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July 20, 2018

“Paul Knox is a real farmer. He's always curious, always asking questions, nearly always wants to try something new and always thinking about how to do things better - for his animals, the land, the water and the folks that work for him too. It's a pleasure working with him.” Kimberly Hagan, Grazing Specialist at the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

Paul Knox grew up on a farm in Southern New Hampshire. He owns and manages Knoxland farms, a Large Farm Operation well known for pasturing their cows in the Connecticut River Valley. If you haven’t met Paul, heard him speak at an event, or had a chance to visit his farm, you should consider it. Before I went to meet Paul and learn about his pasture management, a fellow colleague informed me, “Paul can tell you a story.” A good story can be something simple, yet so influential.

 “Always been dairy, I don’t know anything else,” Paul explained. He calls himself a conventional farmer but is likely something closer to an alternative farmer, early adopter, or even an innovator. “We’ve had cover crops since 1976,” said Paul. The day I went to visit him, Paul was planting 40 acres as no till corn for the first time. He explained why he was willing to take the risk and try no till for the first time, “I have always been interested in it. The theory of saving a little money was one reason, streamlining the planting operation was another, and not having the ground be tilled in the month of May in the Connecticut Valley holds a lot of appeal.”

After digging a little further, Paul explained how hearing about another farmer’s success is what made it seem like a risk worth taking.  “I went to a meeting with the Connecticut River Watershed Farmers Alliance, and Keith Sprague spoke about no-till corn. He had a really great story to tell and he does a great job telling it. That was in March... It was kind of the tipping point.” I then reminded Paul why I had come to visit him in the first place. I wanted to try and tell his story.

Paul bought the land where he now farms right when agricultural regulations started coming into place in Vermont. “You had to apply manure, half way intelligently,” he explained as we compared the changes in regulations through the years. Meanwhile he maintained a desire to replicate what farmers did in New Zealand, where he had traveled in 1987. He knew they gave their dairy cows fresh grass twice a day and had read about rotational grazing. “When I was a little kid, my dad took a field out of the woods, a 20-acre field, pretty stony.” Paul described himself at the time, “I had to have been 9 or 10. I couldn’t do a lot, but I could chase cows. The field was about a mile away, half mile away from the farm. It was so rough he decided to pasture it for a year or two and let the roots die down…. I learned pasturing there,” he explained.

While Paul told me how he learned the “half-assed” method of pasturing that his father taught him as a child, we walked into the field to move some fence line around for his heifers. Most days, Paul walks through his fields, moving fence line and opening fresh pasture for his heifers. “It’s good for me too,” he says.

“We talked about it, we could graze some milk cows here, that would be good for them before they went dry, good for their feet, good exercise, cheap way to harvest grass, and we would make some cheap milk, and it would slow the cows up, a whole laundry list of things,” said Paul as he explained his reasons for turning to rotational grazing.

Paul has his heifers custom grown until 10 months old, seasonally pastured, and pastures his milking cows just before they go dry. “This would be a way to alleviate some of the pressure in the barn in the summer…and then when they were dry cows they would be used to grass.” Paul attests that the butter fat content will go up, but of course you get less milk. “They get a little thin. I have always said; a thin cow will scare you to death and a fat cow will starve you to death.”

According to Paul, some things to watch out for when you’re pasturing cows include driving snow storms, rain storms, hot air balloons, and of course, hot and humid weather. “The number one thing if you are going to graze a lot, is make sure you have plenty of cows early in the grazing season. For us, we need to have a lot of dry cows, for us its 80-100…and they will really chew up some grass. You have to move them through fast,” explained Paul. As many farmers do, Paul is a trial by error kind of guy, learning things along the way. “Mostly it was by myself, but I had some people come in who gave me some ideas, a lot of people, Kimberly Hagan, Willy Gibson, Don Maynard, he helped me a lot. I didn’t know much of anything.” While it took some time for Paul to get the grazing system down, the benefits are clear. Soil productivity has increased the more it is grazed, the barn is a little less full, his cows are healthy, and Paul is happy out in the pasture with them.

“The cow health thing is huge, economically, I know it’s huge from a management point of view, it simplifies things…Economically, it is probably the most important thing. And then I guess there is a certain amount of satisfaction, walking around with the cows and seeing them happy,” Paul explained as he pulled his fence tester out to check his new lines for juice.

As he went to drop the line where the heifers anxiously waited, it started to rain and the wind swept through the pasture. The cows scattered across the field and huddled together in the corner. We waited to watch them run into the new grass, but the weather kept them where they were. “The cows will tell you what they like,” said Paul, “If I had been two minutes earlier they’d have been in here... they’ll come back.”

Whether it is a good story, the desirability of taking a risk, or just a general desire to do things differently, I think we can all take a note from Paul’s book.

