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Farm Definitions and Determinations

Farms and the RAPs

All types of farms must adhere to Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs), which are required management strategies that reduce the impact of agricultural activities on water quality. These standards are intended to improve the quality of Vermont’s waters by reducing and eliminating cropland erosion, sediment losses, and nutrient losses through improved farm management techniques, technical and compliance assistance, and where appropriate, enforcement. The RAPs establish nutrient, manure, and waste storage standards, make recommendations for soil health and establish requirements for vegetated buffer zones and livestock exclusion from surface water. The RAPs also establish standards for nutrient management planning and soil conservation. 


Farm Determinations:

Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) can determine if your operation meets the basic definition of a farm under the RAPs. You can fill out the Farm Determination Form online by clicking on the button below. This form can also be used to concurrently apply for a variance for a farm structure.

Necessary Information for a Farm Determination 

Check with your local town clerk or zoning administrator if you need a farm or structure determination letter from the Agency. In many cases, a written letter is not required. 

Prior to beginning to fill in the online determination form, please have the following information prepared: 

  • The zoning district the property is located in 

  • Name and contact information for the zoning administrator in the town, if the town has local zoning 

  • Any letters concerning your operation from adjacent landowners 

  • For new and beginning operations the Agency suggests that a farm operator work with a technical service provider for guidance in developing a business plan prior to submission for approval by the Secretary. 

If you are building a “farm structure” 

  • Information on the required setbacks in the district where the property is located, and whether the proposed structure complies with setbacks as determined by the zoning administrator 

  • In the case of a request for an alternative setback, the name(s) and address(es) of the nearest affected adjoining property owner(s) 

  • A site plan of your property including: 

- Entire parcel boundary 
- Wetlands, Open Water, and Associated Buffers (indicate Class) 
- Existing development 
- Proposed development
- Distance of proposed farm structure to all properties 
- All neighboring land uses 
- Location of the Special Flood Hazard Area, if applicable  
- Location of River Corridor, if applicable  

Check with your local town clerk or zoning administrator if you need a farm or structure determination letter from the Agency. In many cases, a written letter is not required.

Farm Determination Form Online

Printable Farm Determination Form

You may wish to fill out this Farm Determination Form if you are:

  • Requested to by a town clerk, regional planning commission, zoning administrator or local municipality;
  • Applying for a zoning variance when building a farm structure; or
  • Applying for an accessory on-farm business.

NOTE: This is a resource we offer to support you if you are unsure if you qualify as a farm or if you require an official farm determination. Filling out this form is not necessary to be considered a farm or to be engaging in farming practices. Also, this form will not determine the size of your agricultural operation. If you are looking to classify the size of your farming operation see:


Business Plan Submissions

Pursuant to Section 3.1(g) of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs), Farm Business Plans may be developed and submitted to attain a Farm Operation Determination from VAAFM. Business plans may be created in a variety of formats, but the VAAFM Water Quality Division has established guidelines for the creation of Farm Business Plans as a means of qualifying a proposed Farm Operation. 

Business Plan Guidelines

Construction of Farm Structures

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) has jurisdiction over the construction of farm structures. This means that Vermont farms that meet the thresholds set in the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) are required to comply with applicable regulations for agricultural practices, including the construction and maintenance of farm structures. For more information on the process for the construction of farm structures, see the following factsheet:


NOTE:  Prior to construction of farm structures, the farmer must notify the zoning administrator or the town clerk of the town in which the farm structure is proposed, in writing, of the proposed construction activity. The notification must contain a sketch of the proposed structure including the setback distances from adjoining property lines, road rights-of-way, and adjacent surface water.

You are not required to notify VAAFM of construction of a farm structure, if it is approved by the town. However, if your farm structure cannot conform to the town or state setbacks, you can apply to VAAFM for approval of alternative reasonable setbacks for that structure. Fill out the Farm Structure Variance Form below to apply for a variance. 

Farm Structure Variance Form Online 

Printable Farm Structure Variance Form

To learn more about the construction of farm structures, contact VAAFM Water Quality Division at (802) 828-2431.

Essential Definitions:

Definition of Farm:

Farm means a parcel or parcels of land owned, leased, or managed by a person and devoted primarily to farming, and that meets the threshold criteria as established in Section 3 of the RAPs, provided that the lessee controls the leased lands to the extent they would be considered as part of the lessee’s own farm. Indicators of control may include whether the lessee makes day-to-day decisions concerning the cultivation or other farming-related use of the leased lands and whether the lessee manages the land for farming during the leased period. 

Definition of Farming:

Section 2.16 of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) states that “farming” means:

(a) the cultivation or other use of land for growing food, fiber, Christmas trees, maple sap, or horticultural, viticultural, and orchard crops; or

(b) the raising, feeding, or management of livestock, poultry, fish, or bees; or

(c) the operation of greenhouses; or

(d) the production of maple syrup; or

(e) the on-site storage, preparation, and sale of agricultural products principally produced on the farm; or

(f) the on-site storage, preparation, production, and sale of fuel or power from agricultural products or wastes principally produced on the farm; or

(g) the raising, feeding, or management of four or more equines owned or boarded by the farmer, including training, showing, and providing instruction and lessons in riding, training, and the management of equines.

Definition of Principally Produced

Principally Produced means that more than 50% (either by weight or volume) of raw agricultural products that are stored, prepared, or sold at the farm are also grown or produced on the farm.

Definition of a Farm Structure

Farm Structure means a structure that is used by a person for farming, including a silo, a building to house livestock or raise horticultural or agronomic plants, or customarily used to carry out the agricultural practices defined in Section 3.2 of this rule. A farm structure includes a barnyard or waste management system, either of which is created from an assembly of materials, including the supporting fill necessary for structural integrity, but excludes a dwelling for human habitation. A farm structure also must be used by a person who can demonstrate meeting the minimum threshold criteria as found in Section 3.1 of the RAPs.

Definition of an Accessory On-farm Business

Accessory on-farm business means activity that is accessory to a farm and comprises one or both of the following:

(I) The storage, preparation, processing, and sale of qualifying products, provided that more than 50 percent of the total annual sales are from qualifying products that are principally produced on the farm at which the business is located.

(II) Educational, recreational, or social events that feature agricultural practices or qualifying products, or both. Such events may include tours of the farm, farm stays, tastings and meals featuring qualifying products, and classes or exhibits in the preparation, processing, or harvesting of qualifying products. As used in this subdivision (II), "farm stay" means a paid, overnight guest accommodation on a farm for the purpose of participating in educational, recreational, or social activities on the farm that feature agricultural practices or qualifying products, or both. A farm stay includes the option for guests to participate in such activities.

Learn more about Accessory On-Farm Businesses

Definition of a Qualifying Product

Qualifying product means a product that is wholly:

  1. an agricultural, horticultural, viticultural, or dairy commodity, or maple syrup;
  2. livestock or cultured fish or a product thereof;
  3. a product of poultry, bees, an orchard, or fiber crops;
  4. a commodity otherwise grown or raised on a farm; or
  5. a product manufactured on one or more farms from commodities wholly grown or raised on one or more farms.