December 5, 2017
                                                   By Faith Raymond, VT Agency of Ag

'Tis the season to start thinking about purchasing your Vermont Christmas tree!

It’s an old tradition for many Vermonters to take a seasonal family drive after dinner to see the beautiful Christmas lights in your neck of the woods. This year our family will be one less in the car for this traditional drive, Gram passed away a few months ago. We will continue the tradition with her in our hearts and sharing the wonderful memories of years past. Her favorite was to see all the beautifully decorated Christmas trees glowing through windows of homes, she said seeing these homes would give her peace and love in her heart.

We will take this drive remembering what it meant to her and in return, it will mean more to us than ever before. One of the memories we have from the last few years is simply driving through downtown Burlington on our way to a favorite scenic haven.

Gram was in awe over all the beautiful red lights that flickered down each street We didn’t have the heart to tell her they were brake lights from all the vehicles on the roads.

Gram would admire those who tackled the large Christmas tree on the front lawn and we would need to slow way down, so she could truly appreciate the time it took to create such a master piece.

Back in the day she and my husband (when he was a wee one) attempted to decorate the blue spruce in her front yard. They had enough lights to string one straight line from the bottom of the tree to the tip top. They decided to decorate the small lilac tree instead, using the old large bulbs the lilac tree started to bud in December. This was why she admired the effort that went into decorating the large 20’–30’ trees. Although you may have the vision you also need lights… and more lights!

As many of you have family traditions focused around your Christmas tree, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets would like to you send a photo of your purchase/choosing of your tree at a Vermont Christmas tree farm. Please share on our Facebook page with #VtChristmasTree.

Whether you prefer cutting your own or selecting a precut visit the New Hampshire-Vermont Christmas Tree website to find a farm near you visit, http:// www .nh-vtchristmastree .org/ search .php .

The majority of Christmas Tree Farms will open the Friday after Thanksgiving for those eager to start the holiday season and close on Christmas Eve for those that are running a bit behind.

Happy tree hunting!

December 4, 2017

Prompted by questions pertaining to on-farm energy production, Representative Charlie Kimbell of Woodstock, looked to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture for answers. Deputy Secretary Alyson Eastman helped set up a trip to Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, one of the first farms in Vermont to have both a methane digester and a 100-kilowatt wind turbine. Representatives Amy Sheldon (Middlebury), Peter Conlon (Cornwall) and Robin Scheu (Middlebury) also attended the tour led by farm owner and operator Marie Audet. The wide-ranging discussion covered everything from digesters to improving water quality with innovative farm agronomic practices.

(Rep. Amy Sheldon, Jeff Carter, UVM Extension, Rep. Peter Conlon, Deputy Secretary Alyson Eastman, Rep. Robin Scheu, Marie Audet, Rep. Charlie Kimbell)

Marie started the tour with the milking parlor, followed by a short visit to the free-stall barn.  She pointed out the importance of cow comfort and ventilation, while the cows munched on freshly delivered silage. 

The next stop was a visit with the calves, complete with a view toward Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks. Here Marie pointed out how things have changed from the old days.

The hillside of 13 or so acres below the calf hutches used to be pasture, which contained some gullies.  With the gullies and the slope, the area was prone to erosion.  The Audets converted it to a perennial crop and let the trees grow up in the gully areas, eliminating erosion and ensuring run-off never reaches a steam. In the foreground alfalfa grows. It’s a crop relatively unusual for Vermont. This area of the approximately 4,000 acres which the Audet’s farm happens to contain soils in which alfalfa grows well. 

After covering the calves, Marie showed the group the peat-moss-like solids being automatically piled up in a covered area. Solids from the digesters drop from a ceiling-mounted conveyor belt and can be easily loaded into a bedding-spreader type of skid steer or into neighboring farmers’ trucks. The material is used as bedding for cows at Blue Spruce and three other dairy farms.