To check out more Fantastic Farmers visit, http://agriculture.vermont.gov/Vermont%20Fantastic%20Farmer#overlay-cont...

July 16, 2018

 

Bouchard Family Dairy Implements First Two-Stage Ditch Design in Vermont

A strectch of land in Franklin has been farmed by the Bouchard family for over a century. When Greg Bouchard came back to the dairy farm 4 years ago, he brought new and exciting agronomic practices with him.

“With the assistance from a lot of the Agencies to get practices such as animal trails, water tubs, fencing…I’ve been able to make this all work,” said Greg Bouchard, Bouchard Family Dairy, LLC.

Before returning to the farm, Greg worked as an engineer at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture helping other farms make water quality improvements. One project being implemented on land in the Midwest caught his eye.

“We saw the two-stage ditch design and I said I know of a good place for that, but how do we get that there… and here we are 10 years later,” said Greg 

The concept: By digging out the ditch banks 2-3 feet above the bottom and 12-15 feet wide on each side of the stream, you create more space for water to go during a flood event. The design mimics a natural flood plain.

“When we have a big flood, it will have the opportunity to hold the water within the created flood plain channel versus out on the fields,” Staci Pomeroy, Vermont River Management Program scientist. 

The project can save farmers time and money, but it is also helps the environment.

“These types of projects also provide a lot of great water quality benefits as well as habitat benefits. It provides an opportunity for more sediments and nutrients to be captured in the watershed on this flood plain over time,” said Pomeroy.

Stopping nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from entering waterways that lead directly to Lake Champlain.

But this practice has never been done on Vermont land.

“As soon as we got here and walked out that day I was like this is perfect because it has really low gradient from one end to the other, he had bank erosion he had to maintain the channel frequently, and does it get out of its bank at times, all those factors kind of checked all the boxes for a site like this,” said Ben Gabos, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets.

After several years, funding from the Agency of Natural Resources helped get the project off the ground.

“The first step was to go through an engineering and design phase. So, what you see now is the construction going on. Now we’re working with Fish & wildlife to monitor the results of our project," said Dr. Kent Henderson, Friends of Northern Lake Champlain.

It's important analysis that could shape state programs in the future.

“So, we get an idea of really how many pollutants, how much phosphorus are we keeping out of Lake Champlain by doing this sort of project on farms,” said Dr. Henderson.

With farmers leading the way.

“Our program is really interested to see these types of projects explored more because they are the areas where we have the most opportunity with a variety of land owners," said Pomeroy

Staying persistent and willing to take risks.

“The water quality, I believe will improve quite a bit, the vegetation and benches down here will help catch a lot of the sediment. We’re always out here to do better,” said Greg.

Working for quality in water… and farming.

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT VERMONT WATER QUALITY PROGRAMS VISIT:

agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality

EMAIL: AGR.WaterQuality@vermont.gov

CALL: (802) 828-2431

To learn more about Two-Stage Ditch Designs visit:

https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/indiana/howwework/two-stage-ditches.xml

 
 
 
July 13, 2018

 

Since 2007, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) Farm to School and Childcare Program has invested more than $1 million in nearly 200 schools and childcare providers. Beginning in 2018, VAAFM partnered with Vermont Community Garden Network to provide school garden support for Farm to School and Childcare grantees. School gardens are an effective strategy for reaching the goals of the grant program, and serve as a tangible way schools can engage in farm to school.

VCGN supported grantees through a series of workshops for grantees, offered throughout the state. The goals of the workshops were to help grantees:

  • Develop a reasonable approach to integrate the school garden into the entire farm to school program;
  • Focus on the importance of building human capital and using existing school and community resources to support successful school gardens; and
  • Cultivate community buy-in for long-term, sustainable school gardens.

Workshops attendees included 54 school garden leaders and stakeholders, representing 14 different schools and childcare centers, and eight different community partners and support organizations. The school staff participating included a broad range of stakeholders, including teachers from a wide variety of subjects (history, STEM, science, language arts, social studies, math, biology, art) and grades (early care through high school), para educators, after school coordinators and educators, a school counselor, a food service director, an assistant principal, and facilities staff.

Each year, the Vermont Farm to School & Childcare Program continues to grow and innovate, serving our most vulnerable and enabling equitable access to healthy food, achieved through a focus on viable school meal programs and early exposure to farm to school principles. Farm to school programs not only promote healthy lifestyles in children but have also been shown to improve children’s behavior and academic performance at school.  VCGN is one of many partners who make the comprehensive, team-based program a success. 

For more informtaion contact Ali Zipparo @ 802-505-1822 or alexandra.zipparo@vermont.gov.

July 11, 2018

Attention Vermont produce growers! A new feature has been added to the state's Produce Portal. When you sign up for the portal, you can download Produce Safety Rule Resources.  

