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October 19, 2017

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets is pleased to announce $1 million in funding for the Capital Equipment Assistance Program (CEAP).  This financial assistance program is available to support farmers to acquire new or innovative equipment that will aid in the elimination of runoff from agricultural wastes to state waters, improve water quality, reduce odors from manure application, separate phosphorus from manure, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Funding investments for equipment that will improve water quality is a vital aspect of our farm assistance programs. This program has historically supported many farmers in their transition to no-till or in improving their farming practices with precision agricultural equipment,” said Anson Tebbetts, Secretary of Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.  Tebbetts continued, “We’re excited to offer a new phosphorus removal technology funding category which will offer financial assistance for the installation of both physical and chemical mechanisms for the separation of phosphorus from manure.”

This year, funding is available through CEAP for a range of innovative equipment such as phosphorus removal technologies, no-till equipment, manure application record keeping units, manure injection equipment, and more.  Specific equipment that is eligible for funding as well as the corresponding funding rates and caps is available the Agency’s website at agriculture.vermont.gov/ceap

The grant application opens October 18, 2017 and applications are due by 4:00 p.m. on December 1, 2017.  Eligible applicants include custom manure applicators, non-profit organizations, and farmers.

For the complete CEAP application, program details and additional information, please visit agriculture.vermont.gov/ceap or call the Agency at (802) 828-2431 or email: AGR.WaterQuality@Vermont.gov

October 19, 2017

Montpelier, VT – The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) is pleased to announce the first round of a two-round grant opportunity for Vermont produce growers. The grant opportunity, which is intended to improve on-farm produce safety, will have approximately $74,000 in funding each round. To be eligible for the grant, applicants must grow, harvest, pack, or hold “covered produce” as defined by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule (PSR) and have average annual produce sales of greater than $25,000 over the past three years. Prospective applicants may download the request for proposals (RFP) at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/produceprogram on October 20, 2017 and submit applications beginning on November 15, 2017. Grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible applicants until all funds in the round have been allocated.

The Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grant Program supports Vermont produce growers in implementing on-farm improvements to help prevent or reduce produce safety risks. Covered farms under the PSR will find this grant as a useful resource to help meet certain requirements under the PSR, or for produce safety programs such as USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), and the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers’ Association’s Community Accreditation for Produce Safety (CAPS). A few examples of grant application requests may include, but are not limited to:

·         Wash/pack equipment or infrastructure

·         Cold storage infrastructure

·         Handwashing stations and hygiene signage

In the face of new regulations and evolving market expectations, VAAFM and the Vermont Produce Program aim to grow Vermont’s produce industry by assisting produce farms of all sizes to meet food safety requirements, access markets, and promote public health as sustainable agricultural businesses.

“Vermont’s produce industry faces a changing environment. We are excited to offer these grant opportunities to support growers as they develop and improve produce safety practices on their farms. This grant will also help our Agency learn about the best infrastructure and materials for growers to implement as FSMA regulations come into play,” said Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts.

While the Produce Safety Improvement Grant is only for farms subject to the FDA’s Produce Safety Rule, VAAFM encourages all produce farms to follow good agricultural practices to ensure the safety of their produce. Applications may be submitted online at https://agriculturegrants.vermont.gov beginning November 15, 2017. The Agency plans to release a second round of produce safety improvement grant funding in June 2018.

October 17, 2017

A Vermont farm and its champion cow is celebrating taking the top prize at the World Dairy Expo.

“Blexy,” a classic black-and-white Holstein, was selected as the top bovine of all the dairy breeds at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. With more than 2300 entries, the dairy show is considered the Kentucky Derby of the cow world.

The seven-year-old animal is co-owned by Borderview Genetics in Richford, Vermont. Co-owners Tim and Sharyn Abbott focus on breeding cows that will reach the top of their class. “We knew Blexy was special. Now we know that the judges think so too,” said Tim Abbott, who has nurtured their cow along her path to the pinnacle of the cow business.

“We thank all our friends and family who have helped us reach this goal. It is a dream come true. We could not have done this without the help of so many special people,” noted Sharyn Abbott.

In addition, the top cow award will help Borderview Genetics grow its business. Blexy will have more calves, and her strong pedigree will allow the Abbotts to market more of their herd for sale across the United States, Canada, Mexico and other parts of the world.

Tim and Sharyn have deep roots in farming. Tim grew up on a farm in Cabot, Vermont. Sharyn was raised on a farm in Enosburgh. The couple met at the University of Vermont where they were active in the Animal Science Department.

“Vermont is known for its quality milk, butter and cheese. Most of all, we recognize Vermont farmers. Sharyn and Tim are proof Vermont is at the head of the class when it comes to dairy.” said Vermont Agriculture Secretary, Anson Tebbetts.

