Late last fall, we reported on upcoming hearings regarding farm best management practices to be enforced in the Lake Champlain clean-up. See Vermont hearings on Lake Champlain farm bmps set for those details. But the controversy is far from over in terms of impact on small farms.
If enacted as written, Vermont's Act 64 could put small farmers out of business, charges Steve Judge, a small-scale dairy farmer and agribusinessman from Royalton, Vt. In brief, ACT 64's Required Agricultural Practices are intended to reduce agriculture's impact on the state's waterways. The RAPs will replace the previous Accepted Agricultural Practices, and would require virtually all small farms in the state to regulated as uncertified small farms (UFOs) or as certified small farms (CFOs) by Vermont's Agency of Agriculture.
He's even launched new campaign called I Support Small Farms, aimed at replacing it with a law and set of regulations that "makes sense for all of Vermont and effectively improve the water quality of Lake Champlain and other bodies of water." On Monday, Jan. 11, Vermont Agency of Agriculture invited Judge to help organize a focus group meeting to discuss the RAPs potential impact on small and micro-sized farms in VT.
"It's time to puts the brakes on this ill-advised runaway piece of legislation, take a deep breath, and figure how it can be amended to make sense or repealed so we can start over with sensible legislation that'll actually work," says Judge.
Small farms would be subject to unwarranted and arbitrary searches along with requirements to file annual reports, attend classes, submit additional and mandatory soil and manure tests. Such reporting requirements are already in place in Delaware and Maryland.
Vermont's Agency of Agriculture will also have the right to dictate management practices to small farms, "even though much larger forces are at work degrading Vermont's water quality that Act 64 fails to address," claims Judge. While he strongly agrees that farms, no matter their size, shouldn't be allowed to pollute, he argues Vermont's small farms are not the big offenders.
"There's no reason to single out and impose unprecedented, unworkable and unenforceable regulations on Vermont's small farms," he adds. "It'll be an administrative nightmare that'll create hard feelings for years to come."
Judge has developed several recommendations to amend ACT 64:
* Require cover crops for all land that would otherwise be left open during the late fall, winter and early spring.
* Prohibit spreading of manure bare ground outside of the growing season.
* Allow the spreading of manure outside of the growing season until December 1 and after April 1, only on fields that have cover crops or perennial crops capable of retaining the manure and preventing runoff.
* Develop state programs to provide incentives for farmers in the Champlain Valley and other sensitive state regions of the state to plant perennial forage crops such as hay, trefoil and alfalfa instead of corn. Limit plowing intervals on those fields to every three or five years.
* Spreading of commercial fertilizer must be regulated as well, with commercial applicators being required to receive training and be certification.
"Most small farms have a very low impact on the environment," says Judge. "Let's nurture them, and not legislate or micro-manage them out of business."