Tuesday, September 22, 2015

New farm run-off rules could be too costly for some Vermont farmers to remain in business

New rules aimed at reducing farm phosphorous runoff in Vermont could prove to be too costly for some farmers to remain in business, Lisa Rathke reports for The Associated Press. "Small farms haven’t had as much oversight as their larger counterparts, so the state is now surveying such operations in northwestern Vermont, mostly Franklin County (World Atlas map) where toxic algae blooms have plagued parts of the lake, fed in part by phosphorus-laden runoff from farms."

Officials "are visiting small livestock farms and notifying them of changes they need to make now and in the future following the passage of a state water quality law signed by the governor in June," Rathke writes. "Some small farms with at least 10 acres will need to certify in 2017 that they are in compliance with required agricultural practices related to nutrient management, manure storage and buffer zones between crops and waterways. The exact definition of a small farm will be determined in 2016."

"About a third of the farms visited so far did not have nutrient management plans related to applying manure to fields and making sure that it’s not applied to areas that already have high levels of phosphorous in them," said Laura DiPietro, the agricultural water quality policy and operations manager for the Agriculture Agency. "What’s concerning is many of the problems need structural fixes that can be costly, such as constructing an entirely new manure pit because the old one is not meeting state standards, she said. A U.S. Department of Agriculture cost-share program will cover an average of 75 percent of the project, and the Agriculture Agency can get that up to 85 percent in some cases, but the farmer’s share can be significant."

Dairy farmer Daniel Fortin said making upgrades in a time when milk prices are bad is tough, Rathke writes. He told her, “It just takes time. It’s the old farms—it’s the old infrastructure, and it costs money,” DiPietro told here, "It becomes making a big decision for some of these farms. If you don’t have someone to pass it down to, are you going to make this investment?” (Read more)

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