Northeast Kingdom Nutrient Management Project
This project worked with six farms in three watersheds to improve nutrient management practices and water quality; community involvement and education were related goals. This involvement included the formation of a watershed association that has started a water-monitoring project and is already affected farming practices in one basin; a sixth-grade class monitored water quality in another basin. A meeting with farmers and the planning commission in one of the towns was organized to get a right-to-farm ordinance put in the town plan and zoning regulations, and a landowner meeting was held to familiarize landowners with the economics of field management. Also, there is the possible development of a farmer support group to find ways of sustaining agriculture in that community—a series of meetings was held with UVM Extension, farmers, and the NRCD boards in the northeast to obtain direct agronomy services for the region. Finally, an Integrated Crop Management program was developed to expand this project to include other farms, pest management, and nutrient management.
The project will demonstrate that more intensive management of nutrients across the whole farm can result in improved economics, healthy soil and crops, and a lower danger of excess nutrients going into groundwater or streams. Experience will be spread to all farms in Caledonia and Essex counties.
The project will involve a local conservation commission, local schools, community lay monitors, and a lake association in order to involve the communities in the shared goal of sustainability. This will serve as a demonstration in how community involvement in sustainable agriculture can return farming to the central role it once held.
The project will address nutrient imbalances within a small watershed by involving most of the farms in that watershed, including both dairy and diversified farms.
In October of 1996, an assessment was completed on each farm in the program. Six fields were selected on each of the farms for monitoring. Although the goal was to have whole-farm management, only a sample of fields were selected for teaching purposes and to identify any patterns in nutrient management on that farm. A key to the project was frequent interaction with the farmers to collect records, do the soil sampling and provide feedback. A consultation in the winter identified problem areas and provided an opportunity for discussion of any concerns. UVM Extension helped answer questions about sampling procedures, results, and recommendations, and a computerized extension record keeping system was reviewed. Unfortunately, there were conflicts with our computer system so we developed our own forms. Discussion sessions were organized on specific topics and all farmers in the area were invited to participate.
In the first year of the project, a team from the sixth-grade class at Peacham Elementary School monitored the South Peacham Brook. A meeting of all landowners in the Ticklenaked Watershed provided the incentive for creation of a watershed association, which then started a lay monitoring project on the pond. A landowner workshop in Peacham was not well attended, but the planning commission met with all the local farmers to discuss a right-to-farm component for the town plan and zoning regulations.
The project was successful in involving most of the dairy farms in two of the watersheds, but did not bring in other diversified farms in any of the watersheds. Only one farm was involved in one of the watersheds.
Improved understanding of nutrient requirements and management techniques on the six farms in the project.
Two people became certified crop advisors because of the training and experience.
Formation of a watershed association in one watershed.
Increased public awareness of the needs of farmers in one community.
Foundation of a farmer discussion group.
Impacts and Potential Contributions
Demonstrated the need for more on-farm agronomy services to Northeast Kingdom farmers.
Created a better working relationship between the conservation district and extension.
Obtained funds for an expanded program with more farms and the addition of an integrated pest management component.
Greater awareness in the farming community of the need for better nutrient and pest management practices.
Objective 1: Initially, the farms that expressed interest in participating in the project were asked to attend a seminar hosted by UVM Extension on the principles of nutrient management and record keeping. Each farmer received a binder for his or her farm records upon completion of the program. This was done prior to the actual startup of the project.
In the fall of 1996, each farm was interviewed and an assessment was completed. All fields used by the farm, whether owned or leased, were identified, and six of those fields were picked for sampling. On each farm, we selected some fields that were close to the barn and some farther off to see if management practices and soil fertility differed. Manure spreaders were measured, and record keeping requirements were reviewed.
Manure samples were taken each spring and basic soil samples each fall on each field.
PSNT samples were taken on each cornfield when the corn was 8 to12” high; results were sent to the farmer and a copy to the district from the lab. The information was recorded on a computer form for each field. In addition, records (manure, chemical fertilizers, amendments, yields on each field) were gathered from the farmers during first cut and again in the fall. All the information was recorded on the computer forms for each field, and recommendations for the following year were given during a consultation in winter. Getting the farms to keep accurate records and to take manure samples was the biggest challenge.
