This has been a busy year for our Extension team in Middlebury. I prepared a summary for my boss, and during this past year we offered 72 workshops, conferences, classes and field day events and tallied 8,143 “educational contacts” who came to our programs. Many farmers and ag business members came to more than one event. We also provided 1,873 individual consultations this year for one-on-one education and production technical assistance. I hope you were able to be there. We have several new projects starting this fall and look forward to many more farm demonstrations with new cover crop mixes planted, no-till corn strategies, calcium sulfate (gypsum) and other soil health amendments, reducing compaction in clay soil, actual farm crop budgets and whole-farm mass nutrient balances. This winter will be just as busy with meetings and classes for no-till corn, cover crops and soil health, pasture and grazing, manure applicator training, nutrient management plans, updates on farm environmental laws, and regular meetings of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition.
New RAP Law Comes Into Effect this Fall
The rules have changed again for Vermont farmers this fall with the new RAP laws (Required Agriculture Practices) going into effect before the snow flies. Once these rules clear the last legislative hurdle, this will be a dramatic change to meet the demands for cleaner water for the future of Vermont. Not so big news if you have been following the progression of increasing restrictions on how soil and farm nutrients will be kept on the farm and not lost to our lakes and streams. All farmers need to know how this will affect them and the Agency website has all the latest news regarding these new rules for farmers: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap
With the ever present focus on water quality in the state of Vermont, now is a good time to know where you sit on a map. Watersheds are not always an intuitive concept, particularly in Vermont where things can drain in unpredictable ways. A watershed is an area of land where the brooks, streams, and rivers all drain into a common location such as a lake or larger river. You can think of watersheds as a hierarchy. A drainage basin is the larger watershed unit for which all waters drain into a common large water body, such as Lake Champlain. Watersheds and sub-watersheds are a division of basins into smaller units. The entire lake is subdivided into sections for the management of water quality. One such segment is South Lake, which includes the McKenzie Brook watershed.
There have been efforts in the state to focus on these smaller watershed and sub-watershed units as a way to target efforts and resources in reducing phosphorus loading on Lake Champlain. Part of this effort is a funding focus on the part of NRCS. This approach is being piloted in an attempt to demonstrate whether more success can be gained from a geographic strategy. It should be noted that the “targets” are areas where additional money and time is being allotted, with the possibility that those “targets” will move as successes are reached. This is the first year of this approach.
The Champlain Valley Crop, Soil and Pasture Team has been participating in this focused effort. The watershed currently targeted that falls within our farm community is McKenzie Brook. Other watersheds currently in NRCS focus are Pike River, Rock River, and St. Albans Bay. McKenzie Brook proper is actually in New York, but this is the name of the watershed that extends above Crown Point Bridge in the north (near DAR state park, Addison VT) to Route 73 in the south (just north of Mt. Independence state park, Orwell VT) and covers a narrow geographic region inland from the lake including Hospital Creek, Whitney Creek, Braisted Brook and the Lake Champlain Tributary.
One of our grants that recently wrapped up was assessing the status of farmer’s nutrient management plans and helping farmers who needed new or updated plans get through the process. A second grant focused on the McKenzie Brook watershed is ongoing assisting farmers in signing up and following through with NRCS EQIP contracts to implement best management practices (BMPs). Thus far, NRCS has been able to obligate $800,000 of a $1 million dollar allocated potential for targeted conservation practices in McKenzie Brook watershed.
We will continue to assist farmers in signing up and implementing practices. In addition, we are happy to help farmers try projects on small plots that may be outside the payment structure of NRCS. Collectively, we hope to quantify both NRCS and non NRCS funded practices in McKenzie Brook to demonstrate conservation success over time. We also have demonstration projects set up specifically in McKenzie Brook, and will continue to facilitate discussion over successes and agronomic realities of practices. Look for information about upcoming events on our events webpage. However, you don’t have to be in McKenzie Brook to try a new practice. We have a lot of work going on in and around Chittenden, Addison and Rutland Counties, and imagine that “targets” may eventually move to other areas within the South Lake region.
This spring we also began engaging in a unique collaborative project with Middlebury College and the Department of Environmental Conservation that we will be continuing this fall/winter and hopefully into the future. Middlebury College students in a capstone environmental studies class embarked upon a semester long group project of their choosing. This spring students mapped existing water quality data in McKenzie Brook watershed, attended some of our workshops and meetings to distribute a farmer survey about water quality and tile drainage, attempted some water quality sampling, and presented findings to farmers. This fall another group of students will continue this work on water quality and land use mapping, water sampling, and/or “ground-truthing” of water quality modeling.
One important outcome of this work this spring was the visualization of data in a digestible format. The average concentration of phosphorus at five sample sites from 2012 to 2014 taken by the DEC is depicted in the map below (click to enlarge).