After seeing the solids and the manure pit, the group looked at the digesters, the new biogas-cleaning tank, and the engine. Having seen all the components of the digester system, Marie explained how much work it all entailed. It turns out that for Blue Spruce Farm, it’s pretty much a full-time job. 

The conversation moved to water quality, dairy farming, climate change, digesters, and air quality. 

Jeff Carter of UVM Extension talked about cover crops both in terms of water quality improvements and financial benefits, while he and Marie Audet both emphasized the challenges, for example needing the right equipment and getting the timing right. 

As climate change causes more severe rain events, cover crops become especially important.At the same time, western dairy regions will face drier, hotter conditions, potentially giving Vermont’s dairies an advantage.

At the end of the day, the group walked away with a better understanding of how Vermont dairy farms are working to become more efficient and more sustainable.

November 21, 2017
Over $1M Available to Fund Agricultural Clean Water Planning and Implementation

November 21, 2017 / Montpelier, VT - The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) is pleased to announce the opening of the Request for Proposal (RFP) period for at least $1 million in grant funding associated with the Ag Clean Water Initiative Program (Ag-CWIP).  This grant program is made possible and supported by the Clean Water Fund—a fund created by Act 64 of 2015, Vermont’s Clean Water Act.  

VAAFM’s Ag-CWIP will provide new opportunities for farmers and partner organizations to undertake projects that will achieve reductions in nutrient runoff from agricultural lands, with a focus on projects which reduce phosphorus losses in priority watersheds.  Please visit for the complete RFP documents.

“Farmers and their partners are focused on improving the environment.  These funds are an important part of improving water quality,” said Secretary Anson Tebbetts. 

These local and statewide partners support farmers to identify, plan and implement management, agronomic and structural best practices to improve water quality.  Implementation efforts are further supported by an additional $3M in available funding from VAAFM’s Best Management Practices program for 2018.

VAAFM is requesting agricultural water quality program proposals that address the following priority outcomes to improve water quality in Vermont:

  • Regulatory compliance with the RAPs and agricultural non-point source pollution reduction; and
  • Economic and environmental viability on Vermont farms.

VAAFM will be prioritizing funding based on need, meaning it will consider those areas of the state identified through water quality monitoring and Tactical Basin Planning efforts to have the greatest reduction targets for agriculture.

The Request for Proposals applications are due by 4:00 p.m. on January 10, 2018.  Eligible applicants include farmers, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, and local government entities.

For the complete Request for Proposals, program details, and additional information, please visit, call the Agency at (802) 828-2431, or email:

November 16, 2017


(Photo: A creative gutter system installed at Knoxland Farms in Bradford, Vermont. Engineers from the Agency of Agriculture can help design gutters that can withstand Vermont winters. )

By Clark Parmelee, VAAFM

The summer of 2017 has proven to be a very wet year. The amount of rainfall has made it challenging for farmers to get field chores done. When fields are saturated, crops can’t be planted or harvested, and manure cannot be applied. Between not having dry enough field conditions to spread manure and an above average amount of rainfall, several farmers have found themselves in the stressful situation of pushing the limits on the storage capacity of their manure pits. Even if there is nothing that can be done to change the weather, there are ways to make the most of on farm liquid manure storage.

When managing a manure pit, it is important to consider the amount of rainwater entering the pit. Every time a 1-inch rain event occurs, an acre of land will receive 27,154 gallons of water. For every 1-inch of snow we receive, an acre of land will receive 2,715 gallons of water. In an average year Vermont receives about 37 inches of precipitation, this means about 1 million gallons of water falls on an acre of land annually.

If a farm has a manure pit with a half-acre of surface area and a quarter acre of other impervious surfaces draining to the pit, the farm will have about 400,000 gallons of rainwater to spread. This figure takes evaporation into consideration. Evaporation rates tend to be higher in the summer than in the winter though, meaning that a pit will typically contain more water in the spring than in the summer.  If a farm is operating a manure pit with a half-acre of surface area and they spread using tanks with a capacity of 4,000 gallons, the farm will haul roughly 100 loads of rainwater on an average year!

