The Vermont Legislature enacted Act 41 in 2021 to establish an Agricultural Residuals Management Program within the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. Agricultural residuals can be thought of as the remaining organic material left over from food production or other processes that are either generated by a farm or imported onto a farm for farming purposes. Agricultural residuals include straw, husks, stover, yard debris, and source separated food scraps and food process scraps. When managed properly (e.g. through composting), these often nutrient rich materials can provide farms with a low cost source for soil enrichment while also furthering Vermont’s commitments towards closing the loop on waste under the Universal Recycling Law.
Background: Act 41
In 2021 the Vermont Legislature enacted Act 41 which amended the definition of “farming” under Act 250 to include the importation of up to 2,000 cubic yards per year of food residuals or food processing residuals onto a farm for the production of compost, provided that the compost is either principally used on the farm where it is produced, or the compost is produced on a small farm that raises or manages poultry.
In correlation with that amendment, 6 V.S.A. Chapter 218 (Agricultural Residuals Management) was created which establishes a residuals management program at the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (AAFM) and directs the Secretary of AAFM to adopt rules for the management of food residuals and food processing residuals on a farm.
More specifically, Section 5133 of Chapter 218 provides that the Secretary shall adopt rules that:
- Prohibit a farm from initiating the production of compost from food residuals or food processing residuals imported onto the farm on or after July 1, 2021, within a downtown, village center, new town center, neighborhood development area, or growth center designated under 24 V.S.A. chapter 76a, unless the municipality has expressly allowed composting in the designated area under the municipal zoning or subdivision bylaws or in an approved municipal plan.
- Are designed to reduce odor, noise, vectors, and other nuisance conditions on farms and to protect the public health and the environment in a manner that is equal to or better than the rules for compost facilities in the Agency of Natural Resources' Vermont Solid Waste Management Rules, as amended.
Section 5133 also provides that the rules may be adopted either under the Required Agricultural Practices Rule (RAPs) or as independent rules under Chapter 218. To ensure programmatic cohesion and an efficient program in the long-term, AAFM will be adopting rules for the management of food residuals and food processing residuals under the RAPs.
On-Farm Compost: Definitions and Determinations
The Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (AAFM) regulates farms who meet the specified criteria established under the Required Agricultural Practices Rule.
To be covered under Act 41’s definition of “farming” requires that the property first be a farm. A “Farm” means “a parcel or parcels of land owned, leased, or managed by a person and devoted primarily to farming that meets the threshold criteria as established under the Required Agricultural Practices.”
Second, Act 41 limits the amount of food residuals or food processing residuals that may be imported onto a farm, for the production of compost, to 2,000 cubic yards or less per year. Act 41 further qualifies this in providing that (i) the compost must be principally used on site (meaning over 50%), or (ii) the compost is produced on a small farm that raises or manages poultry (meaning either an SFO or CSFO with poultry that is active in the compost production process).
Operations that do not fit the above jurisdictional parameters may require certification with the Department of Environmental Conservation under the Solid Waste Management Rules. For more information please visit: DEC Composting Facilities.
To determine whether am operation falls under VAAFM’s jurisdiction, please consult the On-Farm Compost Determination Flow Chart.
In addition, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) can determine if an operation meets the threshold criteria of an on-farm compost operation under the RAPs. Please contact Zach Szczukowski at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
For more information on farm determinations generally, please visit https://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/farm-definitions-and-determinations or contact Noah Gilbert-Fuller, Water Quality Program Coordinator at Noah.Gilbert-Fuller@vermont.gov or call (802) 505-3407. For more information on farm sizes please visit: Farm Size Classifications (AAFM).
Regulation & Municipal Zoning
Prior to the adoption of rules, Act 41 directs VAAFM to regulate farms who meet the definitional criteria of 10 V.S.A. § 6001(22) under the Agency of Natural Resources’ Solid Waste Management Rules (SWMRs). Because the RAPs also apply to on-farm compost operations, VAAFM will apply both the RAPs and the SWMRs until such time as rules are adopted. To the extent the two rules conflict, VAAFM will apply the more stringent provision.
For further information, please consult the following:
- Required Agricultural Practices Rule (RAPs)
- Solid Waste Management Rules
- On-Farm Compost Siting Requirements
Section 5133(b)(3) of Chapter 218 provides that the rules to be adopted by VAAFM “Prohibit a farm from initiating the production of compost from food residuals or food processing residuals imported onto the farm on or after July 1, 2021 within a downtown, village center, new town center, neighborhood development area, or growth center designated under 24 V.S.A. chapter 76a, unless the municipality has expressly allowed composting in the designated area under the municipal zoning or subdivision bylaws or in an approved municipal plan.”
Thus, any person interested in importing food residuals or food processing residuals onto a farm for composting must first decipher whether their property is located in a permissible area. To determine whether a farm is located within a downtown, village center, new town center, neighborhood development area, or growth center designated under 24 V.S.A. chapter 76a, VAAFM encourages prospective on-farm composters to consult the Vermont Planning Atlas. If located within a designated areas, prospective on-farm composters should contact a town official to determine whether the activity is permissible, or consult your local zoning authority.
Distribution of Compost
VAAFM regulates the distribution and sale of compost as a soil amendment as provided in Chapter 28 of Title 6. For more information on the requirements of law, please consult the Fertilizer, Plant Amendment, Plant Biostimulant, and Soil Amendment Program.
It is important to note that the importation of agricultural residuals, including food and food processing residuals, poses risks. Of particular concern is the issue of contamination including both physical and chemical contaminants. Physical contaminants include things such as non-compostable materials, debris, and micro-plastics. Chemical contaminants can vary substantially and may include carcinogens, PFAS, and persistent pesticides.
When importing agricultural residuals onto a farm, operators should exercise caution. It is important to know the characteristics of the materials being brought onto a farm. Open communication between the generator of the materials and haulers is an important step towards decreasing contamination. Farmers are encouraged to work with both generators and haulers of waste, including outreach and education, in order to ensure clean waste streams.
Resources & Contacts
Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
- Farm Size Classifications (AAFM)
- Required Agricultural Practices Rule (RAPs)
- Produce Safety Resources
Agency of Natural Resources
- Solid Waste & Recycling – Homepage (Department of Environmental Conservation)
- Waste Hauling (Department of Environmental Conservation)
- Find a Facility – Materials Management Map (Department of Environmental Conservation)
- Vermont Food Scrap Haulers
- Solid Waste Management Rules
- Act 41
- Title 6 Chapter 218: Agricultural Residuals Management
- Title 6 Chapter 28: Fertilizer and Lime
- Title 10 Chapter 151: State Land Use and Development Plans Section 6001
Agency of Commerce and Community Development
For primary program information, please contact:
- Zachary Szczukowski | Agricultural Resource Management Specialist | 802-636-7029
For Farm Determination inquiries please contact:
- Noah Gilbert-Fuller | Water Quality Program Coordinator | 802 505-3407
- Mary Montour | Agricultural Water Quality Program Coordinator | 802- 461-6087