New rules would regulate runoff from medium-sized farms

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(Host) Vermont is developing new rules to control pollution from small and medium-sized farms. The rules will require farmers to follow manure management plans and to maintain buffer strips between farm fields and streams.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is under court order to tighten regulations on farm run-off. But according to Steve Kerr, the Vermont Agriculture Secretary, farms here should still fall under the state regulatory system.

(Kerr) “In fact, the action the General Assembly took in 2004 was, in the light of this court ruling, exactly the right action.”

(Dillon) Last year, lawmakers passed legislation aimed at curbing pollution from medium-sized farms – those with 200 to 699 mature cows. Large farms are already covered by a state permit program.

The new law for medium-sized farms requires manure pits and nutrient management plans. Kerr says this law should allow Vermont farmers to avoid going through a federal permit program, as long as they don’t discharge waste directly into a stream.

(Kerr) “The court made it very clear that nutrient management plans are of paramount importance. That’s where our MFO program and AAP revisions are taking the state of Vermont anyways.”

(Dillon) MFO refers to the medium size farm operations now regulated by state law. AAPs are “accepted agriculture practices” that all farms must follow to reduce pollution. Kerr says the state is writing new rules to cover small farms as well.

The rules will require 10-foot buffer strips to protect streams. Farmers could plant hay but would not be allowed to grow corn or other annual row crops near the streams.

(Kerr) “Secondly, we don’t want you spreading manure on that because obviously that manure that close to a body of water can find its way in. That’s a source of pollution.”

(Dillon) Sandy Levine, a lawyer with the Conservation Law Foundation in Montpelier, is following the changes. She says the state could do more to make sure farms comply with federal law as well.

(Levine) “Farms that have discharges need to have Clean Water Act permits. And secondly, I think the state needs to step back a bit and take a look at what are the best measures to put in place to address the real water quality problems. Those may be things like fencing animals from streams, improving some of the buffers along farms. Those sorts of measures I think will go much farther to address the specific problems on each of the farms than this blanket one-size-fits-all for medium farms building manure permits and having expensive management plans.”

(Dillon) The new regulations will take about a year to develop. Kerr says he’s hopeful that federal money will also be available to help for the cleanup work.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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