September 4, 2015

On September 4, 2015, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross, issued a Notice of Public Hearing to provide the public an opportunity to comment on the proposed Revised Secretary’s Decision for the Missisquoi Basin.

The proposed decision, which is subject to public input, is an effort between the State and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) to provide a framework to settle the impending court litigation related to the Missiquoi Basin.

The public hearing will be held on Friday, October 9, 2015, in St. Albans City, from 1 PM until 3 PM, at the American Legion, 100 Parah Drive. It is an opportunity for farmers and other affected citizens to be heard and to give consideration to all interests before a final order is issued.

The full Notice, the proposed Revised Secretary’s Decision, and the draft Stipulation of the Parties for Remand, which contain background and additional explanatory information, can be found below.

“I am pleased that we have made this step forward, and look forward to receiving feedback from Vermonters about this proposed decision,” said Ross. “I am hopeful we can put this litigation behind us, and instead continue focusing our resources on the themes central to the state’s efforts to clean up the Lake: Stewardship, Partnership, and Accountability.”

“We are more than a year removed from when the CLF originally filed its petition and we have a new, comprehensive state law to address water quality,” he continued. “I am eager to receive public input on the farm assessment and BMP implementation timelines we negotiated in good faith with CLF that appear in the proposed Revised Secretary’s Decision for the Missisquoi Basin. I believe they align well with the implementation plans required by the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Act 64, the Vermont Clean Water Act,” said Ross.

“If, after public input, I decide the Revised Secretary’s Decision is appropriate, we would formally ask the Court to approve the settlement and remand the case,” he added.

Although the hearing is related to the CLF’s pending appeal for the Misissquoi Bay Watershed, it is also an opportunity for farmers to evaluate a proposed blueprint for requiring BMPs on farms in other watersheds, including South Lake, St. Albans, and Otter Creek, which also address Federal EPA and TMDL requirements. The draft settlement has other terms that would become commitments of both the Agency and the CLF if the Secretary decides to implement the Revised Secretary’s Decision and the remand is approved by the Court.

“We believe the operative terms complement the Agency’s on-going, re-focused work in the most troubled areas of the Lake and strike a balance to appropriately hold farmers and the Agency accountable to do our part to improve water quality,” said Ross. “Stay tuned. We expect to release preliminary data from our on-going North Lake survey within the next two weeks.”

As required by Act 64, the Agency is also updating the Required Agricultural Practices Regulations, developing a small farm certification program, water quality training classes for farm operators, a certification process for custom applicators of manure, and preparing a report with the USDA for the Legislature on sub-surface tile drainage.

“We are committed to agricultural water quality and are working hard to implement the intent of the TMDL and Act 64, in the interest of the public.” said Ross.

For more information about the Agency’s water quality initiatives, please visit

Petition Documentation:

August 27, 2015

By Deirdra Ritzer, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation

The Vermont Clean Diesel Grant Program will have incentive funding available for projects that reduce diesel emissions from engines, vehicles, and equipment. Nonroad engines, equipment or vehicles used in agriculture (including stationary generators and pumps) are eligible to receive funding.

Caption: Ag vehicles are eligible for this program Photo by: Alison Kosakowski For more information, contact Deirdra Ritzer at (802) 233-8052

The Vermont Clean Diesel Grant Program was developed by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in response to one of the greatest air quality challenges facing Vermont – reducing public exposure to emissions from diesel powered engines and equipment. With assistance from the Vermont Clean Diesel Grant Program, several Vermont businesses and institutions have successfully completed various diesel emission reduction projects including diesel engine repowering at local sawmills, vehicle replacement at schools, and installation of idle reduction technologies used by hospitals, railways and schools.

The types of projects eligible under this program include 1) vehicle, engine and equipment replacement, 2) retrofitting with emission control technologies, 3) engine repowers, and 4) installation of idle reduction technologies.

The DEC will be posting a Request for Proposals to solicit applications for this grant opportunity within the next 60 days. Since there are eligibility and cost share requirements that vary depending on the project, it is strongly recommended that interested applicants contact program staff to discuss potential projects well in advance of the formal application process.

