Phillip Wagner raises about five dozen cattle along with pork and poultry on his Bridport farm. But Thursday, the vice president of the Vermont Beef Producers Association found himself tending to legislation not his animals.
"When it comes to agriculture, you're regulating people," Wagner said.
A measure currently under consideration in the Vermont House would impose new environmental protections on even the smallest farms. The chamber's Agriculture Committee set up shop in Bridport Thursday morning to take testimony from farmers like Wagner.
"We are here today to hear from you," said Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham.
The bill is designed to improve water quality in Lake Champlain. But many farmers says regulations imposed on larger outfits already haven't helped and suggested development, overall land management practices, and atypically heavy rains are doing more than farms to taint the water.
Lawmakers say the definition and scope of the bill is likely to change.
"You've regulated the large farms, you've regulated the medium farms, yet the lake is getting worse," said David Mills, a Pittsford beef farmer.
"Everyone here and I believe everyone behind me is in favor of clean water. So in order to accomplish clean water, we need to implement steps that are actually going to accomplish that goal," Wagner said.
Farmers say those steps include the continued spread of best practices, like limiting waste-runoff and leaving riverbanks in their natural state. They still aren't universal in Vermont despite nearly two decades of existence.
Farmers say new rules should be flexible at least in the early years, and penalties should be fair and recoupable if problems are addressed.
With only a couple of weeks left to meet a key legislative deadline, lawmakers will need make changes soon if they want to secure the votes of these farmers.