January 18, 2017 / Montpelier VT – For your consideration some thoughts by Agriculture, Food and Markets Secretary Anson Tebbetts on Quality in Water and Farming.
Quality in Water and Farming
As you go about your day, it’s likely you pass a farm – or two or more – along the way. Hidden in hamlets and stretched out in the valleys, Vermont’s farms are part of our daily lives.
And although farmers have worked the land for over a century, there may be something unexpected, yet rooted in Vermont, happening behind the scenes.
Something innovative. Something progressive. Something that’s making a difference, over time, in our land, waterways, farms, and in our communities.
Vermont farmers, along with many others in our state, are working for water quality.
A closer look at Vermont farms shows how cutting-edge technology is increasingly becoming the new norm. From state-of-the art waste management systems to cover crops that keep agricultural fields growing biomass year-round preventing soil from eroding, Vermont agriculture is evolving once again. New generations, along with legacy farmers, are actively making improvements on their farms and they are networked for change: In 2017, 3,137 farmers, partners, and members of the public took in 5,011 hours of education at 93 water quality events. Last year 70 Vermonters received advanced certification in manure application. It’s progress.
And that’s just the beginning. In 2017, the State invested $17 million in related water quality projects across all sectors. As part of this investment, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture devoted $5.2 million in technical and financial assistance, engagement and outreach, rules and regulation, and inspection and enforcement —it’s the biggest water quality investment in the history of Vermont.
The Agency of Agriculture’s work over the past year includes $1.1 million in grants for on-farm projects such as fencing, manure storage and barnyards, $1.7 million in Clean Water Initiative grants to partners for education, implementation and phosphorus reduction alternatives beyond traditional conservation practices. There are thirty-one people at the Agency of Agriculture’s water quality division focused on ensuring the regulations are achieved, designing conservation practices, and offering education and technical assistance to help farms make the necessary changes for water quality. Grants and the technical support offered by the Agency are a tool for farmers who are motivated for change and all grants require money from the farmer.
In addition, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, in partnership with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), inspects farms and jointly enforces water quality regulations. In 2017, Agency of Agriculture investigators performed 392 inspections including investigating one hundred fifty complaints – 100% of those received. Farmers who knowingly do not comply with laws face action: in 2017 farmers received 93 enforcement actions from the Agency, a 145% increase over 2016. This increase is due to more boots on the ground inspecting.
Despite this progress, we at the Agency must do more. We will expand implementation of Best Management Practices as well as thinking of innovative ways to reduce phosphorus. We need policies that create new markets to export phosphorus and create incentives for farmers to keep phosphorus off the land.
Farmers are stepping up because they, too, are passionate about the land, water, animals and communities. They are passionate about the jobs that they provide, and committed to making the best, award winning products from Vermont. Passion extends to many others as well. The Agency of Agriculture is working closely with partners such as the Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Vermont Extension, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Lake Champlain Basin Program and many more.
Certainly, there is much more work to do. But by working together with investment, education, enforcement and assistance, Vermont is on an upward trajectory, aiming high for quality in land, water, and agriculture. We are all committed to a greener Green Mountain State, and unified, we will get there.
Anson Tebbetts, Secretary
Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets.
WATCH: The Agency is helping Vermont farmers make these improvements with the implementation of programs such as, Best Management Practices (BMPs), Ag-Clean Water Initiative Program (Ag-CWIP) and Farm Agronomic Practices (FAPs), to help farmers comply with new rules.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) announces the availability of grant funds for the purpose of enhancing the competitiveness of Vermont specialty crops, defined as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture crops (including honey, hops, and maple syrup), and nursery crops (including Christmas trees and floriculture). These funds are awarded through a competitive review process guided by industry, nonprofit and government stakeholders.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) awards Specialty Crop Block Grants to the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories. In Vermont, the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets administers these funds to enhance the competitiveness of Vermont specialty crops. VAAFM plans to award approximately $200,000 in Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP) funds in 2018.
