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New Conservation District Program Supports Small Farm Clean Water Efforts
Friday, 18 December 2015 13:14

While lawmakers and state agencies are ramping up efforts to develop policies and guidelines to clean up Lake Champlain, farmers and local organizations are also doing their part. Through a $800,000 grant awarded by the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD) based in Waitsfield,Vermont’s Natural Resources Conservation Districts are expanding a program that supports small farmers in their efforts to protect water quality while improving their bottom line.

The new program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, will support 145 livestock farm operators state-wide to develop Nutrient Management Plans through participation in the “Digging In” course offered by University of Vermont Extension. A Nutrient Management Plan defines the exact quantity of manure and other nutrients to be spread on each field of the farm in order to grow the crops needed to feed livestock. The plan takes into consideration soil type and chemical composition, the steepness of the field and potential erosion, crops grown on the field, and the nutritional needs of the animals. By combining scientific data with the farmer’s knowledge of their land and production goals, the correct amount of nutrients will be used, thus saving the farmer money and avoiding excess runoff into Vermont’s waterways.

Excess phosphorus, a nutrient commonly needed in agricultural production, is the main cause of Lake Champlain’s toxic algae blooms. While significant phosphorus runoff also comes from roads, forests, streambanks and sewage treatment plants, Vermont’s agricultural community will play a large role in cleaning up the lake and protecting other rivers, streams and lakes around the state.

As a result of Vermont’s new Clean Water Act passed by the Legislature last year, all farms will be required to develop a Nutrient Management Plan in the future. In the past, only medium and large farms - a small proportion of the farms in Vermont - have been required to have this plan. The expanded Conservation District program will enable small farm operators to meet this requirement, as well as make simple, cost-effective changes to their operations to protect water quality and gain access to additional educational, technical and financial support to carry out further conservation projects on their farm.

“At first I didn’t want to take the time to take the Nutrient Management Planning course,” said a farmer who participated in the Digging In class last year, “but I’m so glad I did. I’m now able to use my plan to make the right decisions for my farm, making adjustments field by field as conditions change.” “The program is a win-win for all involved,” said VACD Executive Director Jill Arace. “By combining the specific expertise of several organizations, we’re able to increase the value and impact of our programs to help farmers address water quality concerns, comply with new state regulations, and improve their financial viability. We all want to see Vermont farms thrive and remain a vibrant part of our local communities and working landscape.”

Vermont’s Natural Resources Conservation Districts were created after the Dust Bowl era of the 1930’s to help farmers protect soil and water quality. There are 3,000 Districts throughout the US and 14 in Vermont. In recent decades Vermont’s Conservation Districts have expanded their programs beyond agriculture to forestry, watershed stewardship, stormwater mitigation and education. Districts protect and enhance soil, water, forest and wildlife habitat resources by working with landowners and communities to provide information and technical support, and carry out projects. VACD is the membership association of Vermont’s Conservation Districts. The association provides support to its members and manages state-wide technical programs.

Public Comment Deadline For Draft Water Quality Rules Approaches
Sunday, 13 December 2015 13:44

December 18, 2015 is the Deadline for Public Comment on Draft Required Agricultural Practices Rules

The deadline to submit public comment to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) regarding the draft Required Agricultural Practices (RAP) rules is December 18th, 2015. Public Comment can be submitted via e-mail to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or mailed directly to VAAFM at 116 State Street, Montpelier, Vermont 05620.

Draft RAP Rules Public Meeting Summary

VAAFM released a draft copy of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) on October 20th 2015 for a period of public comment which will run through December 18, 2015. This is a pre-filing period which will afford the opportunity for all interested stakeholders to review the Draft RAPs and provide initial comment before VAAFM revises the draft this winter and then enters into the formal rulemaking process in the spring of 2016. Additional public comment periods will follow both the draft rewrite in January 2016 as well as the formal rulemaking period in Spring of 2016.

VAAFM has held ten public meetings across the state to help facilitate the comment and input process—over 530 farmers and members of the public have attended these events. These public meetings included a detailed presentation the Draft RAPs followed by a question and answer session. VAAFM has also participated in over 20 additional focus groups, at the request of interested organizations and stakeholders, to review the draft rules in detail.

