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Farmers Watershed Alliance

posted May 11, 2016, 8:21 AM by Unknown user   [ updated May 11, 2016, 8:22 AM ]

Farmers Watershed Alliance Board Members

Farmers Watershed Alliance of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties (FWA) was founded in 2006 by Roger Rainville, who had a vision of gathering fellow farmers together to collaborate on water quality issues. Though it has undergone some metamorphoses in recent years, FWA remains a way for farmers to collaborate with each other and for conservation professionals to implement water quality improvement projects. 

FWA is run by a volunteer Board of Directors currently consisting of 14 farmers and other agricultural professionals. Darlene Reynolds, Board Chair, and Larry Gervais, Vice Chair, are both dairy farmers Secretary, Alison F. Maslack, is a veterinarian and Treasurer, Heather Darby, is a UVM extension agent. FWA’s Farm Assessment Coordinator is Jeff Sanders, also a UVM extension agent who volunteers his time with FWA. Dues-paying FWA members are primarily dairy farmers, though Chair Darlene Reynolds said FWA will work with interested non-dairy farmers in their region.

Example of an FWA stream crossing
Farm Assessments: Change is in the…Water Quality

Until recently, FWA focused on developing voluntary Water Quality Protection Plans with farmers. Participating farmers fill out an in-depth survey about existing farm conditions, such as manure storage techniques and waterways present on the farm. The survey is then followed by a Farm Assessment led by Jeff Sanders. Based on the assessment and the farmer’s interest, FWA implements low-cost, water quality improvement projects. Projects developed by FWA include stream crossings for livestock, fencing to keep cows out of waterways, and clean water diversion projects (in which unpolluted water is kept away from manure pits). When the State cut funding three years ago, FWA decreased its on-farm projects and put more energy into outreach to farmers about water quality best practices.

                         Example of an FWA stream crossing 

The passage of Act 64 and the subsequent Required Agricultural Practices that are being developed are changing how FWA implements projects. FWA recently signed a contract with the Department of Agriculture that will fund FWA to work with farmers in implementing priority projects as determined by the Department. 

Jeff Sanders said that the Department of Agriculture contract will change FWA’s approach, “FWA has been so successful because they acted quickly and decisively, while making a difference in water quality. Now, with more parties involved in decision-making, projects will take longer to implement, but I think we will be able to do some larger projects.” Additionally, Sanders said that this new contract will likely enable FWA to implement more projects than it has been able to in recent years. 

Radishes, White Clover and Grassed Waterways

FWA has been at the forefront in encouraging its member farmers to adopt innovative approaches to erosion control. Last year, FWA received an NRCS grant to work with dairy farmers to show the feasibility of inter-seeding fall cover crops with their corn. FWA experimented with twelve cover crop seed blends, which included various amounts of winter rye, radishes, oats and canola. Cover crops are traditionally planted after the fall harvest to prevent soil loss when fields lie fallow, but starting cover crops earlier in the fall extends their growing season and erosion control potential. Darlene Reynolds said that FWA’s cover cropping projects have been successful over the years since, “a lot of farmers have really adopted the process of cover cropping, continuing to plant them on their own after we provided them with initial funding.”

Grassed waterway on farm
FWA also received a $20,000 grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to implement three grassed waterway projects in the Franklin/Grand Isle area. Grassed waterways (pictured right, courtesy of NRCS) are gently sloping, vegetated buffers constructed alongside cropland to slow water from adjacent fields and prevent gully formation. FWA has had historic success helping farmers implement grassed waterway projects; Tim Magnant, a Franklin dairy farmer who worked with FWA to install these buffers along his corn fields, says that he can still grow the same amount of hay and corn to feed his cows while also preventing erosion. 

For Farmers, by Farmers

While on-farm projects are the lynchpin of FWA’s work, education and outreach are also critical to FWA’s role as a farmers’ network. Darlene Reynolds, FWA’s chair, said that FWA members testified to House and Senate committees during the creation of the Act 64 bill. As the regulations associated with Act 64 are being hammered out, FWA has kept farmers informed of legislative developments, particularly in regard to understanding and commenting on the new Required Agricultural Practices. FWA also has regular meetings for the Board and other members to discuss upcoming projects and hear presentations from conservation experts. For those farmers too busy to come to meetings, FWA has started publishing a quarterly newsletter that highlights recent accomplishments, upcoming events, and any changes in regulations that farmers should be aware of. 

Farmers Watershed Alliance, almost ten years after its inception, continues to be a “farmer driven organization” that encourages farmers to share best practices in on-farm environmental protection. FWA collaborates with other watershed associations on projects and educational programming, including Friends of Northern Lake Champlain and the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition. And critically, FWA helps farmers navigate the bold new (and ever-changing) world of water quality regulations and funding. For more information about Farmers Watershed Alliance, contact Darlene Reynolds at farmerswatershedallianceNW@gmail.com