To learn more about the Vermont Clean Diesel Grant Program and this upcoming funding opportunity, please visit the DEC’s Air Quality & Climate Division web site at 


August 26, 2015

By Stephanie Smith, VAAFM, and Linda Henzel, VT Dept. of Tax

Self-Certify in August: During the month of August property owners with agricultural land enrolled in the Current Use Program will receive a certification form (CU-313) from the Vermont Tax Department.  Self-certifying eligibility is a new annual requirement for enrollees of  “agricultural land” and “farm buildings”.  If land and/or buildings are no longer eligible, this form outlines steps  to remove property or revise enrollment.  The deadline for submitting this form to the Current Use Program is September 1, 2015.  Depending on the disposition of your property, additional actions may be necessary.  If you have questions concerning this certification process, please call 802-828-5860 for more information.

Oct. 1 is the  Current Use Easy-Out Deadline: During the 2015 legislative session, the Vermont legislature made a number of changes to the law affecting the current use (Use Value Appraisal) program. One of these changes was a new calculation for the land use change tax (LUCT). When changes of that nature are enacted, the legislature has elected to grant an easy-out period for enrollees. This temporary period allows landowners to remove a parcel, or part of a parcel, without paying the first $50,000 of LUCT. You must apply by Oct. 1, 2015.

To help make the application process easier, the Department of Taxes created a checklist. This checklist outlines some of the commonly missed items needed to submit with your application (CU-312).  The checklist is available online at

If you apply for the easy-out, please note that owners of the withdrawn land will pay the full amount of property taxes for the 2015 tax year on the withdrawn land. As a result, the towns will need to re-send bills for the withdrawn land during the easy-out. Withdrawn land may not be re-enrolled in the program for five years. Effective Oct. 2, 2015, the Land Use Change Tax will be 10% for all land developed or withdrawn.

If you have questions about the process, please contact the Tax Department’s Current Use Division at 802-828-5860. 


August 26, 2015

By Tom Bivins, Vermont Cheese Council

The Vermont Cheese Council (VCC) has announced that Vermont took home 46 ribbons from 20 cheesemakers at the 32nd annual American Cheese Society competition in Providence, RI. Notable awards include a third place Best In Show designation for Cellars at Jasper Hill’s (Greensboro) Harbison, and ribbons by brand new VCC members Fairy Tale Farm Cheese (Bridport) and Sweet Rowen Farmstead (West Glover).

The American Cheese Society (ACS) is the leading organization supporting the understanding, appreciation and promotion of farmstead, artisan and specialty cheeses produced in the Americas.  Since its founding in 1983, ACS hosts North America’s foremost annual educational conference and world-renowned cheese judging and competition. This year’s competition included 1,779 entries from 267 companies across North America.

Caption: Vermont’s Commissioner of Tourism, Megan Smith (left) samples Vermont’s own Plymouth Artisan Cheese Photo by: Alison Kosakowski

Last year’s record number (23) of Vermont cheesemakers in the competition was beat again this year, as 27 of the state’s artisan cheesemakers submitted cheeses to be judged at the ACS. The number due in part is due to the VCC’s new sponsorship program, which sponsors some of Vermont cheesemakers’ ACS entry fees to support their efforts in showcasing their cheese in a competition setting.

Vermont was represented with a third place Best in Show award for Cellars at Jasper Hill’s Harbison, a soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese with a rustic, bloomy rind. The cheese is wrapped in strips of spruce cambium, the tree's inner bark layer, harvested from the woodlands of Jasper Hill.

“The strength and respect of Vermont cheese continues to grow, which was evident tonight at the American Cheese Society awards,” said Tom Bivins, Vermont Cheese Council executive director. “Twenty of our entered 27 cheesemakers took home 46 ribbons for their cheese, butter or yogurt. Winners included long-standing members and brand new members, showing that this category of artisan food for Vermont continues to shine.”


