By, Ryan Patch, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets
Today, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) has released a second draft of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for public review. This draft, to be presented to the legislature and the public over the coming weeks, has been substantially revised to incorporate public input. The second draft is available today on the Agency website: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap
As a result of Act 64—the Vermont Clean Water Act—signed into law in June 2015, the Agency of Agriculture was tasked with updating the Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs) to further reduce the impact of agriculture on water quality across the state. The RAPs are an updated version of the AAPs, the rules which regulate farms in order to protect water quality, re-written to a higher level of performance. The Agency sought public input on its first draft of the new regulations, to ensure the RAPs reflected the realities of farming and the legislative intent of Act 64.
The public meetings and public comment period held in 2015 are not required by law, however this informal process was conducted by the VAAFM to ensure rule development which will provide a realistic, workable framework for agricultural management in our state that effectively protects Vermont’s lakes and rivers. The first draft public comment period opened on October 20, 2015, and ended on December 18, 2015. During this period, 10 public meetings were held throughout Vermont – the first on November 12, 2015, at the St. Albans Historical Society and the last on December 10, 2016, at the Chandler Music Hall in Randolph. Twenty-one small focus group meetings were also held throughout the state with various stakeholders. Since the close of the first public comment period, the Agency has spent nine weeks to thoroughly review and consider all public comment—over 800 people attended more than 30 meetings throughout the state to voice their opinions and 169 Vermonters submitted written comments.
“VAAFM wishes to thank all members of the community who took the time to provide comments or otherwise participate in this public process,” said Vermont’s Ag Secretary, Chuck Ross. “This is a clear indication that Vermonters, particularly farmers, care very deeply about water quality and getting this right. When the RAPs are eventually finalized, I know they will be stronger and more effective, as a result of all the input we received.”
Act 64 specifies that the RAP rules will be finalized before July 1, 2016. In March, the Agency intends to begin formal rulemaking to meet this deadline. The public will again have the opportunity to attend public hearings and provide written comment on the RAPs during the formal public hearing and comment period, tentatively scheduled to begin in May. VAAFM will continue to encourage public feedback and engage with stakeholders throughout the late winter prior to the formal comment period.
Jim Leland, Director of the Ag Resource Management Division at VAAFM explains, “Significant changes have been made throughout the second draft of the RAPs. We began by revising and reformatting the RAPs, in an effort to provide clarity.” Leland continues, “In addition, three areas which received the most extensive public comment and have been revised from the first draft include: the small farm certification threshold, proposed standards around manure stacking sites, and proposed manure spreading restrictions on steep slopes and high phosphorus fields.” Leland continues, “Be sure to read the responsiveness summary we’ve provided which highlights 30 major changes in the second draft of the RAPs which resulted from public input.”
The Agency’s response to comment, as well as a summary of written public comments received before Jan 1, 2016, are both available on the Agency RAP website.
For more information about the RAPs, and the Agency’s efforts to implement Act 64, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap or contact the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets at (802) 828-3478.
Questions and comment about the RAPs can be directed to AGR.RAP@Vermont.gov
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Helps to Implement Vermont’s New Water Quality Law, Ends Conservation Law Foundation Lawsuit
By Ryan Patch, VAAFM
Today, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross, issued his revised decision regarding the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) petition to require mandatory Best Management Practices (BMPs) for farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin. The Revised Secretary’s Decision makes a threshold determination that BMPs are necessary in the basin to achieve compliance with Vermont’s water quality goals. The revised decision is available today on the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) website http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/news-events/clf-petition
“Since my initial decision, Vermont has adopted landmark water quality legislation, Act 64, the Vermont Clean Water Act,” said Ross. “The Agency, coordinating with CLF, has responded to this directive from our lawmakers, and my Revised Decision contains a framework under which the Agency of Agriculture and Vermont farmers will continue to work together to improve agricultural water quality in the Missisquoi Bay Basin.”
“I believe the farm assessment and BMP implementation timelines we negotiated in good faith with CLF align well with the implementation plans required by the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Act 64,” Ross added. “I would also like to thank CLF for their forthright collaboration throughout this process as we worked to develop a settlement which will be workable for farmers as well as meet Vermont’s water quality goals.”
The Secretary, in his revised decision, has determined that BMPs are generally necessary on farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin watershed to achieve compliance with state water quality goals. BMPs are site specific conservation practices beyond those required by the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) regulations.
In May 2014, CLF petitioned the Agency to impose mandatory BMPs on farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin. In a November 2014 decision, the Secretary denied the petition. CLF appealed to the Vermont Superior Court in December 2014. On June 16, 2015, Governor Shumlin signed into law Act 64. The new legislation changed considerations that formed the basis for the Secretary’s initial decision. Given the new legislation and CLF’s appeal, the Secretary revised his earlier decision. The proposed revised decision was put out for public comment and the Agency held a public hearing in St. Albans on November 12, 2015 to provide farmers and other affected citizens and stakeholders an opportunity to be heard. The issuance of the Revised Secretary’s Decision today is one of the final steps in settling the CLF petition and lawsuit.
The Revised Decision provides a framework for outreach, education and assessment of farms in the watershed and a process for farm-specific development and implementation of a Farm Plan to address identified water quality resource concerns, where needed. Farm assessments may conclude that practices required by the RAPs are sufficient to protect water quality and that BMPs may not be required due to a farm’s specific characteristics or management.
