Agricultural Water Quality

H.829, which extended the implementation deadline for the RAPs to September 15th, was signed into law by the governor on May 10th.

On May 16th, 2016 the Vermont Agency of Agriculture announced that it had submitted its final draft of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) into the formal rule making process, and released a schedule of six public hearings on the proposed rules. These hearings will provide important opportunities for farmers and eaters to weigh in on the proposed regulations and the importance of regenerative agriculture in protecting water quality on farms of all sizes. The public comment period will be open until July 7th. Read the Agency’s press release.

You can read Rural Vermont’s overview of the new RAPs here.

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04/26/16 Update: H.829, which would extend the implementation deadline for the RAPs to September 15th, was passed by the House and will now be sent to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Since the Agency released its first draft of the RAPs in October, Rural Vermont and small farmers around the state have been calling for the new rules to recognize the critical role of regenerative agricultural practices as the only truly sustainable and long-term approach to improving water quality in Vermont. This means providing incentives for farms to include these practices, and regulatory flexibility for farmers already using them. The RAPs are a huge opportunity to begin bending the curve toward true sustainability in Vermont agriculture, and that’s why we’re asking legislators to give the Agency more time to actually get it right. An extension to January 2017 would not only provide the Agency more time to work with farmers and stakeholders to write RAPs that truly work in improving Vermont’s water quality, but could also move the public hearings on the rules to the fall, when far more farmers will be able to participate in the process.

 

NEW REQUIRED AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES (RAPs)

Act 64, signed into law in June 2015, directed the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) to create a set of Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for Vermont farms, these rules are intended to reduce agriculture’s impact on the state’s waterways. The new RAPs will replace the Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs ) which have been the regulatory framework for all farms since they were originally adopted in 1995 and then updated in 2006.

VAAFM released its initial draft of the RAPs on October 20th, 2015, and began a series of public meetings throughout the state to solicit feedback from farmers and other stakeholders before entering the formal rulemaking process. VAAFM took written comments on the draft RAPs until December 18th.

The RAPs will dramatically change the way the state regulates small farms, with new certification requirements, changes in current practices, and mandatory inspections.

Review the draft Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) here

 

Act 64 – The New Water Quality Bill (2015)

Signed into law on June 16th, 2015 by Governor Shumlin, H.35, Vermont’s new Water Quality legislation, is focused on reducing the ever-increasing amount of pollution in Vermont’s lakes, streams, and rivers. While the legislation covers a variety of topics, the focus of this page is how the requirements in the new law are likely to affect the practices and economics of small-scale farmers in Vermont.

The main agricultural regulations outlined in the new Water Quality law are as follows:

  • Renames the “Accepted Agricultural Practices” (AAPs) as the “Required Agricultural Practices” (RAPs)
    • All farmers must certify annually that they are in compliance with the RAPs
    • The official details of the RAPs will be determined in the rule-making process
  • Requires the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) to inspect large farms once every year and medium farms once every three years
    • The VAAFM has not yet determined how often small farms will be inspected
  • Imposes annual registration fees on medium and large farms
    • Large farms must pay an annual registration fee of $2,500
    • Medium farms must pay an annual registration fee of $1,500
      • The permit requirements for medium farms are not yet specified
    • Fees for small farms are not specified in the bill, but will be decided by the VAAFM through the mandated public rule-making process
  • Imposes fees on farm inputs
    • Establishes a $30/ton fee on nonagricultural fertilizer
    • Establishes an annual registration fee of $125 on pesticide products
  • Requires VAAFM to create site-specific conservation practices for high-risk farms
  • Requires attendance at free training on water pollution prevention methods for owners or operators of small, medium, and large farms

Small Farm Definition

As quoted from the Vermont Legislature’s summary of Act 64, small farms are “…a parcel of land on which 10 or more acres are used for farming and that: (1) houses no more than the maximum number of animals for a small farm; and (2) houses at least the number of animals set by rule; or produces crops for sale.” That being said, the definition of a small farm is a working definition, meaning that many aspects are yet to be defined and will be addressed through the public rule-making process.

Vermont farms are highly variable both in the size of their land base, type of farming operation and impacts on water quality and other natural resources. It will be important for farmers and “eaters” to participate actively in the public rule-making process to ensure that details of the definition are reasonable and accomplish the goals of the law in the most economical way.

Important Dates

  • July 1st, 2016
    • All parts of the law affecting agricultural practices take effect
  • August 15th, 2016
    • Manure application certification requirements take effect
  • July 1st, 2017
    • All small farms must certify compliance with the RAPs
    • A schedule will be released of when farmers will complete training

Many important elements will be determined through a public rule-making process that will enable citizens to participate through testimony submitted in writing and presented at public hearings. The schedule for the public rule-making process has not yet been announced. Watch this space for updates.

Issues in the new Water Quality bill that will be affected by the public rule-making process include: the final detailed Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs); the detailed definition of a small farm; how often small farms will be inspected; what annual fee will be imposed on small farms; and how to best educate farmers on water pollution prevention.

Stay tuned for a fall series of Activist Trainings organized by Rural Vermont and hosted by members across the state.  These trainings will provide in-depth information on how to be effective citizen advocates in a multitude of ways. More details coming very soon.

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Questions? Contact Us!

If you are interested in staying informed on the latest water quality updates, sign up for our mailing list here.

If you have any questions or if you would like to get involved in the rule-making process, please email Andrea Stander at andrea@ruralvermont.org.