- Associated Press - Thursday, July 13, 2017

WILLISTON, Vt. (AP) - Farming is blamed for a large amount of the phosphorus runoff in Lake Champlain, and the state of Vermont wants to recognize those farmers who exceed the minimum requirements in protecting natural resources.

Republican Gov. Phil Scott and state Agency of Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts on Thursday announced the launch of a new voluntary pilot program to laud those farmers.

“Vermont farmers are contributing to our economy and keeping our landscape beautiful and productive,” said Scott. “This new, science-based program will use soil health data to help us identify and honor farmers who are going above and beyond the regulations to protect our natural resources.”

Farmers who meet high environmental standards in nutrient management, sediment and erosion control, soil health, greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration and pasture health will be awarded a five-year certification and a sign placed at the farm. Farmers may be eligible for technical and financial assistance to help meet the standards.

“We want farmers who are going the extra mile to be recognized and celebrated for their efforts,” Tebbetts said.

So far, five farmers have signed up for the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program. The state hopes to have 10 to 12 farmers in the two-year pilot program.

Among them are Lorenzo Whitcomb of the North Williston Cattle Company, a family dairy farm in Williston that currently milks 240 cows, and grows 600 acres of feed, such as corn and soybeans.

To reduce runoff reaching waterways, the farm has buffer zones around streams, grows cover crops, and uses minimum tillage practices, among other things. Having a sign at the farm will let the public know that the farm is doing its part to clean up the waterways, Whitcomb said.

Agriculture is the biggest phosphorus contributor to Lake Champlain - more than 40 percent, the state says.

Farmers already must comply with required agricultural practices as part of state’s commitment to reduce phosphorus runoff into the lake. They include rules for small farm certification, storing and managing manure, cover cropping, soil health and expanded vegetated buffer zones on fields near water and ditches.

Some farms in compliance may already meet the environmental stewardship program’s standards while others may need to take additional steps, officials said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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