Farmers Say They're Unfairly Blamed For Lake Champlain Water Quality

Jun 22, 2016

The Agency of Agriculture is holding public hearings on its final proposed new rules required under Vermont's new water quality law, Act 64.

The rules are expected to take effect in September 15, but some farmers are still concerned about some of the provisions.

At a public hearing in St. Albans, the Agency of Agriculture's Laura DiPietro updated farmers on the final draft of the new Required Agricultural Practices, or RAPs. It adds three classes of small farms to the existing permitting classifications for medium and large farms.

She said 5,550 small farms will be required to follow the RAPs. DiPetro said another 1,500 small farms, those with over 50 cows will now need to be certified.

"In these rules they have to  annually report compliance. This is very similar to what the medium and the large farms do. They also have to get inspected," she said.

Certified small farms will also have to get inspected every seven years. They will also have to have a nutrient management plans, and farmers will need to have hours hours of education every five years.

But there are also new rules for the 140 medium size farms and 27 large farm operations.

Harold Howrigan said the new rules shorten the time in which farms can spread manure on flood prone fields and that will put pressure on marginal farmland.

"You're taking one month off the growing season with these dates on a short growing season in the state of Vermont, and that's like a land grab. I don't think the dairy industry can go forward with those restrictions," he said.

"You're taking one month off the growing season with these dates on a short growing season in the state of Vermont, and that's like a land grab. I don't think the dairy industry can go forward with those restrictions." — Harold Howrigan

Other large and medium farmers told the agency they've sensed a shift in attitude from state officials and the public, saying farmers are taking the blame for water quality issues in Lake Champlain.

Darlene Reynolds of Alburgh said the new rules give too much power to the agency:

"These are sometimes going to be the decisions that will allow us to have a profit during the year or put us in the hole because of this expenses. In these RAPs there is no mention of economics. The bottom line is we do them or we end up in trouble because we don't," she said.

Reynolds says the agency and the public needs to recognize the huge financial investment many farmers have already made to manage nutrients. And with low milk prices, she says there isn't more money to spend.

The agency will hold five more hearings on the rules, and take public comments until July 7.