VAAFM was directed by the Legislature to draft the RAPs pursuant to Act 64, signed into law on June 16, 2015. Act 64 amended and enacted multiple requirements related to water quality in the State. The “Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs)” were rewritten to a higher level of performance and renamed the “Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).” VAAFM was charged with revising the RAPs by rule on or before July 1, 2016. Act 64 requires that the revised RAPs include requirements for: small farm certification, nutrient storage, soil health, buffer zones, livestock exclusion, and nutrient management.

New Outreach Material Available Summarizing Draft Rules

To help meet the scheduling challenges of farmers and the public, VAAFM has made available a recording of the St. Albans RAP Public Meeting. The recording includes an Introduction from Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross and a presentation from ARM Deputy Director Laura DiPietro. The forty-minute video provides an introduction to the water quality challenges of the State as well as a detailed overview of the top changes included in the Draft RAPs. VAAFM can prepare DVDs to share with individuals who do not have access to broadband internet; please call the Agency for a copy.

Downloadable Documents & Helpful Links

A link to the streaming video of the St. Albans RAP Public Meeting can be found here: https://youtu.be/aaSrM9vU4lU

A copy of the PowerPoint Presentation used in this video can be downloaded here: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/water_quality/RAP/VAAFM-RAP-2015-Long-Presentation-11-17.pdf

VAAFMs informational RAP website, which contains copies of all the links included in the release, can be accessed here: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap

Please submit public comment to VAAFM (e-mail) here: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it '; document.write( '' ); document.write( addy_text90075 ); document.write( '<\/a>' ); //--> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

VAAFMs RAP Farm Size Definition Fact-Sheet (.pdf) can be found here: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/water_quality/RAP/RAP-Farm-Size-Definitions-draftsheet.pdf

A Draft RAP Highlighted Regulations Fact Sheet (.pdf) can be found here: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/water_quality/RAP/RAP-Highlighted-Rules-Draftsheet.pdf

A complete draft of the Required Agricultural Practices Document (.pdf) can be found here: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/water_quality/VAAFM-Draft-RAP.pdf

For more information contact: Ryan Patch

Sr. Ag Development Coordinator
Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
116 State St. Montpelier, VT 05620
Cell: (802)-272-0323
Fax: (802) 282-1410
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Draft of Revised Agricultural Practices (RAPs) Released for Public Comment
Monday, 02 November 2015 18:51

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets (AAFM) is released a draft copy of the Revised Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for a pre-filing period lasting until January 2016. This is time for all interested stakeholders to review the Draft RAPs and provide comment before AAFM enters the formal rulemaking process—a formal public comment period will occur during the formal rulemaking process. AAFM was directed by the Legislature to draft the RAPs pursuant to Act 64, signed into law on June 16, 2015. AAFM plans to maximize public input, review the rules for relevance and consistency with the law and legislative intent, and make sure these rules will be effective at protecting water quality while being cost effective to implement. Download copy of the Draft RAPs from AAFM’s website:


Please comment here if you are able to provide input related to the relevance, intent, and consistency of the draft RAPs with your organization’s mission and vision. The draft RAP and planned public meetings is an opportunity for AAFM to solicit comment from a wide stakeholder group prior to entering into formal rulemaking. This will ensure that when the rules are proposed and filed in the formal adoption process, significant public comment will have already been collected and taken into consideration. The Agency will seriously consider all comments received during this pre-filing period, though there may be no response to comments received. Comments can be emailed to:

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Act 64, The Clean Water Act, amended and enacted multiple requirements related to water quality in the State. The act amended several provisions regarding agricultural water quality. The “accepted agricultural practices” are renamed the “required agricultural practices (RAPs).” AAFM has been charged to revise the RAPs by rule on or before July 1, 2016. The revised RAPs include requirements for: small farm certification, nutrient storage, soil health, buffer zones, livestock exclusion, nutrient management, and tile drainage.

Specific Consideration

While AAFM is actively seeking input and comment on every section of the Draft RAPs, there are specific sections of the Draft RAPs which AAFM is seeking specific consideration. It is the Agency’s intent to develop rules and programs that will not only eliminate adverse impacts to water quality from agricultural operations, but will also be informed, enforceable and appropriate. Included below are reference for specific items in the draft RAPs which AAFM is seeking specific consideration for input and comment.


