- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Some farmers are pressing for changes to proposed agricultural rules aimed at protecting Lake Champlain, but environmental advocates told lawmakers on Thursday that the rules don’t go far enough.

The required agriculture practices, which have been the subject of multiple meetings and public hearings, include rules for small farm certification, storing and managing manure, soil health and vegetated buffer zones on fields near water and ditches.

The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules is reviewing the rules to make sure they are not beyond the authority of the agency and not contrary to legislative intent, among other criteria. The committee on Thursday put off a vote until Nov. 17.

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets made some changes to the requirements in recent weeks to address farmers’ concerns. But farmers on Thursday called for more changes and raised concerns about the costs the requirements would have, particularly for small farms.

“Unlike municipalities and other industries, in general, farmers have no way to offset the increased costs to businesses,” said Scott Magnan, who raises about 20 beef cows and sells hay and soybeans. “This will place an undue burden on small farms in particular, which will undoubtedly change the landscape of Vermont with smaller and mid-size farms leaving the marketplace, following the model of other industries faced with burdensome regulation.”

The state agriculture agency says livestock farms and farms growing annual crops in flood plain areas will be most affected by the requirements. The requirements include increasing vegetated buffer widths on streams from 10 feet to 25 feet for small farms and creating 10-foot-wide vegetated buffers on field ditches for all farms.

The required agricultural practices are part of Vermont’s commitment to reduce phosphorus runoff into Lake Champlain, and agriculture is the state’s biggest contributor at more than 40 percent, state officials said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is calling for a 33.7 percent phosphorus reduction in the lake and a 64.3 percent reduction in Missisquoi Bay.

Lawyer Anthony Iarrapino represents Lake Champlain International Inc., which says on its website it seeks to “keep Lake Champlain clean and healthy for all who enjoy it!” He reminded the committee that the Legislature passed Act 64, the state’s water quality law, and directed the secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets to amend the agricultural practices to improve water quality in the state and “assure practices on all farms eliminate adverse impacts on water quality.”

“As it stands, Lake Champlain International does not believe that Act 64, and the rules before you today, go far enough in asking the agricultural sector to do its fair share,” he said. “Further backsliding is unacceptable.”

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This story deletes an incorrect reference to environmental advocates urging legislators to vote on practices.

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