It is important to stop any additional clean water from entering the pit. Spreading costs can be lowered for farms if additional water from barn roofs is prevented from entering the pit. It is also important to make sure excess water isn’t entering the pit from the barn, whether it is rainwater entering the barn and then the pit, or plate cooler water going down the drain. Through the State’s Best Management Practices (BMP) Program, financial assistance is available to help pay for clean water diversion projects to reduce the amount of water entering manure pits.  

Another way to maximize the storage capacity of a manure pit is to consider if some of the manure produced on the farm is capable of being field stacked. Some farms use a dry manure system for groups such as heifers and dry cows, and liquid storage for their milking herd. Any manure that is at least 20% dry matter and is capable of being stacked 4 feet high, can be field stacked. The BMP Program can help farms find appropriate places to field stack, and help pay to install access roads to approved sites.

Hopefully the 2018 growing season will be drier than 2017, but it’s hard to say at this point. Though the weather cannot be controlled, it is important that farmers consider all their options in how manure is managed on their farm to prevent manure pits from overtopping.   

November 15, 2017

(Jonathan and Mary Ann Connor – Providence Dairy, Addison Vt. Photo Credit Cheryl Cesario)

By: Lindsey Kelley
Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program

With sustained low prices in the conventional dairy market and Vermont’s new Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for reducing the impact of agricultural activities on water quality, Vermont farmers need to be creative and resourceful to ensure their businesses remain viable into the future. Jonathan and Mary Ann Connor, who own Providence Dairy in Addison, exemplify this spirit as they transition their dairy to a more pasture-based operation and make use of VHCB grant programs that make costly, long-term investments more financially feasible. 

One of the biggest constraints the Connors face is access to land. “I can’t expand because the land around here is so valuable” said Jonathan, “so we have to find a way to make what we have profitable.” With the help of an array of financial and technical support, the Connors are well on their way to doing just that. Cheryl Cesario at UVM Extension helped the Connors develop a grazing plan designed to transition their 90-cow conventional dairy from a tie-stall to grazing operation. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offered to fund 75% of the project. However, the remaining cost-share for the farm was not feasible. To help reduce the cost on the business and make the project financially viable, the Connors applied for, and were awarded an $8,500 Dairy Improvement Grant by the Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program, cutting their 25% cost-share almost in half. The new grazing plan was designed to meet multiple goals: to improve milk production and animal health and to decrease input costs and environmental impact.

The farm is located in the Lake Champlain basin. Like many farmers, Jonathan and Mary Ann are working to ensure excessive nutrients from the farm are not ending up in the lake. Through their overall grazing plan, the Connors took measures to address water quality concerns in their local watershed and greater Lake Champlain basin. They seeded their fields with plants that have longer roots which can hold more soil together, thereby increasing water infiltration and decreasing run off. The plants also help decrease the erosion of valuable pasture land. In addition to these field improvements, the Connors have installed animal laneways that not only guide the cows to pasture but also protect nearby land and surface water from runoff and erosion.

The Dairy Improvement Grant received by the Connors through the Viability Program was, like all Dairy Improvement Grants, funded by Ehrmann Commonwealth Dairy, LLC, a greek yogurt manufacturer located in Brattleboro. This grant program is designed to support the construction, renovation, and upgrades to essential farm infrastructure or equipment. This grant program is open to Vermont members of Dairy Farmers of America or St. Albans Cooperative Creamery.

The Viability Program also has a new grant program for farmers, Water Quality Grants. These grants assist with the costs of on-farm capital improvements on any Vermont farm that has a gross income of $15,000+ and is subject to Vermont’s Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).

There are two upcoming deadlines for both grant programs, November 15, 2017 and February 21, 2018. For information go online to and check out our grant programs fact sheet