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New Conservation District Program Supports Small Farm Clean Water Efforts

posted Jan 6, 2016, 8:25 AM by Lyn Munno
Through a $800,000 grant awarded by the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts (VACD) based in Waitsfield, Vermont’s Natural Resources Conservation Districts are expanding a program that supports small farmers in their efforts to protect water quality while improving their bottom line. The new program, called the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, will support 145 livestock farm operators state-wide to develop Nutrient Management Plans through participation in the “Digging In” course offered by University of Vermont Extension. A Nutrient Management Plan defines the exact quantity of manure and other nutrients to be spread on each field of the farm in order to grow the crops needed to feed livestock. The plan takes into consideration soil type and chemical composition, the steepness of the field and potential erosion, crops grown on the field, and the nutritional needs of the animals. By combining scientific data with the farmer’s knowledge of their land and production goals, the correct amount of nutrients will be used, thus saving the farmer money and avoiding excess runoff
into Vermont’s waterways.

Excess phosphorus, a nutrient commonly needed in agricultural production, is the main cause of Lake Champlain’s toxic algae blooms. While significant phosphorus runoff also comes from roads, forests, streambanks and sewage treatment plants, Vermont’s agricultural community will play a large role in cleaning up the lake and protecting other rivers, streams and lakes around the state. As a result of Vermont’s new Clean Water Act passed by the Legislature last year, all farms will be required to develop a Nutrient Management Plan in the future. In the past, only medium and large farms - a small proportion of the farms in Vermont - have been required to have this plan. The expanded Conservation District program will enable small farm operators to meet this requirement, as well as make simple, cost-effective changes to their operations to protect water quality and gain access to additional educational, technical and financial support to carry out further conservation projects on their farm.

Vermont’s Natural Resources Conservation Districts were created after the Dust Bowl era of the 1930’s to help farmers protect soil and water quality. There are 3,000 Districts throughout the US and 14 in Vermont. In recent decades Vermont’s Conservation Districts have expanded their programs beyond agriculture to forestry, watershed stewardship, stormwater mitigation and education. Districts protect and enhance soil, water, forest and wildlife habitat resources by working with landowners and communities to provide information and technical support, and carry out projects. VACD is the membership association of Vermont’s Conservation Districts. The association provides support to its members and manages state-wide technical programs.

From Vermont Association of Conservation Districts Press Release. Contact: Jill Arace (802) 496-5162, jill.arace@vacd.org.
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