Vermont and federal officials have announced grants targeting the state agriculture industry’s impact on the food system and on Lake Champlain.
Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Peter Welch, both Democrats, were joined by officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the University of Vermont to announce the agriculture innovation and water quality grants. Senator Leahy says a new USDA Agricultural Research Service Food Systems Center will be funded at $3 million per year for five years at the University of Vermont. “We’re here today to announce a new long-term partnership the USDA has established with the University of Vermont to support innovative food systems research. And we have the privilege to announce a suite of new conservation projects to help Vermont farmers steward their land and support a healthy Lake Champlain. Now the first year’s funding of $3 million is already in place and work is underway. A full five year program is being finalized because you can’t turn these things on and off.”
Congressman Welch said local sustainable agriculture is key to the revitalization of the rural economy. “Farmers are the custodians of our landscape and this grant that is long-term is going to give tools to our local farmers where they can get real information about what works and what doesn’t. The goal is clean agriculture. The goal is a clean environment. And having the benefit of the University of Vermont as a partner combined with the practical experience of farmers in the field that’s very very promising.”
USDA Undersecretary Bill Northey announced nearly $2 million in grants to evaluate the water quality impacts of voluntary conservation practices by farmers. “Our farmers want to be able to figure out what’s going to make an impact. And that’s what this project will help discover, is how is it actually making a difference and how much scaling do we need to do to be able to make that kind of difference?”
Officials also announced that Vermont will share a $20 million Dairy Innovation Grant with Wisconsin and Tennessee. Vermont Agency of Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbets: "That particular grant will allow our farmers to look at different options. For example can we pair farmers directly with some of our artisan cheesemakers and develop a model there? On the environmental side that was announced farmers are doing the heavy lifting but they need support in making sure they’re doing the right things. These dollars will be earmarked to do practices that are really research based, data based.”
The water quality study is one of 23 nationally funded through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Effects Assessment Project.