It should be noted that concentration and loading are two different things. We do not have flow data corresponding with this map (which may explain for example why concentrations in Upper Hospital Creek are greater than that of the West Tributary of Hospital Creek). We hope continued work will include flow monitoring to capture loading rates in addition to concentrations.
Another take-away point that should be reiterated in all this discussion of the Lake is that turning off the “valve” of phosphorus from sources isn’t the same as removing the phosphorus in the Lake. It may take substantial time to see efforts realized in the Lake even if various sectors in VT come together to reduce phosphorus loading, particularly as other factors such as rainfall and temperature continue to impact algal blooms. Therefore, we are hoping to capture an increase in farming BMPs over time as we work together with farmers, and hope to see that correlate with reduced phosphorus loading in particular tributaries. We aim to demonstrate the utility of BMPs and that the farming community is actively engaged in this process. This is an ambitious goal, and success will require buy-in from farmers and dedication from parties involved.
How do we have the “watershed moment” about watersheds? Hopefully, with continued engagement on this topic we can foster a collaborative community where farmers can learn from their neighbors and technical service providers can share information among farmers about how conservation practices are making for thriving agriculture and cleaner water in their own corner of the map.
Join Us For This Great Event Full of Useful Information For Your Farm!
February 17th at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center, Burlington, VT
Registration is now open for this event. We have a day filled with guest speakers and professionals from around the state, country and also Quebec. Speakers will be addressing soil health, herbicides, cover crop research and demonstration trials, no-till successes and challenges, economics and soil conservation.
A new, locally produced movie addresses water quality far and wide, and focuses on ways that different sectors of the community are working to conserve and protect water. There is a strong emphasis on Lake Champlain and phosphorus best management. Mount Mansfield Media has teamed with ‘The H-Team’ to produce this film.
We will be hosting Jim Hoorman, from Ohio State University Extension (PhD candidate and farmer), to discuss:
The Biology of Soil Compaction
Using Cover Crops to Keep Phosphorus Out of Surface Water
Economics of Cover Crops & Weed Suppression
(click on the picture above to view the pdf)
We will meet at the American Legion, have a hot lunch, and then head out to the field to visit Vander Wey’s Nea-Tocht Farm. If you are a farmer, you can attend this field day FOR FREE, due to the generous contributions of Caring Dairy and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition.
Service professions are welcome to attend, there will be a $30 fee. Five CCA credits available from this event.
As an Extension Outreach Professional, I am part of many networks related to farming and farmers. Emails arrive in my inbox everyday about another issue that is directly related to how you farm in Vermont. Whether it is the next pest, weed, or exciting crop to grow; a new grant or cost-share program; or the newest regulation being decided by the Vermont Legislature or state agency that will impact your farm business. Many times these directives and programs are implemented without much input from the people and landscapes they will impact the most—YOU!
You most likely hear the same discussions I hear. You may even get the exact same emails I get (whether you read them or not). You probably have conversations with your neighbors about the many issues facing agriculture in Vermont. I don’t walk into many barns without doing just that. However, I encourage you to take the next step.
Stand up, participate, be heard, and take a leadership role to shape how these initiatives, programs, and policies impact you and Vermont agriculture.
It is very easy to put your nose down, focus on your own farm, and keep more than plenty busy just trying to get your daily farming tasks done. However, sometimes we need to pick up our heads and take a look around. Are you happy with the trajectory of policy-making, technical assistance programs, educational opportunities, water quality rules, food safety policy, funding programs, or farm economics? If you have insight on how to improve any of these issues, NOW IS THE TIME TO SPEAK UP.
There are a lot of initiatives already happening or just starting that directly impact how you farm now and will farm in the future. In my experience, farmer participation is not only accepted, but sought after. I can’t tell you how many meetings I have been to where the participants are making decisions that directly impact Vermont farmers, and when you look around the room there may not be a single farmer in the room. This happens for a few reasons. Farmers are either not included, do not know about these meetings, or decide they are simply too busy to attend. Let me say now that none of those are adequate reasons anymore. As farmers, you need to know when and where these meetings are taking place and show up.
Having your voice heard just got a lot easier thanks to a group of local farmers, UVM Extension and a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Vermont NRCS. We have started the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition in much the same manner as the Farmers Watershed Alliance in Franklin County. The idea is to help all farmers proactively address water quality issues in the Chittenden, Addison & Rutland counties in the Lake Champlain Basin to advance local farm economic resiliency and environmental stewardship. The group aims to target education and outreach, acquire potential project funding, and facilitate communication between farmers, agencies and the public to move us forward in improving water quality The Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition meets once a month and will be accepting new members soon. Call us if you want your voice to be heard and want to be proactive about how water quality and agriculture will co-exist in Vermont now and into the future.
If you would like to join the Champlain Farmers Coalition, please contact Kirsten Workman or Jeff Carter at (802) 388-4969 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beyond farmer-based groups like the Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition and the Farmers Watershed Alliance, you can participate on so many levels: in your town, your county, statewide or even national groups and boards.