Story by Sarah Damsell, Orleans County NRCD District Manager, adapted by Luke Rackers, VACD Communications Coordinator.
Conservation Success Story!
Orleans County NRCD and Memphremagog Watershed Association highlight local farmers in Newport, VT who reduced their nonpoint source pollution. With help from NRCS, the McCormicks installed best management practices that reduced phosphorous runoff in the Strawberry Acres tributary by 50%!
Discovering the Issue
Lake Memphremagog has been classified as impaired due to elevated levels of phosphorus, a nutrient delivered to the lake through rivers and tributaries. Recent efforts by state and local partners have been focused on improving water quality by implementing best land use practices throughout the watershed. The unnamed tributary called Strawberry Acres flows into the southwest corner of Lake Memphremagog in Newport Town and Coventry, and is one of the many streams shown to be a source of phosphorus. Its watershed encompasses 818 acres of agricultural and residential areas along with extensive forests and wetlands, especially at the headwaters. Elevated levels of phosphorus in Strawberry acres were discovered through the Orleans County Conservation District water quality monitoring program with assistance from the Memphremagog Watershed Association volunteers. Samples were collected 8-10 times annually from 2008 to 2016 in two locations along the tributary.
Since 2012, Chad and Amanda McCormick have operated a 55 cow small organic dairy in Newport, VT, located within the Strawberry Acres watershed. Both grew up in Orleans County around dairy; Amanda was raised on a farm in Troy and Chad worked on farms during his youth in Barton. Amanda has a degree in business and was a stay at home mom before taking on the management of their dairy operation. Chad holds a full-time job and they both enjoy coaching a variety of youth sports teams. When starting to farm, the outdated facility made the day-to-day farm operation challenging. A couple of the inadequate systems included a manure pit that required shoveling manure twice daily and a broken pipe that caused the barn to flood regularly. The herd went out to pasture via a muddy lane with a stream crossing that the cows were reluctant to travel, creating a problem of constantly dirty udders. Consequently, it was difficult to move the cows out of the barnyard and improve milk quality.
Another local farmer told Chad and Amanda about Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) funding opportunities that assist with farmstead improvement projects that could help make their operation more efficient. In 2013 – 2014 they worked with NRCS to develop and implement a conservation plan to install a new manure pit along with a concrete barnyard, pasture laneways, and fencing around the stream. Since these projects, the McCormicks have seen dramatic improvements. Their efforts to minimize runoff into the tributary have yielded many benefits. They are conserving water, recycling the milk house waste to clean the gutters, and capturing all waste in the manure pit. Reduced expenses, improved herd health, increased milk quality, and enhanced cow travel lanes all benefit their farm’s overall health.
In 2015 and 2016 water quality sampling was repeated at the two sites along the Strawberry Acres tributary to gauge if these projects had measurably improved water quality in this tributary. Total phosphorus concentrations at both sites were substantially lower after these practices had been installed. The graph below shows the reductions in annual median values at the sample site. An analysis of the phosphorus loading in this tributary suggests a reduction of over 175 pounds of phosphorus per year which is a reduction of more than 50% of the estimated loading from this tributary prior to project implementation. The McCormicks now have more paddocks and a rational plan, a new laneway, and a new barnyard and pasture watering system, all of which have increased herd health and resulted in improved herd happiness.
Knowing that they had a positive impact on the lake felt really rewarding. Since this project, they are more aware of the water quality challenges and hope that their story can inspire other farmers to act.
“I don’t think people realize the effect that these projects can have on the environment.”
“We are getting more milk and better quality since we completed all this work.” This is their third year of getting a quality milk award. Overall, the project “has brought us closer together as a family.”