Available resources include:

  • Determining Coverage under the Produce Safety Rule
  • Produce Safety Rule Required Record Templates: Worker Training Record Template Cleaning and Sanitizing Record Template, Compost Treatment Record Template, Qualified Exemption Annual Review and Verification Worksheet (for qualified exempt farms)
  • What to Expect During an On-Farm Readiness Review
  • What to Expect During a Produce Safety Rule Inspection
  • Agricultural Water Testing Laboratories & Sampling Recommendations
  • And more!

To login to the Vermont Produce Portal and view the resources available:

*How to create a user account in the Vermont Produce Portal

If you do not yet have a login you can create a username and password by following these instructions:

  • Visit https://cloud.agriculture.vermont.gov/FSMA/Pages/Login.aspx
  • Click on “Register”
  • Fill out the required fields marked with *
  • Submit the form by clicking on the grey “Register” button
  • Once registered you can add your farm’s contact information by clicking on the “Manage Farms” and “New Farm” buttons

If you have any questions, please contact the Vermont Produce Program at AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov or (802) 828-2433. Vermont Produce Program Growing Produce Safety on Vermont Farms http://agriculture.vermont.gov/produceprogram

July 10, 2018
 
July 10, 2018 / Montpelier VT - At the end of the 2018 Vermont legislative session, a number of bills important to the state’s agricultural community became law.  The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets worked closely with the legislature and administration to bring attention to Vermont’s important rural economy. These new laws help make Vermont more affordable, take care of the most vulnerable, and grow the Vermont economy. 
 
Below is a partial list of these new laws. 
 
H.16 - An act relating to making appropriations for the support of government, financing education, and vital records. 
  • The Farm to School program will receive an additional $50,000 in fiscal year 2019; 
  • Vermont Working Lands Enterprise program will receive an additional $106,000 in fiscal year 2019; 
  • Vermont will provide a minimum of $600, not to exceed total premium paid, to dairy producers to        offset costs for participation in the 2018 Federal Margin Protection Program. The AAFM will                administer the reimbursement grant program.  Total funds allocated are $450,000. 
  • Vermont Housing and Conservation Board will receive, $75,000, to continue to provide grant writing assistance for rural development. 
  • The Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) received $250,000 to be used by VEDA’s agricultural subsidiary the Vermont Agricultural Credit Corporation (VACC) for a loss reserve in the 2018 Farm Operating Program, which provides Vermont cow dairy farmers with long-term loans for operating expenses.  
 
Act 194 (S.276) – An act relating to rural economic development. 
  • Amends the authority of the Rural Economic Development Initiative to focus on providing grant assistance in small towns and rural areas; 
  • Requires the AAFM to go through rulemaking to establish a process to certify nutrient management technical service providers; 
  • Grants AAFM authority to enforce FDA's produce safety rules; and 
  • Amends livestock transport law to provide greater clarity to producers. 
   
Act 143 (H.663) – An act relating to municipal regulation of accessory on-farm businesses and hemp cultivation 
  • Authorizes and limits municipal land use regulation of an "accessory on-farm business" as defined in the law; 
  • Amends industrial hemp law by creating a pilot program for research, cultivation, and marketing; and 
  • Allows registered industrial hemp growers to purchase hemps seeds or import hemp genetics from any state that complies with federal requirements for the cultivation of industrial hemp. 
  • Gives authority to the AAFM to establish a cannabis quality control program to test for potency, containments and verify label guarantees of hemp and hemp infused products, and to certify other testing laboratories.
 
Act 168 (S.260) – An act relating to funding the cleanup of State waters. 
  • Renames the Clean Water Fund Board to the Clean Water Board and increases membership on the Board; 
  • Directs that state agencies coordinated water quality grant awards; 
  • Directs AAFM to coordinate with ANR on the development and implementation of a response plan to a designated lake in crisis, enforce relevant agricultural requirements therein, and provide financial assistance for agricultural compliance with the lake in crisis order; and  
  • Directs the AAFM to report on the future of farming practices. 
 
These are just a few of the highlights of the 2018 session. The Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets would like to thank the agriculture community and public for their input. Secretary Anson Tebbetts said, “It was a productive session for Vermont’s farm community. Many thanks to our partners who helped us along the way.  We know this is just the start and we remained focused on improving Vermont’s rural economy. These new laws will help grow our economy and make Vermont more affordable.”
 
Deputy Secretary Alyson Eastman added, “The new funding and new laws will make a difference to our farmers. We have a strong relationship with the legislature and we want to thank lawmakers for that important partnership. We look forward to building on these programs in the coming months with the help of Governor Scott and the General Assembly.”
For questions, please contact:
 
Scott Waterman
Policy and Communications Director / Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets
Office 802-828-2179 | Cell 802-622-4662 
 

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