By Sonia Howlett, VT Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets - January 2022
Starting January 1, 2022, Vermont farmers can apply to a new, performance-based payment program to support water quality improvements that they have made on their farms. Funded by USDA and administered by the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, the new Vermont Pay for Phosphorus (VPFP) program will compensate farms statewide for phosphorus load reductions from crop and hay fields. There are $4.9 million in payments to farms planned over this 5-year program. Visit agriculture.vermont.gov/VPFP to apply.
After applying to the program, farmers will be asked to provide complete and up to date Nutrient Management Plans, soil tests and manure tests that meet the Required Agricultural Practices standard for their farm size. This information will be entered into a web-based modeling software, the Farm Phosphorus Reduction Planner (FarmPREP), to estimate the phosphorus reductions occurring on hay and crop fields. Technical assistance from local Conservation Districts will be available to assist with this process. To support farmers’ time engaging with this process, first-time applicants will be eligible for a data entry payment of up to $4,000 per farm.
If farms are selected to enroll in the full VPFP program after this data entry process is complete, they will be eligible to receive an annual payment for quantifiable and field-verifiable reductions in phosphorus loading evaluated through FarmPREP. FarmPREP will estimate the pounds of phosphorus running off each farm field each year under current management and will compare to estimated runoff from baseline historical management assumptions developed for the Lake Champlain TMDL. Enrolled farms will then receive payment per pound of phosphorus runoff they reduce across their whole farm above and beyond a threshold set with reference to state and federal standards.
Over the past year, the Agency has been working with a small set of farms and their management data to research the accuracy and potential of this program. This initial research initiative was supported by a Conservation Innovation Grant from Vermont Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The full Vermont Pay for Phosphorus program is supported by a $7 million grant award from the national USDA NRCS through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) Alternative Funding Arrangement (RCPP-AFA), under Supplemental Agreement number 2145-A-0368.
Interested applicants should understand that the Vermont Pay for Phosphorus program relies heavily on farm management information, including crop rotation, manure application, and field practice implementation records, in addition to a complete and up to date NMP necessary for enrollment. Enrolled farms will commit to keeping detailed, accurate, and legible records of this information, with support from technical assistance providers. As this program is USDA-funded, all information provided by agricultural landowners and producers in order to participate is prohibited to be disclosed except as necessary for delivering technical assistance.
To learn more about the Vermont Pay for Phosphorus program or apply, visit: https://agriculture.vermont.gov/VPFP. Applications are due January 31.