Objective 2: In the first year of the project, a team from the sixth-grade class at Peacham Elementary School monitored the South Peacham Brook, the watershed where three of the farms in the project were located. Monitoring was done in a portion of the stream that was just downstream of the majority of fields and upstream of the village of South Peacham. There are good riparian buffers along the brook and its tributaries—except in one small area—and the way to South Peacham. Below South Peacham there are areas without buffers; in West Barnet there is an impoundment and the water quality is influenced by the outflow from Harvey’s Lake. Test results at the regular monitoring point showed water in good health with adequate oxygen levels, temperatures, and with no phosphorous or nitrates present. One test done in the impoundment area in West Barnet did show the presence of phosphorous.
The Ticklenaked Pond watershed where two of the farms are located has had severe water quality problems—algae and beach closings due to high coliform counts have been frequent problems. A meeting of all landowners in the Ticklenaked Watershed in summer of 1998 was very successful. Camp owners, residents of Ryegate Corners, and local farmers were present. Representatives of other local watershed associations were also there, as well as staff from the Water Quality Division of the Department of Environmental Conservation. The community people present decided to start their own association and a lay monitoring project with guidance from the Water Quality Division. Two farms in the program agreed to fence their cows out of the waters, to establish buffers, and set up pasture watering systems.
A landowner workshop in 1998 in Peacham drew only five landowners. The program was designed to educate landowners about the economics and the process of crop production. A meeting in February 2000 with the planning commission in Peacham and all the local farmers discussed a right-to-farm component for the town plan and zoning regulations. The farmers endorsed the idea and the planning commission has promoted it. There is also a movement in Peacham to form a group that will work to support farming in the community.
Objective 3: The project was successful in involving most of the dairy farms in two of the watersheds but only one in a third watershed and it did not bring in other diversified farms in any of the watersheds.
Review of the records for each farm shows that all the farms in the project have followed recommendations to some degree. The most common change noted was the addition of lime and potash where needed. To a lesser degree, cutbacks in starter and side-dress fertilizers also occurred. Manure applications have not changed significantly although, in general, its use has become more targeted.
Other results are more awareness of the value of soil and manure sampling and record keeping as a management tool. Record keeping is the hardest aspect of the program for most farmers to do well.
Time to carry out the work on their own is an issue on most of the farms, as well as time to participate in discussion groups, although most saw value in sharing information with other farmers.
Several of the farmers said they had developed a greater awareness of the potential for water pollution from overuse of phosphorous.
Record of Comments from Farmers at Final Project Assessment Interviews
Was the program worthwhile?
All 6 farmers said yes. None offered any criticisms or suggested changes.
Awareness level is much higher.
Had expected to learn what the effect of changes would be downstream.
Have gained some in forage production. Better production on **** this year.
Been pleased with the program for his own information, found out he was not doing anything really wrong.
Yields have continued to be good.
All six farmers said they had not been doing regular soil sampling before the program began.
Learned about phosphorous as a pollutant.
Would not get the soil sampling done without the program.
Program has forced him to do the sampling.
Teaches about testing process itself and the variations between labs.
Interesting to find that fields don’t need so much phosphorous.
Nice to know what extra he needs to put on to get the yield he wants.
Only soil sampled before seeding done before. Prior to the program, sampled just once in a while.
Soil sampling gave him information especially on lime and potash.
Use of fertilizer
Used to use starter and side dress on corn because most everyone just did it, now he is more confident that he can skip it.
Possibly has forced dealers to be more accurate with their recommendations.
Have cut back on phosphorous in commercial fertilizer and cut back on minerals in feeding program to cut the phosphorous levels.
On grass, gone just to manure when he used to use commercial, except on new seedings.
Made him aware of how much he is putting on and that he was overdoing it.
Before he just took the recommendations of the dealers and is now saving money.
Have applied lime and potash where needed.
Has cut back on side dressing based on our recommendations but believes he needs starter although his applications are not heavy.
Spreads manure about the same as before but he does not think he is over spreading and he is getting a good yield.
He has not gotten much out of it yet only because he hasn’t used the information yet.
Would never have done manure sampling.
Probably important if someone is going to make recommendations.
I know what my manure is or is not doing. Know what I need to supplement it.
Never manure sampled before the program.
Awareness level is higher.
Would not keep it up at the end of the program because of time but would hire someone to do it.
Will continue to sample soils.
Will continue to monitor yields because they are in the habit.
Have bookkeeping set up for the records and will continue with it.
Have a calendar in the milk room for information to be recorded on by all employees.
Has taught him a lot and gotten him to do things.
Record keeping is not their strong point, but he is beginning to see the importance. They would keep up a certain portion on their own, record keeping and soil sampling.
