It’s known as Act 64 and the Vermont Legislature passed it in the last session. The Clean Water bill includes a requirement that agricultural regulations be made more stringent to prevent nutrient runoff into the state’s waterways. A draft of the new rules has been issued by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and a series of public hearings begins Tuesday.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture calls the draft rules farm and land management techniques that will control and reduce agricultural source pollution from fields and production areas. So-called Accepted Agricultural Practices have been rewritten to be more stringent and are now Required Agricultural Practices. The new rules are intended to help Vermont meet its Total Maximum Daily Load for phosphorus runoff into Lake Champlain.
Farmers Watershed Alliance Field Coordinator Jeff Sanders says some of the new rules are aggressive in targeting agricultural water quality issues. “They are somewhat complex. There’s a lot of different areas that they’re touching on. So in terms of farmers attending the meetings, it’s very, very important that they get a look at the draft and then go to the meetings and comment on how they feel it will affect their businesses. Any producer who uses fertilizer, nutrients, will be affected. It’s not just dairy farming, although it will affect them predominantly. It’s wide ranging and it captures most every aspect of agriculture in the state.”
Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition Program Coordinator Nate Severy notes that the clean water bill targeted all sources of phosphorus including wastewater treatment plants and construction runoff. He believes the Ag Department is trying to design rules that will not be too burdensome for farmers to implement. “A lot of things that they are going to be asking farmers to do, if the farmer can plan a little bit ahead of time and get some technical advice then a lot of these requirements can actually benefit their farms in a lot of ways. Which is what the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition is really advocating and pushing for. For certain farms who have really big capital expenditures that they’ll have to do, like if they have to build a new manure pit or deal with leachate issues, there are funds available to help deal with those costs. But I think that the goal is that these won’t put anyone out of business.”
Franklin-Grand Isle Farmers’ Watershed Alliance Chair Darlene Reynolds says farmers need to provide input at the public hearings because the rules are being written by people who are not working in the field. “They’re asking farmers to take land out of production. I get it. They want to have bumper strips and they want to insure that there’s no runoff that could occur with fertilizers or manure into the lake and I get that. But at the same time they are asking farmers all across the state now, not just the medium farms and the large farms, they’re asking every farmer to play a part of being good stewardship of the land, which is great, but at the same time at a cost to the farmer.”
A series of public meetings will be held across Vermont on the Required Agricultural Practices rules through December 10th. They begin Tuesday morning at the St. Albans Historical Society and Tuesday afternoon at the Enosburg Opera House. Meetings are also planned Thursday in Middlebury and at the Rutland Free Library from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
The agricultural practice rules must be implemented on or before July 1, 2016.