Conservation Assistance Provided to Local Agricultural Operators

The Poultney Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District recently completed its participation with phase 2 of the Agronomy and Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP). The ACAP agronomist worked directly with farmers, focusing on small non-regulated farms, to increase implementation of water quality improvement practices and improve understanding and management around agricultural water quality issues. The focus remained concentrated on nutrient management planning and implementation of farm practices to reduce export of soil and nutrients, resulting in improvements in water quality to local tributaries and in Lake Champlain.

ACAP had a number of tasks and objectives which the District met and in many cases exceeded. The first objective was the Agronomist worked with at least 20 farmers to identify and implement prioritized practices to reduce soil and nutrient runoff from agricultural lands and livestock production areas. Assistance priority was given to farms that are not subject to permitting under the state medium- or large-farm operation programs and farms that either have not previously or choose not to participate in USDA NRCS programs.

During the project timeframe (July 2014 – June 2015), the District Agronomist worked with 35 farms, providing education, outreach, and technical assistance services. Of these farms, twelve farms implemented at least one new practice, five implemented two new practices, three farms implemented three new practices and one farm was able to implement seven practices.

The most popular practice implemented was nutrient management planning, which has been a focus of the District and its various partner agencies for the past several years. Ten farms implemented nutrient management planning activities covering close to 595 acres. Conservation tillage practices were the second most popular implementation practice affecting about 245 cropland acres. The third most popular practice, involving about 290 acres of cropland, involved using aerators to decrease soil compaction and/or help incorporate applied manure into soil. One farm saw significant decreases in soil compaction after using the District’s aerator to incorporate manure.

One farm installed 3,100 linear feet of livestock exclusion fencing which served to exclude over 80 cows from a stream and create a vegetative buffer at least 25 feet wide. This project included reviving an abandoned spring development for an alternative water supply, diverting a spring located in the pasture to dry a muddy area, improving a crossing through a wet area, and improving a walkway to a pasture.

With completion of ACAP phase 2, the District has initiated efforts under ACAP phase 3. ACAP phase 3 will be a continuance of outreach and technical assistance targeted at helping local area priority or ‘core’ farms take steps to apply for and implement needed soil and water conservation practices.