Vt. farmers try new methods to stop phosphorus runoff

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ADDISON, Vt. (WCAX) "The public has a perception that we don't care," said Rob Hunt Bonaspecta Holsteins

Hunt says it's just not true.

"You know that we're not concerned with the environment, that we're not concerned with the waterway and really we are," Hunt said. "We're very concerned."

So much so, he's trying new things at his Addison farm to help stop damaging runoff from eventually going into Lake Champlain.

"There's a lot going on under our feet that is really amazing and actually kind of revolutionary," Kirsten Workman said.

Workman is a soil and crop expert with the UVM Extension. Her team worked with Hunt, who owns Bonaspecta Holsteins. Hunt started growing rye as a cover crop. Cover crops help prevent erosion and runoff by keeping the nutrients in the ground.

"We came in with a no-till drill and helped him. We tried three different combinations of cover crops on this 30 acres," Workman said.

The cover crops grew throughout the fall and winter but a wet spring and start of summer caused a rift in the plans.

"That spring didn't happen until like July," Hunt said.

"The winter rye got away from us, which is really almost every farmer we work with, when we talk about cover cropping, is worried about," Workman said.

Using a new, innovative no-till corn planter, the UVM Extension was able to roll over and kill the overgrown rye, while simultaneously planting corn right behind it.

"We thought, OK, we'll see how this turns out and as you see it turned out pretty good so," Workman said.

They've been doing this since last year at this farm, but they're talking about it this week because there's a statewide focus on clean water. Vermont farmers gathered in Addison to learn about this new method and hopefully apply this information to help combat the issue.

"Farmers are acutely aware that we all have a role to play in Lake Champlain," Workman said. "So what we know is about 40 percent of the phosphorus loading into the lake is coming from agriculture as a whole."

With the help of new technologies, Hunt hopes some of the blame of phosphorus runoff will stop falling on the backs of farmers.

"The cover cropping and the no-till, the information and the technology we have now changes the game," Hunt said.

Along with cover crops and no-tilling machinery, Workman says there are many other practices including crop rotation and good manure application to help stop phosphorus runoff.