Will probably continue to sample manure and soil when seeding down.
Checking loads of manure going on and then gets a report on the number of tons per acre –nice to know what he’s putting on.
Record keeping is in his head and shirt pocket, not good at getting it written down.
The habit is there would continue with the program but would probably pay someone to do it.
He would continue to soil sample and would hire to get it done if necessary.
He has not paid too much attention to the record keeping. He knows his fields well and what he is doing with them for rotation.
Lack of time but if the time and the topic were right he would probably do it.
Likes exchange of information with other farmers.
Liked the meeting with Tom, very interesting, one of the best they had, need exposure to stay up on stuff.
Good to be able to share information if he could get away.
Interested but maybe only a couple per year.
Good idea but time for it is hard to find.
Thinks it has helped but not sure. Does not use as much chemical fertilizer now.
An NRCS soil conservationist and the coordinator for the project have both become certified crop advisors due their involvement with this project. Two more staff people are on track to become certified.
A Ticklenaked Pond Association has been formed in a watershed where two of the farms in the program are located; the association grew out of a meeting held by the district for all residents in the watershed. Another farm in the watershed took measures to fence his cows out of the pond, to install a pasture watering system, and to leave a 25-to-50-foot buffer on the fields they use that border the pond. This farm also enrolled in a project that developed as an result of this effort.
Farmers in the counties have been invited to participate in field walks and discussion groups. Although there has not been good participation, there is still an interest. Most farmers want the opportunity to share and learn but do not have the time to participate.
Two meetings held in Peacham addressed the needs of farmers. One was directed to landowners that lease land to farmers, the other was for the planning commission. The first addressed the economics of crop production and was not well attended. The second addressed the right-to-farm law and inclusion of an ordinance in the zoning provisions to protect that right. The planning commission has expressed an interest in doing additional landowner training and several individuals have started an effort to form a group to support farmers in the community. This will have long-term impacts on the community and may be of use in other communities.
Impacts and Potential Contributions
This project has been closely aligned with UVM Extension from its inception. Staff attended a UVM Extension training, and UVM agronomists have responded to specific questions and provided consultations. As this project developed, staff and UVM agronomists became aware of the lack of professional resources in the Northeast Kingdom—farmers were relying on the chemical dealers for recommendations because there was no other alternative. At a series of joint meetings held in the winter of 1998 and 1999, farmers clearly stated their need for more agronomy services on their farms.
The outcome was a project funded by the EPA to expand the nutrient management project to include additional farms and integrated pest management. We are now working with 20 farms in two counties on nutrient management and pest management practices. This is designed to be an educational program and not just a service, although farms that are willing to pay a fee will be able to continue the service when the project is over.
The relationship with UVM and UNH Extension has developed in several ways. They have agreed to make regular farm visits during the growing season to assist with any problems we cannot resolve ourselves, and to train staff. They have participated in the annual consultations with farmers in the program to review test results, practices and recommendations. UNH Extension Agent Tom Buob has provided training and presented at one farmer discussion session; Bill Jokela and Tom Buob have agreed to work with us in setting up field trials that will reflect growing conditions in our area. We anticipate this coordinated effort to continue; district staff have facilitated contact with extension when there are problems identified on a farm, and staff have benefited from the training.
Areas Needing Further Study
Manure Sampling: Over the course of the project, questions have arisen over the differences in the analysis of manure taken from different levels in the pits even with thorough agitation. It appears there can be marked differences in the results that would impact heavily on the recommendations for manure applications to different fields depending on where in the pit the manure came from. One farm in Essex County is already getting manure samples each day from their pit and recording each day how much manure is going on what fields.
Field Trials: There has been discussion between UVM Extension, UNH Extension, the District, and NRCS about the possibility of field trials in the Northeast Kingdom to test response to nutrients on local soils and growing conditions. Tom Buob has been conducting field trials on the New Hampshire side of the Connecticut River, and is willing to coordinate efforts with Bill Jokela of UVM. Most of the field trials in Vermont have been conducted in the Champlain Valley, which has very different soils and weather than the upper Connecticut Valley. We would especially like to see work done on the PSNT tests.
Outreach and Dissemination
While there have been no specific products disseminated, there have been opportunities for all farmers in Caledonia and Essex Counties to participate in discussion groups or field walks. There has not been an overwhelming response to these opportunities. The District expects to continue to offer these opportunities as farmers continue to express some interest.
Reported November 2000