Any business, organization, or individual can apply to the Vermont Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. However, projects must benefit multiple specialty crop businesses, organizations, or individuals to be eligible for funding. The Agency of Agriculture, in partnership with statewide specialty crop stakeholders, has identified the following program funding priorities for 2018:
• Development of innovative horticultural production practices to enhance farm viability and/or natural resource conservation
• Pest and disease management
• Enhancing food safety and improving the capacity of specialty crop businesses to comply with Food Safety Modernization Act or food safety audit program requirements
• Value chain enhancement—including strengthening relationships between producers, aggregators, processers, distributors, retail businesses and consumers—and technical assistance to enhance efficiency and business viability
• Market access (local, regional, national, or international), marketing, branding, and consumer education
• Producer collaboration—including establishing or strengthening producer associations and cooperatives
VAAFM will conduct an information session webinar for prospective applicants on February 2, 2018. Applicants to the Vermont SCBGP must submit a letter of intent by February 28, 2018. A review committee will invite the top-ranking projects to submit full proposals.
Learn more about the Vermont SCBGP, register for the information session webinar, or view the webinar recording at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/vtscbgp.
By Dominique Giroux, Vt. Produce Program Coordinator
On November 5 and 6 the Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets and UVM Extension hosted a Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training in Richmond, VT. As a result, 34 growers and 4 service providers received certificates that meet the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule requirement that a responsible party for each farm covered under the rule receive training under an FDA recognized curriculum.
I visited Tobin Porter-Brown at Pete’s Greens farm in Craftsbury, VT to chat about his experience at the grower training.
Q: Tobin, tell us a bit about Pete’s Greens and your role here on the farm.
A: Pete’s Greens is a large diversified organic vegetable operation in Craftsbury, VT and primarily, my role here is the greenhouse manager. But, I also drive tractors and now, for the winter, I’m the forklift operator and more involved in the washhouse as well as produce safety.
Q: Can you tell us about your produce safety team here?
A: We have been GAP [USDA Good Agricultural Practices] certified for a few crops for a little while now. I’ve only worked here for the past year so I’m relatively new to the produce safety team, but I went to the training and came back with lots of ideas.
Q: What are your big take-aways from the training?
A: The biggest take-away is that there’s a lot of recommendations from the training about looking at food safety in almost a common-sense way. And just sort of stepping back and seeing where your risks are and doing something about [them]. At the absolute core it’s very straight forward and very simple. You want to minimize risk. So, that for us has boiled down to a few things:
- One has been access to toilets and handwashing stations, especially in some of our far-flung fields.
- The other is employee trainings. Trying to get all of the workers to understand what to look for and to make sure they know what the protocols are for hand-washing and identifying contaminated produce.
- And then water and water testing. We have a well that does all of our irrigation water and our washhouse water. I’m not too worried about the water aspect—it’s more of just the testing component and the record keeping component.
But, yes my big takeaway is big picture: look at where your risks are and try to assess your risks. And what is required by the law, is actually pretty, dare I say minimal—there’s definitely a good amount of work with the record-keeping, and if you have a lot of different sources of water it can get a lot more complicated. But at the core of it, for us, it’s not that much of a stretch.
Q: Has your farm made any changes since the training?
A: We have had a few conversations. We haven’t actually implemented a lot of the changes yet – mostly because the training was about a month ago. We are still wrapping up our season, and we are also doing a lot of the requirements already.
Q: You applied and were approved for a Vermont Produce Safety Improvement Grant. . Can you talk about what your project will be?
A: We have some big coolers and lots of different bays in the coolers, and everything always needs different temperatures. We applied for a monitoring system that will be able to keep track of the temperatures and create a log overtime. In that system, we will also be able to add additional sensors for monitoring our greenhouses. Another component of the food safety grant that we got was the hydro-cooler, which is great! We’ve had issues with greens not keeping very well, so a hydro-cooler is one way of really bringing the field temperature down quickly.
Q: Were there any concerns that arose for you relating to the regulation during or after the training?
A: Concerns, no, not necessarily. I think that trying to stay on top of record keeping is definitely one [task] where we want to make sure we have systems that are easy and can be followed. Having a toilet and a handwashing station in some of our far fields is going to need to be figured out. Not necessarily a concern, but things we need to think through.
Q: Was there anything that surprised you about the Produce Safety Rule that maybe you were not aware of before?
A: The thing that surprised me the most was that the food safety law does not require a food safety plan; it is highly recommended. I know we have a food safety plan, but the law does not require it. The training was good though. It really was able to explain some of the requirements around water quality testing for irrigation water and washhouse water. That was something I was not too clear about, and some questions around water contacting the edible portion of the produce I think is something that was cleared up at the training. I’ve gone back to that binder a couple times, and it’s very well laid out and has all of the information there.
