By LISA RATHKE, Associated Press
BURLINGTON, Vermont (AP) – Vermont officials told the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday that agricultural efforts to reduce phosphorus runoff and federal funds to support that work are paying off in improving the quality of soil water from Lake Champlain.
Federal funding is essential to continue this work, they said.
“Agriculture is responsible (…) for over 90% of all reported phosphorus reductions in Vermont, so this is very impressive,” Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said, at a panel discussion with US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Senator Patrick Leahy. . Collaborations between state, local and federal partners are essential for farmers to achieve these goals, said Vermont Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore.
The Environmental Protection Agency has asked Vermont to clean up the lake.
The reductions since Vilsack’s visit to Vermont in 2014 have been due to pay-for-service programs that have been profitable, according to Tebbetts. For example, in 2014 Vermont had 5,000 acres of cover crop and the amount reached 36,000 acres in 2020, he said.
Cover crops are plantations that reduce erosion and improve soil health.
âOver a third of Vermont’s annually cultivated land is now covered, so this is progress and it does not happen without state and USDA resources,â he said.
Vermont had 1,000 acres of conservation tillage in 2014, and last year 11,000 acres, Tebbetts said.
The state is also committing farmers to a new USDA-backed program that will pay farmers on a per pound basis for any phosphorus reduction achieved beyond what is required, he said.
Vermont, New York and Quebec have worked together for nearly 30 years to reduce phosphorus pollution in the lake, Moore said.
âVermont has taken a holistic approach, which means we are asking everyone – farmers, municipalities, forest land owners, wastewater treatment plant operators and landowners to do their part while looking for opportunities to nature-based solutions, including wetland restoration and riparian buffer zone enhancements, âshe said.
The agency’s most recent report released in January documented 22.2 metric tonnes of phosphorus load reduction across all sectors, Moore said.
Richmond farmer Dave Conant said over the past few years he has seen an incredible commitment from the large farming community to adopting innovative and efficient practices such as cover crops, the work of the conservation soil and injecting manure into the fields, he said.
âI have seen more positive changes in the past few years than I have seen in my life,â he said.
Vilsack said the USDA was developing a climate-smart agriculture plan for the administration.
âAnd a lot of what you talked about today you’ll see in this shot,â he told the panel. âYou will see a willingness to invest heavily in soil health. You will see a focus not only on climate smart farming practices, but also those that adapt and mitigate climate impacts; you will see a focus on the need for data and the ability to disseminate that data to local and regional areas so that decisions can be made at ground level. You will see an increased interest in research and development.
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