Farmers can earn money by improving conservation practices

Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 5:30 PM EST
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ST. ALBANS, Vt. (WCAX) - Farmers proficient at reducing phosphorus can now receive funding for their green practices through the Vermont Pay for Performance Program.

Scott Magnan, a farmer and agricultural business owner in Saint Albans, says data and farming go together. He not only tracks data for his farm for nutrient management and to optimize the operation, but he also tries to help other farmers do the same, ultimately making farming better. “To be able to have some accountability on our farms and be able to produce some efficiencies,” Magnan said.

The data he and other farmers track for the benefit of their farm could soon pay off in cash. “Now, we have something, some direction to go in to follow up with some research and farmer input,” Magnan said.

As chair of the Farmers Watershed Alliance for Franklin and Grand Isle County, Magnan worked with other farming stakeholders and the state to create funding for the Ecosystem Services Working Group, which is getting ready to roll out a pilot called the Vermont Farmer Ecosystem Stewardship Program.

Ryan Patch with the Vermont Agency of Agriculture says the group has determined that by dovetailing with an already existing federal program, farmers can access the most dollars. The state plans to support farmers with technical assistance. The idea -- plan to do better by the environment, track it, and receive compensation for your performance. “Looking at the ecosystem outcomes that Vermont would like to have, or needs to have,” Patch said.

Ecosystem services can include carbon sequestration, soil health, water conservation, flood mitigation, and erosion regulation, all areas that the state and federal government believe have value. Depending on eligibility, commitment, and performance, farmers could see compensation between $4,500 and $9,500.

Farms are already required by law to protect waterways and limit nutrient runoff, Patch says this incentive is more proactive. “This program is a way for farmers to look to take the next step,” he said.

Magnan says he hopes to give the pilot a shot and that any time his farm can be assessed, he sees it as an opportunity. “At this point, I want to use this as a learning tool and see where the conversation goes,” he said.

The state hopes to have farms in the pilot program this spring.