Winning Cheeses from Vermont

  • Cellars at Jasper Hill, Greensboro: Third Place-Best in Show for Harbison.
  • Boston Post Dairy, Enosburg Falls: Gisele, Smoking Goud, third place
  • Bonneview Farm, Craftsbury Common: Nevis, second place;
  • Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Cabot: Cabot Old School Cheddar, first;  Jalapeno Lite Cheddar, Plain Greek Style Yogurt, second;
  • Cellars at Jasper Hill, Greensboro: Harbison, first place and third place-best in show; Winnemere, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar Select – first place; and ; Alpha Tolman and Willoughby, second place
  • Consider Bardwell Farm, West Pawlet: Pawlet, first; Rupert Reserve, second; Manchester, third
  • Fairy Tale Farm Cheese, Bridport:  Will O’ Wisp, third
  • Franklin Foods, Enosburg Falls: Hahn’s Cultured Cream Cheese, first place
  • Grafton Village Cheese, Grafton: Vermont Clothbound Cheddar, second place
  • Maplebrook Farm, Bennington: Burrata, Whole Milk Block Feta, second place; Smoked Handmade Mozzarella, third place
  • Mount Mansfield Creamery, Morrisville: Forerunner, second; Sunrise, third place
  • Parish Hill Creamery, Westminster West: Vermont Herdsman at Crown Finish Caves, first; Suffolk Punch, third
  • Plymouth Artisan Cheese, Plymouth: Hot Pepper, second; Sage & Herb, third
  • Sage Farm Goat Dairy, Stowe: Fresh Chevre, third place
  • Shelburne Farms, Shelburne: Barnhouse Smoked Cheddar, third
  • Spring Brook Farm/Farms for City Kids, Reading:  Reading, first place; Tarentaise Reserve and Tarentaise, third place
  • Sweet Rowen Farmstead, West Glover: Nettle Farmers Cheese, first
  • Twig Farm, Cornwall: Washed Rind Wheel, third
  • Vermont Creamery, Websterville: Bijou, Sea Salt and Maple Butter, first place; Bonne Bouche, Goat Feta and 1916 Wegman’s Chevre, second place; Fresh Crottin, Culture Butter Unsalted, third
  • Vermont Shepherd, Putney: Verano, first; 2 Year Old Invierno, third place
  • Woodcock Farm, Dorset: Summer Snow, second

For a comprehensive list of all the 2015 American Cheese Society winners, visit 

The state of Vermont, celebrated for its focus on farm-to-table lifestyle and Vermont-made products, including cheese, boasts more cheese companies per capita than any other state in the nation.

The Vermont Cheese Council was the Marquee Sponsor of this year’s ACS. Guests of the conference were treated to a pancake breakfast with real Vermont maple syrup, courtesy of the Vermont Cheese Council, and a Vermont-themed opening reception. The sponsorship enabled greater visibility for Vermont cheeses and the Vermont brand among the epicures and wholesale buyers attending ACS.

“Vermont was front-and-center at ACS this year – our cheeses took top honors, and guests were able to experience some Vermont traditions at our maple breakfast and opening reception,” said Alison Kosakowski, Communications Director for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.  “Everyone who attended ACS this year got a taste of Vermont quality and authenticity! We made our mark!”

The Vermont Cheese Council is a statewide membership based organization with 50 principal cheese producing members and over 100 associate members.  The VCC is committed to promoting the advancement and quality of Vermont cheese through promotion, education and strong peer to peer support.  The organization has been in existence since 1992.   For more information, please contact: Tom Bivins, Executive Director at (link sends e-mail) or call 802-451-8564 (link is external) or visit the Vermont Cheese Council website at


August 26, 2015
By Chuck Ross, Secretary, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets
Earlier this month, the State of Vermont and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the draft plan to restore Lake Champlain, also known as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). This is a major step forward in our work to repair the lake and ensure it can be enjoyed by future generations of Vermonters. 
For too long, we have lacked the resources to adequately address the problems facing Lake Champlain. With this announcement, the administration is committing the resources needed to fulfil the promises we have made about restoring our lake.
From an Agency of Ag standpoint, we are already taking decisive action to address the most troubled areas of the Lake. We are refocusing and reprioritizing our efforts for greater impact. As an example, this summer, we have performed assessments at more than 100 farms in the most impacted areas – North Lake and the Missiqoui Bay. We are working directly with these farmers to assess their challenges, identify resources and solutions to get the work done, and hold everyone accountable.
Our success to date is in large part due to the active support of the farming community, and requires their on-going support in the future.
For the past year, I’ve talked about the key themes of this effort – “Stewardship, Partnership, and Accountability.”  “Stewardship” refers to the actions we all must take to ensure we are doing our absolute best to minimize our individual impacts on the lake. For farmers, that means implementing conservations practices to reduce run-off. “Partnership” refers to the fact that we all must work together – state officials, environmentalists, farmers, property owners, and ordinary citizens – to find sustainable solutions. It’s an all in approach. And finally, “accountability” means we need to hold each other responsible for our actions by implementing a clear framework that outlines what must be done, and the consequences for non-compliance. Participation in this massive effort is not option.
These principles have lead us to this important milestone, and will continue to be critical to our success as we enter this next phase of implementation. 

Thank you for your continued commitment to Stewardship, Partnership, and Accountability – and to the future of Vermont.

For more information about Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Lake Champlain Restorating Planning visit: