Blog

April 27, 2016

In the hustle and bustle of planting, it can be incredibly easy to overlook safety risks. The United Soybean Board and University of Illinois offer six quick tips written by Sonja Begemann for staying safe this planting season.

1.       Be aware of your transportation risks and make sure your farm vehicles are visible. Some tractors have flashing lights, extremity markings or slow-moving vehicle signs. If yours doesn’t, be sure to pick up a high-visibility sticker or sign to let drivers know you’re there.

2.       Read herbicide, pesticide, fungicide and seed labels. Following precautions about wearing long sleeves, using a dust mask or protecting your eyes can save you from injury. Keep extra labels handy or snap a picture with your phone for quick reference.

3.       Keep your equipment in good shape. Mid-planting mechanical work could open you up to risks from the heavy machinery. Double-check equipment before you get into the field.

4.       Store fuel properly. Keep it away from the shed to reduce the chance of fire and explosion.

5.       Don’t forget about eating and sleeping. You will likely be spending long hours in the field, and skipping meals and sleep can decrease your reaction time and awareness. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the average person needs between seven and nine hours of sleep nightly.

6.       Watch out for children on or around equipment. If a child is with you in the cab, make sure he or she is wearing a seat belt. Teach children to stay a safe distance from moving tractors and other farm equipment

Vermont farmers, please call Farm First for resources, support and information.

1-877-493-6216 anytime, day or night.

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April 27, 2016

I am very excited about the Comparison Study of Product Pricing at Vermont Farmers’ Markets and Retail Establishments highlighted on the front page of this month’s edition of Agriview.  To my knowledge, this is one of the first studies of its kind conducted in the United States; the results, though preliminary, call into question long-held beliefs about the affordability of farmers’ markets (or lack thereof), and may go a long way towards breaking down barriers between consumers and local producers.

As the outdoor Farmers’ Market season approaches, I encourage all our readers to follow the link to the Agency of Ag website to find out more about this study.  The findings may surprise you!  It is my hope that as we expand product price comparison research throughout Vermont in the coming year, we are able to provide Vermont consumers with accurate, reliable information that will result in more healthy, local foods on Vermont dinner tables, and more dollars invested in our local agricultural economy.

Sincerely, Chuck Ross

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April 27, 2016

By Cecilia McCrary and Abbey Willard, VAAFM

One of the greatest barriers preventing consumers from purchasing local food at farmers’ markets is the perception that farmers’ markets are too expensive. Many consumers report they avoid purchasing local food at direct marketing outlets, such as farmers’ markets, for fear of high costs.  Last year, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) conducted a pilot research project to address these consumer concerns and determine whether or not local products sold at farmers’ markets are indeed more expensive. The study concluded that farmers’ markets are a good option for consumers whose purchasing decisions are driven by price as well as local and/or organic attributes.

In August 2015, VAAFM gathered pricing information on over fifty local products found at thirteen farmers’ markets across the state and compared these prices to the prices of similar products sold at five different retail establishments in Central Vermont, including grocery stores and gas stations.  The products reviewed in this study included a wide cross-section of commonly purchased foods, including organic and non-organic produce, meats and proteins, and local products.

The purpose of this study is to guide consumers in making informed food choices based on accurate pricing data and awareness of local and organic options. 

The results of the pilot study determined that commonly purchased foods can be affordably priced at farmers’ markets.  A few key findings from “A Comparison Study of Product Pricing at Vermont Farmers’ Markets and Retail Establishments” include:

  • 92% of certified organic produce available at farmers’ markets is competitively priced (within a 10% price range) with the same items found at retail stores.
  • Local meats and proteins available at farmers’ markets are also competitively priced with retail establishments more than 57% of the time.
  • When comparing local products, farmers’ market prices are competitive a majority of the time, and, in some cases, local products available at farmers’ markets are actually less expensive than the same local products available at retail establishments.
  • Local, certified-organic products available at farmers’ markets are almost always (89% of the time) competitively priced with the same products available at retail establishments. 

Over the next two years, VAAFM, in partnership with NOFA-VT, will work to expand the existing body of research to complete a comprehensive state-wide product price comparison study.

For access to the price comparison resource, “A Comparison Study of Product Pricing at Vermont Farmers’ Markets and Retail Establishments”, and future related resources, visit the Vermont Agency of Agriculture webpage  http://agriculture.vermont.gov/localfooddatatracking or inquire about copies available at the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets.

Happy shopping!

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March 30, 2016
Farmers Reminded to Assess Carefully Before Applying Manure
 
April 1st is the end of the Winter Manure Spreading Ban imposed by the current Accepted Agricultural Practice Regulations (AAPs).  However, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) urges farmers to carefully assess their individual situation before spreading manure to ensure regulatory compliance.  The current AAPs require that all agricultural wastes be managed in order to prevent adverse impacts to water quality.  That means that while it is legal to spread manure once the Winter Ban is over, manure must still be applied in a way that does not result in runoff to surface water, or across property boundaries.  If these conditions occur as a result of spreading manure, a farmer could be subject to an enforcement action.
 
