Announcements / Progress

Project helps agricultural landowners in St. Albans Bay watershed

DEC awarded Ecosystem Restoration Program grant funds in 2014 to UVM Extension System to focus on working with owners of agricultural land within the Jewett Brook and Lower Stevens Brook subwatersheds of the larger St. Albans Bay watershed. These are two of the highest phosphorus loading waterways into Lake Champlain. These subwatersheds contain approximately 4,340 acres of cropland consisting mostly of corn and grass fields. The two subwatersheds are located in an area of intense dairy farming and there are approximately 6,000 cows in the two drainages. There 18 farms that range in size from small organic farms (80 cows) to large conventional dairies (800 cows). There are an additional 9 farming operations which control land in the watershed without having their main production facility located inside the boundaries of the two subwatersheds. Soils are predominately heavy clay and subsurface tile drainage is used extensively throughout the two subwatersheds. There has been 400 acres of system tile incorporated into the farming system in the last two years and approximately 53% of the study area has some type of subsurface drainage installed on it.

Because of the evidence suggesting that farmers can play an important role in the reduction of phosphorus from these watersheds to the Bay and Lake Champlain, a renewed and concentrated effort to reach farmers and provide them with one-on-one technical assistance was initiated by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. The purpose of the grant funded project was to provide the farming community in these target subwatersheds with a “shepherd” or water quality case manager that would help farmers navigate federal cost share programs and successfully access funding support to implement soil and water conservation practices.

The main outcome of this work was the 14 contracts issued by NRCS to farmers in these sensitive watersheds. This was 100% farmer participation in the target area. In addition, 5 of these farmers had never worked with NRCS on project implementation prior to this project. The table appearing below provides a summary of practices contracted with USDA-NRCS for implementation by affected landowners in the two target areas starting in 2015 and extending over a 5 year period (2019).

Practice (units) Watershed Project Total
  Jewett Lower Stevens  
Cover crops (ac) 705.3 784.3 1,489.6
Manure injection (ac) 1,368   1,368
Forage biomass planting (ac) 267.5 41.9 309.4
Filter strip (ac) 1.2   1.2
Residue management – mulch till (ac) 280.2   280.2
Residue & tillage management, reduced till (ac)   225.8 225.8
Fence (ft)   9,034 9,034
Livestock pipeline (ft)   3,410 3,410
Prescribed grazing (ac)   112.6 112.6
Trails & walkways (ft)   800 800
Watering facility (#)   4 4
Comprehensive nutrient management plan – written   1 1

This project helped to further educate the farmers through informational meetings and one-on-one interactions about the issues of phosphorus in the Bay and what steps they as stewards of the land can take to reduce their impact on water quality. It was also very apparent the farmers in these watersheds are operating businesses and the majority of the practices that were contracted have clear financial incentives to the farmers above and beyond the cost-share measures provided. It is important to continue to create programming that meets the goals of the public and promote these objectives to the farmers in a manner by which the farmer can remain profitable in the long term. The potential profitability of the practices listed is clearly recognized by the farmers which motivated them to enroll. The stakeholders need to provide follow-up technical assistance to ensure that these practices are adopted long term and not just for the terms of the contract which has historically been the case in many instances. Many of the farmers in these watersheds have been working on conservation practices and involved with government agencies for many years. They have been through several cycles of government programming which try to encourage the farmers to conduct their businesses on the landscape in a particular fashion. It is very important that as farmers are asked to do more, we are able to show their efforts will produce tangible results in the quality of the State’s waters. More importantly the system (funding) must be flexible and accommodating to the nature of farming.