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U.S. Agriculture Sec. Hears VT Farmers’ Efforts To Enhance Water Quality and Mitigate Climate Change

 U.S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visits Burlington, Vermont on August 19, 2021 to discuss farm impact on water quality and climate change.
Pat Bradley
U.S Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visits Burlington, Vermont on August 19, 2021 to discuss farm impact on water quality and climate change.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack made his second visit to Vermont on Thursday. He participated in a discussion on the state’s agriculture industry’s role in addressing water quality issues and climate change.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy hosted Secretary Vilsack for the panel discussion with representatives of Vermont’s conservation and farming sectors.

Vilsack visited Vermont in 2014 when he served in the same capacity in the Obama Administration. At that time he secured $15 million to help Vermont agriculture improve water quality.

Leahy, a Democrat, said the funding has helped change the landscape of Vermont.

“Your team on the ground in Vermont with our farmers greatly accelerated our conservation work. As I drive through our dairy counties around the state," Leahy said he sees that "enormous strides have been made since your last visit here. But nobody’s going to rest on their laurels. We know the impacts of climate change are increasing on our farms and our lake. Our farmers here want to be part of the solution.”

Vilsack said Vermont farmers have made amazing progress in a relatively short period of time in reducing phosphorous and working to adopt climate smart practices.

“The future of agriculture is right here in Vermont. And you all are here on the front lines. You all are already embracing the 45 practices that we’ve identified as climate smart. You’re already interested in collecting data and utilizing precision agriculture to make sure that you’re doing what you need to do to protect your land.”

Riverside Farm owner David Conant told Vilsack that farmers understand how critical management strategies are for stewardship of the land and maintaining sustainability for future generations.

“Over the past few years we have seen an incredible commitment by the greater ag community to adopt innovative and effective practices. I have seen more positive changes in the last few years than I’ve seen in my lifetime. The focus of designing and implementing effective nutrient management plans as well innovation and new technology and techniques has helped to drive a culture shift in our state’s collective approach to water quality.”

State climatologist Dr. Leslie-Anne Dupigny Giroux outlined threats that climate change poses to Vermont’s agriculture industry.

“Climate change is a threat multiplier. It compounds a lot of the stressors that we’re already seeing and so when we think about climate change we’re looking at a number of different moving pieces including our rising temperatures, our intensification of the hydrologic cycle. So what does that mean for plants and the stress on plants?" Dupigny Giroux explains. "We’re looking at increased growing seasons. Changes in chill factors. The fertilization effect that occurs when we have increases in carbon dioxide. And what does that mean for our species – our current species, potential new species?”

Following the roundtable, Secretary Vilsack announced a new Pandemic Market Volatility Assistance Program intended to aid small dairy farms that experienced losses during the pandemic.

“As we went into the market to try to provide food assistance it distorted the market a bit. So we are launching a $350 million effort to try to compensate a bit those farmers who suffered loss of value because of the distortion of the market during the pandemic." Vilsack adds, "The way this is going to work qualified dairies will get 80 percent of the revenue difference that they experienced per month for up to five million pounds of product based on sales between July of 2020 and December of 2020. And the majority of the resources will go to smaller producers.”

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