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Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition

posted Oct 22, 2015, 5:56 AM by Lyn Munno   [ updated Oct 22, 2015, 5:57 AM ]

CVFC Board Members with state agency officials attend announcement
of USDA funding to help agriculture improve water quality practices,
August 2014.
Members of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition (CVFC) believe that farms can thrive economically while also supporting a clean and healthy Lake Champlain. In today’s often fractious atmosphere, clean water advocates sometimes air their frustration with lack of progress by berating farmers for resisting necessary changes. But this is one group who won’t have to be dragged into the new era of water protection practices. Members from Colchester in the north to Danby in the south have already stepped up voluntarily to adopt best practices

UVM Extension staff Jeff Carter and Kirsten
Workman support CVFC in field and office
on their own farms, and have opened their operations up to the public and neighboring farmers for tours and educational programs in hopes that more agricultural colleagues will follow their lead.

CVFC was officially incorporated in 2013, after several years of blue-green algae blooms focused public attention on the failure of existing pollution regulations to improve Lake Champlain’s water quality. As studies began to identify agriculture as a major source of the lake’s phosphorous loads (over 40% for the Vermont portion of the basin), farmers felt like they were in the bulls-eye. Those who were already committed to water stewardship wanted to be pro-active about solving water quality problems, and they formed a new group to share best practices. 

Water protection measures adopted and promoted by the group include field practices as well as new equipment and infrastructure:

  • Cover-cropping with green manures such as winter rye maintain year-round cover on row-crop fields.
Cover cropping after corn silage is a practice many CVFC farmers have adopted to help prevent erosion and protect water quality.  

  • Reduced tillage increases soil organic matter and maintains a surface mulch of dead vegetation to reduce erosion, increase infiltration and improve soil health.
CVFC members at Deer Valley Farm use the UVM Extension no-till planter to plant corn into a cover crop.  

  • Careful grazing management maintains dense vegetation on pastures and manages travel lanes and water supply to keep animals out of streams and avoid trampled areas.
Alternative water sources (like nose pumps)
and good grazing help protect water quality.

  • Though initial investments are costly, some farmers are injecting manure to avoid surface run-off, and even combining this technology with spreading liquid manure by drag-line to reduce soil disturbance by heavy tank spreaders. (A recent VPR story featured this method at Vermont Technical College.)
CVFC members at Audet’s Blue Spruce Farm, were one of the first farms to adopt the practice of dragline manure applied with an aeration toolbar to incorporate more manure on hay fields.  
The group often sponsors on-farm field days to share what they are learning.
For example:

  • CVFC and UVM Extension partnered up in spring 2015 to hold several no-till corn planter clinics on area farms to help farmers make sure their equipment was in good shape to have successful no-till corn plantings. 
No-till corn planter clinic sponsored by CVFC

  • CVFC and UVM Extension also hosted a Soil Health Field Day at CVFC member, Vorsteveld Family Farm in Panton to look at how farming practices can improve soil health.
Soil health field day

Founding Board & members of the CVFC
Eleven farmer board members lead the organization, with UVM extension staff assistance from Kirsten Workman, Secretary, Jeff Carter, Treasurer, and Nate Severy, Program Coordinator. Membership totals 54, including individual, business and nonprofit supporting members. Individuals can join on the CVFC website.

Brian Kemp (far left) with fellow board members Eric Clifford, Ben Dykema, and
Loren Wood
CVFC members are beginning to receive well-earned public recognition for their pro-active approach. For example, Brian Kemp, who raises organic beef at Mountain Meadows Farm in Sudbury and is currently the President of CVFC, received both the Vermont Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence, and EPA’s Environmental Merit Award, in 2015. The practices that won this recognition, and that may soon become “business-as-usual” for all Vermont farms, include crop covers on all corn ground; aerating soil before spreading manure to improve absorption; rotating grazing to maintain good vegetative cover; 22 miles of fencing to keep cows out of the Lemon Fair River; and buffers along 7 miles of stream to improve the stability of banks and enhance wildlife habitat.

As Vermont revises its Accepted Agricultural Practices, converts them to Required Agricultural Practices, and extends requirements to include smaller farms (the definition for which is still under advisement), positive role models will be critical to help farmers respond with can-do attitudes. Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition members have already started to play that role. President Brian Kemp and new members Rachel and Bill Orr, for instance, explained recently on Vermont Public Radio how they're already adapting to the new requirements.