Estimated RAP Timeline:


Part of a staged implementation timeline, the Draft RAPs are one point in new comprehensive water quality rules and programming from AAFM. Developed within the context of increasing Technical and Financial Assistance for water quality conservation planning and implementation for farmers, funded by the Vermont Clean Water Fund, as well as by our Federal and local partners, one size does not fit all when it comes to the diversity of agricultural operations operating in the State, and recognizes there are many strategies available for farmers to meet the rigorous standards of the RAPs.

Specific language used in Act 64 emphasized the availability and effectiveness of alternative management and design techniques available for a farm to meet water quality standards (§4810a.11). This appreciation of water quality conservation planning and implementation is reflected in the Draft RAPs. AAFM is interested in comment from agricultural operations regarding areas where current management practices meet the RAP water quality standard but are in conflict with the proposed rules. A draft report on water quality considerations regarding tile draining will be reported to the legislature January 2016, with RAPs revised to included requirements for tile draining by January 15th, 2018. Successful implementation of the RAPs will assist in Vermont’s mission to meet the goals of Act 64 as well as the TMDL for Phosphorus for Lake Champlain.

For a complete list of public meetings where AAFM will present the Draft RAPs with a comment period to follow, please visit AAFM’s webpage at:


Upcoming VACD Annual Meeting
Tuesday, 20 October 2015 10:34

Greetings! As Fall reaches a peak in our colorful state, it’s also time for the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD) and Lamoille County Conservation District to host our Annual Meeting. This year, emphasis will be on the newly passed Vermont Clean Water Act and the importance of soil health. VACD will approach these topics with the mindset of improving and maintaining our state’s water quality through efforts at the local level. Soil and water have high impacts on one another, especially in a region where the watershed is so widely dispersed. During the Annual Meeting, we will discuss how Conservation District programs can address soil and water quality to safeguard our natural landscape. Participants will learn, share, and launch additional collaborative efforts.

Here are some of the notable speakers who will be presenting at the Annual Meeting:

Kari Dolan (The Vermont Clean Water Act and Opportunities for Conservation Districts): Kari is the current Manager of the Ecosystem Restoration Program at the Department of Environmental Conservation at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

Vicky Drew (NRCS Programs & Collaboration with NRCDs): Vicky is the Vermont State Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service.

Ray Archuleta (Healthy Soil and Clean Water): Ray is a Conservation Agronomist at the NRCS East National Technology Center based in North Carolina. He has 25 years of experience with the NRCS working with different states across America and holding various positions within the Conservation Service.

Laura DiPietro (Changes in VT Agricultural Policies and Programs): Laura is the Deputy Director of Agricultural Resource Management at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets.

Please send your registration form to Jill Arace, VACD Executive Director, at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it by Wednesday, October 21st. Payment can be sent to VACD, PO Box 566, Waitsfield, VT 05673-0566

We look forward to seeing you there!

Conservation Districts Expand Work with Small Farms to Address Water Quality Concerns
Thursday, 15 May 2014 07:16

While the State of Vermont and the US Environmental Protection Agency are working to agree on a plan to clean up Lake Champlain, they are also expanding efforts to help small farms address water quality concerns in cooperation with Vermont’s fourteen Natural Resources Conservation Districts.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, the Department of Environmental Conservation of the Agency of Natural Resources and USEPA provided a 21-month, $673,271 grant to the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts to help small farms install agricultural water quality best management practices that will protect the State’s waters and support the working landscape.

The grant enables conservation district staff throughout the state to reach out to small farmers regarding Vermont’s Accepted Agricultural Practices – the state’s agricultural water quality regulations – and help them identify and resolve water quality concerns on the farm.  These technical advisors provide information, assess water quality concerns, and help farmers secure funding to implement best management practices aimed at reducing runoff and contamination of the state’s waters.  The improvements not only protect water quality, but help farmers improve operations, protect animal health, and enhance farm viability.  These on-farm improvements include fencing to exclude animals from streams and rivers, construction of stream crossings and animal laneways, improved drainage systems to manage runoff from barns and manure stack pads, and alternative watering systems.  

For examples of best management practices, see the VACD-produced film entitled Small Farms Making a Difference: Water Quality Improvement Success Stories, in which small farm owners showcase the steps they are taking to lessen the impact of agricultural operations on water quality here.

For more information contact:
Jeff Farber, Technical Programs Manager
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