last resort, but that means that animal is no longer able to provide milk that meets organic requirements, or can’t be sold as certified organic beef.

Most conventional dairy farmers in Vermont no longer use bovine growth hormone (rBST, or rGBH) to increase production, a substance not allowed in organic dairying.

Many conventional dairy farms that have the available land pasture their cows, like organic operations. On organic dairy farms, the requirement for pasture time is 120 days. Many farms don’t have the pasture space to meet organic standards, for example, and that would mean driving some family farms out of business. And what would that serve?

When it comes to the land, you won’t find an organic or conventional dairy farmer who doesn’t focus on soil health and production. Both types of farms plant crops on their fields all year long even in the winter, like the cover crop winter rye, that helps increase soil health and minimize erosion of valuable topsoil. Yes, conventional farmers, like organic folks, use regenerative agricultural practices, like no-till and cover crops. The end goals, conventional or organic, are very similar: healthy, content animals to produce the best milk while safeguarding the land.

If conventional dairy farms use fertilizer and pesticides – and some don’t – they do it judiciously and work to avoid impacting local water sources and nearby lands. A word about pesticides: Organic farmers are prohibited from using man-made pesticides that are available to conventional farmers, but they are allowed to use certified organic pesticides and fungicides. All dairy farmers try to use the least amount of pesticides possible (for environmental and financial reasons), so no matter what’s used, using the safest ones in the least volume is every farmer’s goal.

The fact is, Vermont’s dairy community is a diverse one, and there’s room for everyone. Personally, I find the calls for “organic or nothing” dismaying and, in my view, a little impractical. While the demand for organic dairy, produce, meat and other foods is growing, conventional farming remains a necessary method that has the scale to meet our planet’s needs.

I find it unfair to pit conventional versus certified organic farming against each other. There are good and bad actors on both sides of the aisle! We shouldn’t paint either one with a broad brush or generalize. That would be unfair to those pouring their hearts and souls into producing food to feed the people of this world.

Again, I’ve farmed conventionally and organically. Is one better than the other? Did going organic mean I suddenly cared more for my cows or the planet? No. It was a decision that made the most sense for me and my dairy farm, just as conventional dairying is a personal choice for others.

I guess it comes down to a simple equation when considering the merits of organic or conventional farming: it’s the farmer, not the farming, that makes either the right choice — for the animals, the land, and the rest of the planet.

17

Oct
2017

In Progressive Farming

By Admin

Many ways to farm well

On 17, Oct 2017 | In Progressive Farming | By Admin

Commentary

When it comes to organic or conventional dairy farming, I’ve been on both sides of the fence — literally and figuratively — so the current demand by some vocal Vermonters that all dairy farmers convert to organic has got me a little perplexed.

I started dairy farming back in 1970, before organic regulations even existed, and then made the decision to transition to organic in 2006. I made a conscious choice to farm without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. It was a personal decision, one that I made for financial reasons as well, and I’ve never regretted it.

Does being an organic dairy farmer mean I think conventional or non-organic dairy farming is a terrible thing? Not at all. You’ll never hear me say anything bad about conventional dairy farmers in general. Like me, they get up before the sun, work long and hard, care for their animals and their land, as well as their families. They take pride in their product, are dedicated to their communities and often struggle to make a good living.

Vermont’s conventional dairy farmers, like their organic neighbors, are responsible stewards of the land and produce healthy, nutritious milk.

Organic milk is produced without antibiotics, but “regular” milk is free from antibiotics as well. Cows sometimes get sick and require medicine, just like we do, and conventional dairy farmers are able to use antibiotics sparingly to help their cows get better. Their milk is separated from other cows’ milk on the farm, is disposed of immediately, and never enters the food supply. On organic farms, antibiotics are only used as a last resort, but that means that animal is no longer able to provide milk that meets organic requirements, or can’t be sold as certified organic beef. Most conventional dairy farmers in Vermont no longer use bovine growth hormone (rBST or rGBH) to increase production, a substance not allowed in organic dairying.

Many conventional dairy farms that have the available land pasture their cows, like organic operations. On organic dairy farms, the requirement for pasture time is 120 days. Many farms don’t have the pasture space to meet organic standards, for example, and that would mean driving some family farms out of business. And what would that serve?

When it comes to the land, you won’t find an organic or conventional dairy farmer who doesn’t focus on soil health and production. Both types of farms plant crops on their fields all year long even in the winter, like the cover crop winter rye, that helps increase soil health and minimize erosion of valuable topsoil. Yes, conventional farmers, like organic folks, use regenerative agricultural practices, like no-till and cover crops. The end goals, conventional or organic, are very similar: healthy, content animals to produce the best milk while safeguarding the land.

If conventional dairy farms use fertilizer and pesticides — and some don’t — they do it judiciously and work to avoid impacting local water sources and nearby lands. A word about pesticides: Organic farmers are prohibited from using man-made pesticides that are available to conventional farmers, but they are allowed to use certified organic pesticides and fungicides. All dairy farmers try to use the least amount of pesticides possible (for environmental and financial reasons), so no matter what’s used, using the safest ones in the least volume is every farmer’s goal.

The fact is, Vermont’s dairy community is a diverse one, and there’s room for everyone. Personally, I find the calls for “organic or nothing” dismaying and, in my view, a little impractical. While the demand for organic dairy, produce, meat and other foods is growing, conventional farming remains a necessary method that has the scale to meet our planet’s needs.

I find it unfair to pit conventional and certified organic farming against each other. There are good and bad actors on both sides of the aisle. We shouldn’t paint either one with a broad brush or generalize. That would be unfair to those pouring their hearts and souls into producing food to feed the people of this world.

Again, I’ve farmed conventionally and organically. Is one better than the other? Did going organic mean I suddenly cared more for my cows or the planet? No. It was a decision that made the most sense for me and my dairy farm, just as conventional dairying is a personal choice for others.

I guess it comes down to a simple equation when considering the merits of organic or conventional farming: It’s the farmer, not the farming, that makes the right choice — for the animals, the land, and the rest of the planet.

Jacques Couture milks a 70-cow herd in Westfield, about five miles from the Canadian border. He and his wife Pauline also operate a maple shop and a bed-and-breakfast inn at their farmhouse.

Vermont Dairy Farmers and Climate Change

On 13, Oct 2017 | In Featured, GMO’s and The Environment, Progressive Farming | By Admin

This is a great story about how climate change will impact the dairy and maple industries in Vermont.

13

Oct
2017

In Featured
latest-news
Progressive Farming

By Admin

Phosphorous Run-Off TV Story

On 13, Oct 2017 | In Featured, latest-news, Progressive Farming | By Admin

Taking to the skies to help prevent runoff– a helicopter took flight in Franklin County Friday morning at Pleasant Valley Farm. The mission: plant hundreds of acres of winter rye.

The plant protects the soil from eroding and keeps nutrients in the soil.

 

Click here for the full story