Tag Archives: water quality

Summer Policy Update

Water Quality

Just before the close of the 2015 session, both chambers of the legislature voted overwhelmingly to pass H.35 – a bill aimed at improving water quality in Lake Champlain and other Vermont waterways. After much debate among legislators and stakeholders, especially over funding, the bill provides around $7.5 million toward implementation and enforcement of new water quality regulations. Some primary funding sources include a surcharge on the state’s property transfer tax, fees on medium and large farm registrations, and fees on the sale of non-agricultural fertilizer and pesticides. In part, these funds will be used to pay for enhanced education, outreach, enforcement, and inspections by creating 8 new positions at the Agency of Agriculture and 13 at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

While passage of H.35 set the stage for changes to Vermont’s agricultural and stormwater management practices, many details of the clean-up initiative will be fleshed out through a rulemaking process over the coming year. For example, one key provision of the bill calls for the State to develop new regulations for reducing pollution from farms, changing accepted agricultural practices (AAPs) to “required agricultural practices” (RAPs) since they will be mandatory under the new legislation. What exactly those practices will include has yet to be determined. As the State works toward implementation of the law, NOFA will be working to ensure that organic farmers are aware of any new requirements they may face, while also working with State partners to ensure that implementation is as practical and effective as possible.

GMO Labeling Update: David vs. Goliath? Let’s Hope So

The legal battle to uphold Vermont’s GMO labeling law has often been described as a classic David and Goliath-style battle, wherein our small but mighty state is pitted against the gargantuan likes of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA). As the legal challenge brought by the GMA and others begins to move through the courts, members of the VT Right to Know GMOs coalition are working to ensure that our battle ends with the same happy result as that famed parable.

On April 27th of this year, the first significant blow was dealt to the GMO giants in the form of a ruling by the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. In the ruling, Judge Christina Reiss soundly rejected plaintiffs’ attempt to halt implementation of Vermont’s GMO labeling law (Act 120), dismissing claims that the law is unconstitutional and preempted by federal law. On May 6th, plaintiffs appealed the District Court’s decision, though a schedule for the next steps has not been set as of this writing.

In the meantime, Act 120 is set to go into effect on July 1st of 2016, giving food producers, distributors, and retailers just over a year to prepare to put GMO labeling into action in the Green Mountain State. For more information and ongoing updates on the GMO show-down, you can visit the website of the VT Right to Know coalition or Attorney General Bill Sorrell.

NOFA-VT in DC: National Organic Coalition (NOC) Annual Meeting June 16-18

From June 16th to 18th of this year, the National Organic Coalition (NOC) will be holding its annual meeting and hill visits in Washington, D.C. NOC, of which NOFA-VT is an active member, is an alliance of organizations working to provide a united voice in Washington for the organic community and to maintain the integrity of organic food and farming nationally. This year, NOC’s annual fly-in will bring national stakeholders together to strategize on key issues like advancing organic integrity, growing domestic organic supply, and preventing genetic contamination on farms. While in DC, I will be meeting with USDA officials and Vermont’s Congressional delegates to discuss current issues that impact Vermont’s organic farmers and eaters. I look forward to thanking our federal representatives for the difficult work they do and will be asking them to continue to stand up for policies that work for Vermont’s organic food and farming community.

Also read: “USDA Accepts Proposals for an Organic Check-Off Program” »

VOF’s Organic Guidelines Protect Water Quality

The April 1st Seven Days article Sacred Cows pointedly highlighted the relationship between accepted (and some unacceptable) agricultural practices and the need to protect water quality in our state. Vermont’s farmers are some of the greatest stewards of our state’s lands and waters, the vast majority of whom care deeply about the land that sustains us all. That said, there can always be bad actors.

For Vermont’s organic farmers, there are established guidelines and clear standards in place to prevent soil erosion and other factors than can negatively impact water quality. Under the Vermont Organic Farmer (VOF) guidelines for organic certification, farmers are required to take certain measures to protect water quality, biodiversity, and other natural resources.

In order to maintain certification, organic producers are required to implement crop rotation, which (among other benefits) provides erosion control to prevent soil loss and runoff. Livestock yards and feeding areas must be managed in a way that prevents waste runoff into nearby surface waters, and pastures must be managed in a manner that does not put water quality at risk. Organic farmers’ pasture plans must specifically include a description of practices used for erosion control and protection of natural wetlands and riparian areas. These are just a few examples.

While there can be instances of non-compliance on organic farms as any other, all organic farms in Vermont are monitored through annual inspections. VOF (Vermont’s organic certification program, operated by NOFA Vermont) is also required to conduct a certain number of unannounced inspections each year. In part to help support these monitoring and enforcement efforts, organic farmers pay substantial certification fees each year.

NOFA Vermont supports the State’s efforts to improve water quality and believes that every farmer and in fact, every citizen must be a part of the solution. As Vermont’s organic certifier, one way VOF can help to support water quality protection is to assist the state in verifying organic farmers’ compliance with updated AAPs (accepted agricultural practices) as part of the established inspection process. Such a solution would avoid excessive and expensive repeat inspection visits, since organic inspectors already visit organic farms at least once per year. Furthermore, since organic farmers already pay significant fees in order to have their operations regularly monitored and inspected, certified farmers should be exempt from the State’s proposed permit fees under the current water quality proposal.

As the State moves forward with its plans to improve water quality, care should be taken to find a solution that is practical, enforceable, and provides appropriate protections for our state’s waters, as well as farms and farmers at the heart of Vermont’s rural economy and character.

Spring Policy Update

By Maddie Monty, NOFA Vermont Office Manager and Policy Advisor

If there’s one policy issue that has been making waves in Vermont’s farming community in this early part of 2015, it is water quality. While the condition of Lake Champlain and Vermont’s other waterways has been a source of concern for years, Governor Shumlin’s inaugural address in January cast new light on the subject, calling for changes to common agricultural practices and stricter enforcement of water quality regulations.

House bill H.35, introduced in late January, aims to carry out this agenda. A Senate version, bill S.49, is also under consideration. Though there are some differences between the bills, they share a common goal: to enhance protections of Vermont’s waters. One key component of both bills is a requirement to revise existing accepted agricultural practices (AAPs), a set of practices with which all farms are expected to be in compliance. The bills also propose to create a statewide definition for “small farms” for the first time ever, and to require that small farms certify their compliance with the revised AAPs and all water quality regulations. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the proposal is a provision that ties participation in the Current Use Program to compliance with AAPs and other water quality regulations. The Current Use penalty was removed by the House Agriculture Committee, but could still be reinstated at a later stage.

The good news for organic farmers, and Vermont’s waterways, is that many of the protections called for in H.35 include practices already being used on organic farms to improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, and curtail nutrient runoff into Vermont’s streams, rivers, and bays. Organic farms are required to use tillage and cultivation methods that minimize soil erosion, to maintain buffer zones between tilled land and waterways, and to manage pastureland as well as manure and other nutrients in a way that does not put water quality at risk. Vermont’s organic farmers are setting a standard for practices that protect our state’s natural resources, and can be leaders in this critical effort to improve water quality.