The Secretary’s Revised Decision can be found at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/news-events/clf-petition or a copy can be requested by calling the Agency at 802-828-2431. The Agency is providing a copy of the decision to Missisquoi Bay Basin farms and stakeholders who submitted public comment. The Agency is also posting notice of its decision in area newspapers.
Since its inception in 2012, the Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB) has invested over $3.1 million dollars in 112 projects impacting every county of the state, leveraging just under $5 million in additional funds. Impacts to date include:
- 106 new jobs created by working lands grantees
- $12 million+ increase in gross income across all working lands grantees
On Thursday, February 4th, 2016 the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative annual report was submitted to the Vermont Legislature accompanied by a two hour presentation featuring a new 6-minute video and testimonials from four 2015 working lands grant recipients: Joe Buley of Screamin’ Ridge Farm in Montpelier; Karen Caron of Peaslee’s Vermont Potatoes in Guildhall; Parker Nichols of Vermont Wildwoods in Marshfield; and Andy Harper of Winterwood Timber Frames in East Montpelier.
Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation Michael Snyder, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jolinda LaClair, and Deputy Secretary of Commerce Lucy Leriche each delivered remarks, and the four grant recipients presented overviews of their businesses and working lands projects, and discussed challenges and opportunities facing their sectors.
“Grantees that emerge from WLEB’s formal vetting and selection process represent an innovative and resilient cohort of working lands businesses,” said Ag Secretary Chuck Ross. “They possess the determination and ingenuity to not only grow their business, but also expand economic opportunity in their communities and throughout Vermont.”
“This grant allowed us to significantly expand the diversity of our product offerings, which we hope will enable us to keep people employed even when the timber framing market is down,” said Andy Harper of Winter Wood Timber Frames. “Working Lands is not only about growing ideas and expanding businesses, but about improving Vermont’s economy overall and keeping the landscape working.”
The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative 2015 Annual Report can be found here: http://workinglands.vermont.gov/node/737
The Working Lands Video can be found here: https://youtu.be/1Zh0PngLDLk
For more information about grant recipients in your area, visit: http://workinglands.vermont.gov/projects
The Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, (Act 142), is administered by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets in partnership with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. The Working Lands funds are administered by the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Board (WLEB), an impact investment organization whose mission is to grow the economies, cultures, and communities of Vermont’s working landscape by making essential, catalytic investments in critical leverage points of the Vermont farm and forest economy, from individual enterprises to industry sectors. For more information, visit http://workinglands.vermont.gov/
Here are just a few of the food and farming highlights we celebrated in 2015
Our cheese is tops!
- Vermont Cheese dominated the 2015 American Cheese Society Awards
46 of the 355 ribbons awarded at the 2015 American Cheese Society Competition went to Vermont cheesemakers, including 13 for first place
- First place awards for Jasper Hill, Cabot, Consider Bardwell, Franklin Foods, Parish Hill Creamery, Spring Brook Farm, Sweet Rower Farmstead, Vermont Creamery, Vermont Shephard
- Best in Show for: Jasper Hill
VT Specialty Food Producers reign supreme!
- Vermont specialty food companies take home 5 gold SOFIs (Specialty Outstanding Food Innovation) awards
- Fat Toad Farm (Outstanding product line for their goat’s milk caramel)
- Big Picture Farm (2 golds for Raspberry Rhubarb goat’s milk caramel and Chai goat’s milk caramel)
- Vermont Creamery (Cultured Butter Sea Salt)
- Wozz! Creative Kitchens (Kiwi Lime Salsa)
Best Beer in the World
- According to Beer Advocate, we make some of the best beers in the world…11 of their top 250 beers in the world are produced right here in Vermont by the Alchemist and Hill Farmstead Brewery.
Dairy & Meat Processing Boom…
Tremendous growth in meat and dairy processing sectors
- 23 new meat facilities (including packing plants, slaughterhouses, and pre-packaged retailers) have come online in the past 12 months, creating skilled jobs, expanded capacity, and economic opportunity for Vermont’s farmers. State total: 1922 facilities
- 20 new dairy processing facilities have come online since January 2015, with 10 additional plants under construction. We also have 4 plants undergoing multimillion dollar upgrades with new equipment and products. State total: 135 processing facilities
We lead NE in Dairy!
- 63% of all the milk in New England is produced right here in VT
- Dairy brings $2.2 Billion in economic activity to our state each year
- Sales of VT dairy products exceed $1.3 billion annually
Syrup is as Sweet as Ever!
- We continue to be the national leader in maple syrup, producing more than 41% of the nation’s maple crop.
- We have 4.5 million taps in the state!
Creating Jobs, Preserving our Landscape…
- Working Lands grants supported the creation of 65 new jobs this year
Domestic Export Expands our Vermont Brand…
“Harlow’s Vermont Farm Stand” at Boston Public Market, a partnership between Harlow Farm in Westminster, Agency of Ag, and the Department of Tourism, now features 35+ Vermont products.
- More than 1 million shoppers are expected at the market annually!
- Exposure for our best-in-class-products, right in the heart of Boston
The Vermont Building at the Big E = huge economic opportunity
- In 2015, 29 companies exhibited their products at the building grossing $1.68 million in sales
- More than 1 million visitors experienced the Vermont brand in the Vermont Building!