Blexy is currently enjoying some rest and relaxation in Wisconsin before she travels to her next stop, the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair held in November in Toronto, Canada.

October 11, 2017

The numbers are in and it was another successful year for Vermont businesses at the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts! In 2017, the Vermont Building earned $1,804,066 in gross sales. On Vermont Day, Saturday September 23, The Big E broke a single-day attendance record attracting 171,897 fairgoers. Over the course of 17 days, the Big E set an all-time attendance record exposing over 1.5 million people to the Vermont brand.  

Governor Phil Scott visited the Vermont Building on Vermont Day to help showcase all Vermont has to offer, from hiking, biking and skiing to craft beer, maple syrup, cheese and new job opportunities.

“The Big E represents an opportunity for us to share why Vermont is a great place to live, visit, work and do business,” said Gov. Scott. “It’s also a chance for growing Vermont entrepreneurs to build relationships and strengthen the Vermont brand with out-of-state consumers.”

The Vermont Building has been a significant economic engine for participating vendors, generating over $10 million in total sales over the last four years. In 2017, the Vermont Building added some new key features to help showcase Vermont products such as the Journey’s End Camp, an upgraded rear patio, complete with a new performing stage, additional vendors and elegant landscaping, all replicating Vermont’s charming beauty. In addition, the Vermont State Troopers were given a designated space inside the building, and additional vending spaces, landscaping, and signage were added to the side of the building.

“The upgrades to the Vermont Building have created a great public space with a real Vermont feel. When you walk around the side of our building and into our new patio it looks like you're in the Green Mountains. We want to evoke warm Vermont feelings in fairgoers, so that they think about where our products come from, visit us, and enjoy everything that the state of Vermont has to offer,” said Lauren Masseria, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets.

WATCH our video for a full Vermont Building experience. For more information on The Big E-Eastern States Exposition go to www.thebige.com.

October 11, 2017

 

“Regulation doesn’t have to be a bad word.” That’s what Hans Estrin, a produce safety educator at UVM Extension, wants farmers to know about a voluntary program aimed at reducing food safety risks.     

President Obama signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law in 2011, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized the FSMA Produce Safety Rule in 2015. The Produce Safety Rule sets national standards for growing, harvesting, packing and holding produce for the first time. Amid these new standards, adoption of on-farm food safety practices will be crucial to Vermont growers who wish to increase market access and maintain market integrity.

So how can Vermont’s small to medium size produce farms maintain market credibility? With the help of funding and sponsors, the Vermont Vegetable and Berry Growers Association (VVBGA) organized a program called the Community Accreditation for Produce Safety (CAPS). A group of farmers and service providers have established 18 required produce safety practices for participating farmers to follow.

Hans is the CAPS Coordinator. “Empowering growers to take the lead, owning their regulatory process is essential … overall the impact is much greater when farmers are taking the lead,” said Hans.

To gain accreditation, local farms have developed and documented safety plans that fit their operations. The plans are then reviewed by peers and a CAPS certificate is awarded. In 2016, 61 farms successfully completed CAPS. To maintain approval in 2017, farms completed a revised plan. This year, CAPS launched an optional on-farm verification audit, known as CAPS+. Hannaford Supermarkets has agreed to accept CAPS accreditation for farms that successfully complete a CAPS+ audit in lieu of USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification.

In collaboration with UVM Extension, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, And Markets (VAAFM) produce safety team members will conduct the audits. Hans says working with VAAFM produce staff has been helpful in meeting the needs of an increasing number of farms seeking accreditation. In 2017, CAPS participation increased by 44 percent with 91 farms signing up.

In August, Hans lead the produce safety team on a training day at Maple Wind Farm, a medium sized produce farm located in Huntington. Following the audit guidelines, the day was grouped into four basic steps.

Step 1. A review of Maple Wind Farm’s CAPS produce safety plan.

Step 2: After arriving on the farm, Hans and VAAFM staff meet with the farm manager to tour the farm and go over their produce safety plan. Staff collected key documents and assessed each CAPS requirement.

Step 3: VAAFM staff conducted an interview with a farm employee. They asked questions about farm procedures works, health and hygiene policies and accessibility to first aid kits.

Step 4: A review of any non-compliance issues with the farm manager. If a farm is not doing what’s laid out in their plan, then that specific requirement is labeled “non-compliant.” The score sheet is sent to Hans, who will facilitate resolution of any issues found during the audit.

The last step is where Hans would say there’s been “a major culture change.” By stepping foot on these farms and taking time to explain the issues with farmers face-to-face, more and more farmers are starting to buy in.

“You can really feel the impact, and a lot of it’s positive,” said Hans. 

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