Q: Looking ahead and knowing that compliance dates are nearing for some farms with annual produce sales greater than $500,000 and then for others following that, what other forms of support do you think your farm would be looking for to comply with the rule or even to just increase produce safety on your farm in general?
A: The grant has helped a lot in terms of hydro-cooling and monitoring our facilities. And in terms of other support needed – I don’t know if I have an answer for that one. I think that having a cheaper or less expensive water testing service would be great! That would be awesome.
While the Produce Safety Rule can seem daunting at first, growers are encouraged to view this regulation as an opportunity to improve produce safety on their farms to support public and worker health, and access new markets to make their farms all-around sustainable businesses. Even if your farm is not covered under the rule, following good agricultural practices to ensure the safety of your produce will help your farm thrive.
Produce farms should enroll for the Vermont Produce Portal to stay up to date on the rule, receive funding opportunities as they become available, request an On-Farm Readiness Review, and get assistance from the Produce Program team in determining if your farm is covered under the rule.
Growers who attended the training are encouraged to send in any comments or reactions from the training to the Produce Program Team; additionally, any questions about the Produce Safety Rule or enrollment in the Vermont Produce Portal should be directed to AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov or (802) 522-3132.
On Friday, January 12, the Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership (VAWQP) convened for the second annual statewide Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership Meeting. Water conservation and technical assistance professionals met at Vermont Technical College in Randolph to review on-going water quality improvement efforts, hear from leaders on a variety of important topics and network with colleagues. The event was organized by the Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership and hosted by the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD). The day included reactions to Required Agricultural Practices (RAP) one year since their introduction, a farmer panel hosted by the UVM Extension Service and issue oriented Slam Sessions.
The Vermont Agricultural Water Quality Partnership (VAWQP) is dedicated to collaborating with and supporting agricultural producers in their efforts to improve water quality. VAWQP is comprised of the agencies and organizations that signed the Lake Champlain Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in January 2012. The Partnership seeks to accelerate improved water quality by collaborating to provide outreach, education, technical and financial assistance directly to agricultural producers with respect for each partner’s vision, role and capacity.
For more information on VAWQP visit, http://www.vacd.org/vawqp/
For more specific information on the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets water quality program visit, http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality.
Happy National Milk Day! On January 11, we commemorate the day when milk started being delivered in sterilized glass bottles back in 1878. It’s no secret that Vermont is a dairy state. Dairy farming and production is a large part of the state’s cultural and economic identity, bringing $2.2 billion in economic activity each year (Vermont Dairy Promotion Council, 2015). In fact, milk generates more sales than any other Vermont agricultural product and 63 percent of all milk produced in New England comes from Vermont.
In 2017, the Legislature recognized that dairy farming is vital to maintaining a strong economy and protecting and preserving Vermont’s rural landscape. To determine the health of the state’s dairy industry, ensure that there’s an adequate supply of milk for all consumers and ensure equitable pricing for farmers, the Vermont Milk Commission was formed. On Wednesday January 10, Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets Anson Tebbetts assembled the Commission for a sixth time to evaluate proposals and prepare recommendations to the congressional delegation for the 2018 federal Farm Bill.
Milk plays a critical role in the health and lives of Vermont students. In 2016, students in Vermont schools consumed approximately 751,315 gallons of milk. Milk contains nine essential nutrients, three of which are generally under-consumed by American children: calcium, potassium and vitamin D (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2015). This makes milk an important drink option in school meals as it promotes children’s health and well-being. Additionally, milk is a foundation to fuel academic success for children, as well as to promote agricultural literacy and connect Vermont’s students to their dairy farmers.
The Vermont Agency of Agriculture makes the process of storing and displaying ice cold milk at schools more feasible through the Farm to School Equipment Grant program (formerly known as the Milk Cooler Sponsorship Program). Through this program, VAAFM supports access to milk for all Vermont students by helping schools purchase equipment that can improve the viability of the child nutrition program overall.
Milk is also used to create a wide variety of other high-quality Vermont dairy products, like cheese, yogurt, sour cream, butter, and ice cream. So, lets thank our Vermont dairy farmers who work hard every day to produce a pure, healthy and nutritious product for us all to enjoy.