Farmer receives kudos for water quality efforts - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Farmer receives kudos for water quality efforts

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FRANKLIN, Vt. - Governor Peter Shumlin put water quality in the spotlight during his inaugural address, and tagged farmers as a significant part of the problem. But some farmers are already working to cut their manure runoff, and one in particular got a shout out in the Governor's speech.

"I'm a third generation on this farm. My grandfather owned it before my father and now myself. I have done this all my life. This is where I was born and brought up. I have known this farm all my life," said Tim Magnant, a Franklin dairy farmer.

Despite the long family history, Magnant is eager to try new things. He is growing feed for his cows in a way that reduces erosion and nutrient runoff.  That's why Gov. Peter Shumlin cited him in his inaugural address.  The governor said Magnant's farm shows there are practical and cost-effective ways to attack pollution.

"You can see my buffer zones here. I have a lot of them on most of my cornfields -- not quite all of them yet," Magnant said. He explains how the buffers work. "Instead of growing corn and having it grow right next to the ditch, I give it 30 feet for the water, for the grass to catch the water. If I do get erosion, the idea behind it is to catch the soil and deposit it in this grass waterway. It actually slows the water, too, before it hits the ditch," he said.

Magnant created wide hay buffers that run completely around his cornfields. That makes it easier for him to harvest the hay with his big chopping machine. Even with buffers, he still grows the same amount of corn and hay to feed his 100 milkers and 100 young stock. Magnant has received financial help making some changes from the Farmer's Watershed Alliance. The group helps dairy farmers in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties find economical ways to address the water quality problems that lead to algae blooms in Lake Champlain.

"I have done a grass waterway to reduce erosion. I am also doing things like cover cropping. I am also doing no-till planting as much as I possibly can," Magnant said. These are the less expensive measures. Magnant also dipped into his own wallet to cover the $20,000 cost of a machine that injects liquid cow manure into the soil. The common practice is spread manure on top of fields. "I have gone to a new style of spreading my manure. I am injecting only on corn ground. I still have to top dress on grassland but I am injecting 100 percent of my corn ground now, which is a valuable thing to me because I'm gaining nutrients by not getting it exposed to the air," he said.

"We know the biggest contributors to our water quality problem -- it is no mystery to us. Forty percent from farm runoff and 20 percent from roads and developed lands," said Governor Peter Shumlin in his January inaugural address.

Bill Moore, Legislative Director for the Vermont Farm Bureau, says farmers want to do the right thing. He criticizes the governor for calling out farmers in his inaugural speech. "He's pointing agriculture out to be somewhat more of a problem than we like to think of ourselves. We like to think of ourselves in the field actually helping to fix the problem," he said. Moore also objects to the governor's proposal for a new tax on fertilizer to pay to add staff at the Agency of Agriculture. The governor wants seven more people to increase technical support and enforcement. His $30 a ton tax would raise one-million dollars a year. "So the tax is an incredible increase," Moore said.

"I'm figuring I'm a small farm -- I'm figuring about $1,000," Magnant said.

Lawmakers may look at other ways to raise money besides a fertilizer tax. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Bobby Starr says one option might be that farmers and forestland owners pay one dollar an acre. Starr says that would raise about the same amount as the fertilizer tax.
"Everything is going to be a hardship but everybody has to have some money in the game. I don't think anybody is getting picked on particularly, but I think we have to stop finger pointing and it is time for everybody to be on board," said Rep. Bob Krebs, D-South Hero. Rep. Krebs serves on the House committee taking the lead in writing a water quality bill. He says no one should expect a quick fix to Lake Champlain's problems. "It is going to be a number of generations that we need to be serious about this. It needs to be a targeted effort so we are going after the areas that typically contribute more to the pollution problem and spend our limited resources wisely," he said.

James Ehlers, the Executive Director of Lake Champlain International, says the governor's plan is insufficient. "I can appreciate why they think it is aggressive, given that we haven't done much to date. Politically it probably seems aggressive. Scientifically, I think it is safe to say it is not even remotely aggressive," he said. Ehlers suggests raising a lot more money by asking every Vermonter to pay two dollars a week. That would produce $60 million and make it possible to attack water pollution problems on more than just farm fields. "Nature doesn't care about the politics. And if we don't make this an all hands on deck initiative, bringing all impacted parties together, I'm concerned we are still not going to get there."

Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross defends the administration's initiative as both adequate and broadly focused. "There  are many contributors to the nutrient loading in Lake Champlain and we all need to take responsibility and take action and ramp up our collective commitment to improving the water quality of the state of Vermont," he said.

Tim Magnant says no matter what approach the state ultimately takes, folks are already stepping up. "There is a lot of good practices going on down through here and the farmers are doing a real good job. I'm proud to say I'm part of the crowd that is doing a good job," he said.

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