water quality | Vermont Farm to Food
Posted by Mike Frett | Aug 17, 2018
St. Albans Messenger
FRANKLIN – The University of Vermont (UVM) Extension’s 2018 Summer Farm Meeting brought farmers and state officials to Franklin last Thursday with presentations highlighting some of the ways area farmers are stymieing the flow of phosphorous into their respective watersheds.
Organized by UVM Extension’s Northwest Crop and Soils Program in collaboration with watershed groups like the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (FNLC), the Summer Farm Meeting is an annual gathering of farmers, researchers, environmental groups and state officials.
The meeting serves as a forum for some of those groups to present projects and research related to conservation-minded agricultural practices, as well as a way to connect farmers with resources that may help pursue some of those practices.
This year, farmers and officials collected at Bridgeman View Farm, where owners Tim and Martha Magnant had applied many of the best agricultural practices encouraged, and in some cases required, by the state.
FNLC led the morning’s presentations with a report on a two-tier ditch system that was discussed in a Messenger article last Friday. By carving flat benches into the banks of a ditch that cut through the Bouchard Family Dairy, the system essentially created an artificial flood plane between the ditch and abutting fields, creating a safety valve that, FNLC hypothesized, should reduce the threats of erosion and runoff during periods of high flooding.
Discussion about the ditch would bookend Thursday’s meeting, with an opening presentation from FNLC and Agrilab’s Brian Jerose in the morning and a closing visit to the pilot ditch at the Bouchard farm in the afternoon.
Jerose and FNLC’s chair Kent Henderson encouraged farmers to consider similar installations on their own farms, with Jerose asking that farmers “be thinking about your own fields” when presenting information about the ditch during last week’s meeting.
The stream cutting across the Bouchard farm eventually drains into the Rock River, where, according to Department of Environmental Conservation biologist Angela Shambaugh, phosphorous levels had remained steady since at least 2011.
The Rock River Watershed was recently declared by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) as an “impaired watershed,” meaning the watershed was identified for “accelerated and targeted agricultural practices” to address its water quality.
The river weaves between Franklin, Highgate and Quebec before ultimately draining into Lake Champlain, meaning that many of the farmers present during Thursday’s meeting have farms within the river’s watershed.
Shambaugh, who followed FNLC’s presentation on the ditch with a more stats-minded depiction of that watershed, reported to those farmers that phosphorous levels held steady in the watershed, something that didn’t really reflect “all the hard work you’ve done.”
That the phosphorous levels were steady rather than spiking, however, was reportedly good news for the watershed, as it meant that some of the watershed’s excessive runoff was being managed.
“There’s been a lot of work done in the watershed,” Shambaugh told the farmers at Thursday’s meeting. “We’ve been seeing that.”
Meanwhile, she reported that they were tracking other sources of phosphorous more closely now, such as roadways and forestry, meaning their phosphorous tracking “was no longer solely dedicated to agriculture.”
As a lifelong dairy farmer, I bring a unique perspective to my work with the Governor’s Climate Action Commission. My family and I work with the land each and every day, and we value Vermont for its natural beauty and resources. We could not do what we do without clean water and healthy soil. Other members of the Climate Action Commission bring vital perspectives, too. This diverse group of 21 Vermonters is comprised of leaders in commerce, transportation, construction, energy and forestry.
On Aug. 20, we will present our year’s work to Gov. Phil Scott, highlighting our findings and outlining recommendations to meet Vermont’s climate goals of using 90 percent renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050.
Overall, our recommendations constitute a multi-pronged approach for reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions from homes, businesses, transportation, communities and industries, such as forestry and agriculture.
Notably, some of our recommendations also focus on “negative” emissions – removing existing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Scientists estimate that agriculture can reduce carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere by storing it in plant biomass and soils, contributing to a climate change solution.
Here in Vermont, farmers are at the forefront of understanding and meeting these challenges. Many of us are adopting practices and investing in technology to improve both water quality and soil health. Throughout the agricultural sector – whether dairy, beef, berries or vegetables – farmers are finding the critical balance of producing high-quality products and being good stewards of the environment.
How are we doing this? Farmers have increased planting of cover crops by over 60 percent since 2015 and have reduced tilling of the land. By keeping fields covered with plants all year long, farmers not only reduce soil erosion and prevent nutrient runoff, but also increase the amount of carbon the soil can hold. Combined with manure injection, such practices enhance the role that agriculture can play in helping Vermont to achieve its climate goals. Modeling estimates from the EPA Lake Champlain Phosphorus Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) project a 40-50 percent increase in agricultural practices that protect water quality and sequester carbon over the next 10 years.
Vermonters understand that global climate change is a fundamental threat to the sustainability of natural systems and species diversity, and to the peace and safety of humanity. Given the magnitude of this challenge, we must all be a part of the solution. As a member of Vermont’s agricultural community, I believe all farmers are up to the challenge of continuing our efforts towards a clean, green Vermont.
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.
On 21, Dec 2017 | In water quality | By Admin
New data collected from the USDA and NRSC has very good news for Vermont:
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.
On 21, Dec 2017 | In water quality | By Admin
From Forbes Contributor Kate Hall:
Over the weekend, more than 2,500 of the world’s experts, practitioners, policymakers and business innovators began to gather in Sweden to advance thinking and develop solutions to our planet’s most critical natural resource, water. The theme for the 25th World Water Week meeting, organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), is “Water for Sustainable Growth.”
The world’s leading thinkers and doers will build on the decisive sustainability actions of the past year, the United Nation’s agenda for 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Conference of the Parties agreement made in Paris (COP21), and collaborate on how today’s innovation in water stewardship will help us produce food, energy and jobs well into the future. They will all bring different solutions to address the challenge of our age: doing more with less.
Every day, our farmers are using new tools and technology to do more with less so they can solve for water efficiency. One of our farmers, Lawson Mozley, is a sixth generation farmer whose family has farmed the same land in the Florida Panhandle since the 1850s. For Mozley and other farmers, water is critical to delivering their mission to feed their families, communities and the world.