The View from 116 State Street - June 2015

By Chuck Ross, Secretary, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets

Vermont’s new Clean Water legislation is a comprehensive, all-in approach to restore the health of our lakes, rivers, and streams. It is a strategic effort to reduce polluted storm water runoff from farm fields, roads, parking lots, and other developed areas.

It took a lot of people, working together, to make this legislation a reality. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to those who joined in this effort, particularly those from the farming community. The stewardship, partnership, and accountability demonstrated by all members of the Ag community, especially from the members of the Farmers’ Watershed Alliance and Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition, was critical to the success of this effort. Thank you for stepping up to support this effort to protect our precious resources.

The bill has now been signed, and you may be asking yourself, now what? The legislation will have implications for Vermont’s transportation, business, development, and agricultural sectors. Over the next few months, we will be reaching out to the Ag community to keep you updated on the implications for Vermont’s farmers.  Here’s a brief overview of what you can expect to hear more about over the next year…

This summer, we’ll be updating the Accepted Ag Practices (AAPs). They will now be called the Required Ag Practices (RAPs). Later this summer, we will be engaging directly with farmer groups to vet the new proposed rules. This fall, we will be holding a series of public meetings to share the proposed rules with the public and hear your feedback.

As part of the RAPs, we’ll be creating a New Small Farm Certification program. In the future, small farms will be required to self-certify to ensure compliance with the RAPs. The first step in this process is to clarify exactly what constitutes a “small farm.” We will be reaching out and engaging with the Ag community and the public-at-large for input on this, as well, and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

In the coming year, we’ll also be designing a new licensing program for custom manure applicators, to ensure those who spread manure commercially fully understand best practices for resource conservation. Likewise, farmers will be required to obtain educational credits -- we will be developing training programs with agricultural partners for farmers of all sizes to help ensure they are educated about the most effective ways to reduce runoff.

Signing this bill was just the beginning. There’s major work ahead. It will take all of us, working together, to tackle the water quality challenges, which has been in the making for generations.

We are committed to working collaboratively with our farming community to implement this legislation. It will take a lot of effort, constant communication, and a team-attitude to succeed. We will use this space to update you about our continuous efforts over the next year, and solicit your feedback and suggestions.

I am proud of the Ag community, and all of Vermont, for helping set this legislation into action. Thank you for your efforts – I look forward to partnering with you to ensure a brighter future for Vermont’s most precious resources.

Learn more about the Vermont Agency of Agriculture's Water Quality Regulations, Enforcement Process, and Farmer Resources at: www.agriculture.vermont.gov/

___________________________________________________________________________________