Act 83 of 2019 directed the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets to convene a "Soil Conservation Practice and Payment for Ecosystem Services Working Group", with membership determined by the Legislature. The purpose of this Working Group (PES Working Group) is to recommend financial incentives designed to encourage farmers in Vermont to implement agricultural practices that improve soil health, enhance crop resilience, increase carbon storage and stormwater storage capacity, and reduce agricultural runoff to waters. Membership in the Working Group is directed by this Act.
Between 2019 and 2023, VAAFM and the other members of the Payment For Ecosystem Services & Soil Health Working Group developed a vision for a payment for ecosystem services program which fills gaps in current financial and technical assistance programs and supports the environmental and economic health of Vermont farms and the broader ecosystem. After extensive learning and deliberation, this group threw their weight behind a recommendation first proposed by a group of small farmers: to create a pilot program to supplement payments to farmers in Vermont who participate in the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP is the nation’s largest PES program but was underutilized in Vermont. Link to Final Working Group Report. VAAFM took this recommendation and put together the Vermont Farmer Ecosystem Stewardship Program, a pilot program starting in 2023 that will supplement CSP payments with one-time flat-rate incentive payments for participating farmers.