Sunday November 14, 2010

BENNINGTON -- Years after being passed, state laws established to prevent groundwater pollution have met widespread discontent from farmers.

According to the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, agriculture is one of the major contributors to groundwater pollution. The laws, know as "Accepted Agricultural Practices," were implemented in 1995, and are designed to reduce pollution by changing farming techniques. They involve, erosion and sediment control, animal waste management, fertilizer management, pesticide management, and must be followed by all farmers.

Most farmers take issue with the prohibition on spreading manure in the winter, because the runoff pollutes surrounding water.

Instead of spreading in winter, farmers are required to stack their manure until late spring and depending on the amount, must build a structure to contain it.

"This southwestern area has been difficult," said Laura Dipietro of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. "New York allows winter spreading and a lot of farms in that area that border both states spread."

‘A bit negative’

"For us, the regulations are a bit negative," said Marilyn Gardner, of Hilltop Farm in Pownal. "We need to be able to spread in the winter. There are places you shouldn’t spread, but there are places where it’s safe; we don’t live near any streams."

"We do everything we’re supposed to do," she added, "but it’s not cost effective. With the price of fuel it’s quite an expense to take all the steps required to do it right. I don’t think the state is thinking about these things. Most of the AAP we’re okay with, but being organic makes it harder."

If the Secretary of State determines that a farmer is not using Accepted Agricultural Practices, the farmer will receive a warning, and will have 30 days to respond to the allegations. If the farmer refuses to respond, the Secretary of State will hold a hearing on the violation, and may seek administrative penalties of $1,000 per day of violation, up to $25,000. "These complaints don’t really get back to us," said Laura Dipietro of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. "You may complain to someone at the state level, but they may not recognize that you want the issue brought up to the state level. If you want it brought to Montpelier, I urge you call someone."

"The AAPs are low-tech, cost-sanctioned, and something farmers should be able to do without any additional help," she said. "Even if a farm is not located near a stream there are a lot of drainages, and it still contributes."

"I think their ending day is okay, but their starting date needs to be a little bit earlier," said Melvin Lawrence, of Polymeadows Farm in Shaftsbury.