To help farmers remain in compliance with current AAPs, the Agency of Agriculture recommends the following:
  • If you still have room in your manure pit, wait until snow is off the fields before you spread manure.
  • If you do not have room in your pit, reach out to the Agency of Agriculture to seek alternative solutions.
  • Do not spread manure on saturated ground or before major rain events.
  • If emergency manure storage conditions require spreading on saturated ground, observe the following protocols:
    • Avoid Spreading when rain is expected
      • Spreading manure before or during a rain storm can increase manure runoff by over 10 times!
    • Spread at least 150 feet from top of stream banks, ditches or roadside ditches.
    • Select the most level fields available and avoid significant (>5%) slopes
    • Utilize reduced (<3,000 gallons/acre) spreading rates
    • Select fields with cover crops or good residue cover.
  • After spreading any nutrient (liquid or solid manure, compost, or fertilizer) be sure to keep accurate records of the manure or nutrient applications.
In addition, those farms operating under an NRCS 590 compliant nutrient management plan are reminded that application of manure to frozen ground or snow-covered ground, or in conditions where offsite losses of nutrients are likely, is prohibited—unless mitigated by the criteria outlined in their plan.
 
The Agency of Agriculture urges all farmers considering applying manure at this time of year to operate with the utmost of care so that water quality is protected.
 
“Individual conditions vary significantly across the state,” said Chuck Ross, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets. “Farmers need to assess their fields carefully and take action to ensure they are in compliance and are protecting our waterways.”
 
The manure spreading ban is a regulation that has been in place since 1995 under the Accepted Agricultural Practice rules. Vermont was a leading state in developing such a ban.  In recent years several other states have considered adopting, or have adopted, the standard. Research has shown that manure applications on frozen ground can increase the runoff potential. 
 
This year, the existing AAPs will be replaced by the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs), which reflect updated water quality protection standards as required by the Act 64 Water Quality Bill signed into law in June, 2015.  The RAPs are intended to reduce agriculture’s impact on the state’s waterways. 
 
For questions about current regulations or more information about the RAPS and how to participate in the rule-making process, please call the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets at 802-272-0323 or visit:  http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap 
 
 
 
March 29, 2016

By Marc Paquette,

March 1-7, 2016 was National Weights and Measures Week, a time set aside to recognize the important role of weights and measures inspectors across the United States. Housed within the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Market’s Consumer Protection Section, Vermont’s Weights and Measures program strives to advance a safe and secure food supply within a marketplace that provides fair and equal access to consumers and processors while enhancing Vermont’s working landscape, rural character and local economies.

Many consumers are surprised to learn that weights and measures programs are often administered by agencies of agriculture nationwide.  When considered in historical context, however, the relationship between weights and measures and agriculture becomes clear.  Much of the Vermont’s early economy was based on the agricultural products produced on tens of thousands of farms.  Historically, commodities produced in the state like milk, meat, grains, feed, corn, and maple were sold by weight or measure, therefore inspection programs were placed in the Agency of Agriculture.

While the technologies may have changed significantly since the early days of farming in Vermont, the critical role played by the weights and measures program in verifying weights and quantities across many business sectors, has not.  From gas stations to supermarket scanners, our inspectors employ state of the art weighing and measuring equipment to provide security to both producers and consumers in the marketplace. 

Vermont’s Weights and Measures team is comprised of six field inspectors and a Chief Weights and Measures Specialist/Metrologist who manages the metrology laboratory.  Each year the lab tests thousands of hydrometers utilized by the maple industry, weights ranging in size from 1,000 lbs. to 0.001 lb., and numerous test measures used in the inspection and calibration of thousands of fuel pumps.

Each year the Vermont program inspects over 6,000 gas pumps, 425 fuel oil truck meters, 225 propane truck meters, thousands of scales and packages.  Inspectors conduct hundreds of price verification inspections, testing the accuracy of laser scanning systems in retail outlets.

This year, the weights and measures team is rolling out a redesigned program to test and license produce scales used by vendors at Vermont Farmers’ Markets.  Accurate scales will help ensure customers get what they pay for, AND ensure producers are properly compensated for their products. Testing days will be held across the state this spring in order to make it easy and convenient for scale owners to have their scales tested and licensed ahead of the market season.  For more information about scale testing dates and locations, please visit call 802-828-2426 or visit: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/node/1240.

Looking ahead, the weights and measures team will continue to work collaboratively with legislators and industry experts to develop new inspection processes, testing methods, and added training programs to address regulatory challenges surrounding emerging markets like alternative fuel and energy sources such as ethanol, biodiesel, bio butanol, natural gas, hydrogen, and electrical recharging for motor vehicles.

Weights and Measures Week serves to remind us all of the unseen, and often unrecognized, effort that goes into ensuring that drivers get what they pay for at the gas pump, that the price of milk is scanned correctly at the checkout counter, and the sugar content of our world renowned maple syrups is accurate.  These, and many more consumer and producer protections are provided to the public with accuracy and efficiency on a daily basis by the Vermont Agency of Ag’s Weights and Measure Team.

THANK YOU!

For more information about the Agency of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures program, contact Marc Paquette, Weights and Measures Specialist, Consumer Protection by email: Marc.Paquette@vermont.gov   or by phone: 802-828-2426.  Or visit our website: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/food_safety_consumer_protection/consumer_protection

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