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Press Release: Local farmers and partners share new approaches to water quality



Jeannie Bartlett, District Manager

Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District


by Jeannie Bartlett

St. Albans – On a snowy day in March, over 40 farmers and 25 water quality professionals gathered for a Winter Farmers’ Meeting. Foremost on the agenda? Progress, programs, and new technologies for agricultural water quality.

“It’s a time to give farmers an update on the outcomes of projects, help them learn about potential new projects and cost share programs, and all the exciting work that’s being done in the region to improve water quality,” said Dr. Heather Darby, agronomic and soils specialist for UVM Extension.

Brian Jerose of AgriLab technologies kicked off the first session with a description of stream-side tree planting projects. Besides highlighting the benefits of trees for water quality and habitat, Jerose detailed why a buffer that includes both sod, near the field, and trees, along the stream, is most effective at filtering runoff. Jerose also shared progress on a project with a local farmer to design agricultural ditches for improved flood management and reduced bank failure. The design essentially includes miniature floodplains built into the ditch, called a “two-tiered channel.” It will be the first constructed in Vermont.

Next up, Jeff Sanders from UVM Extension presented about “grassed waterways,” the practice of growing permanent grass in cornfields where gullies are otherwise likely to form. The swale is shaped to be flat-bottomed or gently bowl-shaped to help the water disperse over the grass and lose energy, rather than gathering, channelizing and eroding. Sanders reported that grassed waterways are a common practice in the Midwest, and he reminded Vermont farmers that the Required Agricultural Practices requires them all to manage fields to prevent gully erosion. Many Vermont farmers use grassed waterways successfully, and most harvest a hay crop off that sod.

Scott Magnan brings precision agriculture technology to the farms he works with across northern Lake Champlain. “Precision agriculture allows us to manage our resources in about as efficient a manner as possible. By using precision ag, we can put on an exact rate of manure or other inputs.”

Dr. Kent Henderson, chair of the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain, shared his experience resolving a water quality problem identified as “high priority” by the Agency of Agriculture. Henderson, the farmer, the inspector, and a contractor worked together to install an improved barnyard and stream crossing, with plans to address manure storage and milkhouse waste.

Later in the morning Darby presented about soil health, no-till agriculture, and tile drainage. Citing a study her team conducted where both crop yields and soil health improved for the first two years that fields were rotated out of hay into a no-till and cover cropped corn silage system, Darby concludes that there is no single crop that is best for soil health. Rather, she says, good management and diversity are key.

Ryan Patch from the Agency of Agriculture described the new proposed rule regulating tile drainage. A key point in the proposal is banning in-field surface inlets and buffering existing surface inlets by 25 feet, because those inlets can otherwise be a direct conduit for nutrient loss to streams. The Agency will be holding a listening session on the proposed rule on March 30, from 1-3 pm at the St. Albans Museum.

The Franklin County Conservation District showcased new roadside signs designed to highlight fields where cover cropping, no-till, tree-planting and other conservation practices are being implemented. The signs are available from the District for $5, and make a great gift of appreciation to a neighbor farmer.

After a generous lunch sponsored by Champlain Valley Equipment, Sanders from UVM Extension described conservation equipment. Pieces available for rent from UVM such as the no-till grain drill, cover crop interseeder, and roller-crimper allow farmers to experiment with cover cropping and no-till without the capital costs of purchasing.

The event was co-hosted by Friends of Northern Lake Champlain, UVM Extension NW Crops and Soils Team, and Champlain Valley Equipment.

“This kind of event is for the farmers, but it’s also for the people around farmers, who help with water quality, so that they understand practices like cover cropping and no-till better too.” Darby said.

Learning opportunities will continue through the spring and summer, including a workshop on wetland function and management on March 27, 1-3 pm at Champlain Valley Equipment in St. Albans. RSVP to or 528-4176. Follow Franklin County NRCD – VT on Facebook to find out about events from all our water quality partners.


The mission of the Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District is to promote land use that supports human livelihoods and sustains ecological function in Franklin County, VT. We empower and convene landowners and land-users to prioritize and address natural resource concerns through USDA programs and our own, locally-developed programs. We recognize water quality and the continuance of our land-based economy as key concerns for Franklin County today. Our organization is directed by a volunteer board of five locally-elected supervisors.

Visit, or call 802-528-4176.


Photo credit: Jeannie Bartlett

Photo caption: Lindsey Wight (left) and Heather Murphy (right) demonstrate infiltration and runoff over different crops and groundcovers using the Rainfall Simulator at the winter farmers’ meeting in St. Albans.


Photo credit: Jeannie Bartlett

Photo caption: Kent Henderson welcomes farmers and water quality partners to the 14th annual winter farmers meeting hosted by Friends of Northern Lake Champlain and UVM Extension at Champlain Valley Equipment.

Photo credit: VAAFM

Photo caption: More than 60 farmers and water quality partners turned out to share progress and lessons learned at the 2018 winter farmers’ meeting in St. Albans.