The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board is offering grants as large as $40,000 to farmers for projects that help protect water quality.
Farmers have been charged with reducing pollution that can run from their fields into the state’s waterways. The work, which is mandatory for most farms through Vermont’s Required Agricultural Practices, is often expensive and time consuming, and many farmers need financial assistance to comply with the regulations.
The Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program has made grants available to farms that make $15,000 or more per year in gross income. The farms must also be required to meet the state’s Required Agricultural Practices, which don’t include some small farms. The same program also offers grants for business development and viability.
In September, officials with the program announced that they had already distributed more than $600,000 to 19 farms across the state in 2022 for projects that help farmers protect water quality.
Projects run the gamut, said Liz Gleason, Vermont Farm & Forest Viability program director. For example, the program has awarded grants for equipment to help farmers inject manure into the soil instead of spreading it, she said.
Farmers have been building wood chip barnyards, which allow them to compost manure and avoid using expensive, carbon-intensive concrete. Other projects involve maintaining or building new liquid manure pits.
Many farmers use a combination of grants to fund costly water projects, Gleason said. While the Housing and Conservation Board grants might only cover a portion of the project, the organization tends to have more flexibility than state and federal funding programs.
“Typically, this grant is something that helps people get a project across the line,” she said.
Agriculture is one of the largest sources of phosphorus pollution in local water bodies, including Lake Champlain. But farmers have been working to address the problem for years, Gleason said.
“I would say that overall, the vast majority of farmers we will work with are really trying hard to be proactive about this,” she said.
Farmers have faced more barriers recently. Prices for some agricultural products, such as milk and other dairy, have fallen dramatically in recent years. Covid-induced supply chain shortages haven’t helped, either.
“It's a public health and an ecosystem benefit to have farms that are positively impacting water quality, and small farms — and medium and large farms — sometimes really need help in order to do that,” Gleason said.
The deadline to apply is January 27, 2023. Two virtual information sessions will be held to answer questions about the grants, the first on December 7 from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by one on January 10 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Registration links for the events are available here.
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