Vermont Healthy Soils Policy

The Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP

Dates:

The VESP was founded in 2016 and allocated additional support following the Bills below, which were approved by the Governor on June 17th, 2019.

Legislation:

The Vermont General Assembly passed two separate bills, that have both ended up relating to healthy soil management: S.160, “An act relating to agricultural development,” and H.525, “An act relating to miscellaneous agricultural subjects,” that supported the creation of the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP)

Sponsors:

The Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture

The House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry 

Description: 

The Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP) is a voluntary program that encourages and supports local agricultural producers to achieve environmental and agricultural excellence. Farmers interested in measuring the “health per acre” of their land receive support from the University of Vermont Extension and Watershed Alliance

A pilot program evaluating 10 farms from a diversity of farm types, sizes, and geographic locations across Vermont is currently underway to inform the final development of the VESP.  

Through Bill S.160, the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets has agreed to convene a Soil Conservation Practice and Payment for Ecosystem Services Working Group to recommend financial incentives designed to encourage farmers in Vermont to implement agricultural practices that exceed the requirements of Regenerative Agriculture per 6 V.S.A. chapter 215 and that improve soil health, enhance crop resilience, increase carbon storage and stormwater storage capacity, and reduce agricultural runoff to waters.

Soil Health Definition: 

While soil health is not explicitly defined, the following definitions are included in the policy:

Certified Vermont Environmental Steward” is an owner or operator of a farm who has achieved the thresholds for the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program to be certified as a farm that improves soil health and contributes to improving water quality.

“Regenerative farming:” A series of cropland management practices that

  1. contributes to generating or building soils and soil fertility and health;
  2. increases water percolation, increases water retention, and increases the amount of clean water running off farms;
  3. increases biodiversity and ecosystem health and resiliency; and
  4. sequesters carbon in agricultural soils.

Stated Goals:

  • To accelerate water-quality improvements through additional voluntary implementation efforts, and to honor farmers who have already embraced a high level of land stewardship.
  • To improve soil quality regulation standards & incorporate a management reward system in recognition of the link between soil and water quality. 

Through S.160, the Soil Conservation and Payment for Ecosystem Services Working Group have agreed to:

(1) identify agricultural standards or practices that farmers can implement that improve soil health, enhance crop resilience, increase carbon storage and stormwater storage capacity, and reduce agricultural runoff to waters;

(2) recommend existing financial incentives available to farmers that could be modified or amended to incentivize implementation of the agricultural standards identified under subdivision (1) of this subsection or incentivize the reclamation or preservation of wetlands and floodplains;

(3) propose new financial incentives, including a source of revenue, for implementation of the agricultural standards identified under subdivision (1) of this subsection if existing financial incentives are inadequate or if the goal of implementation of the agricultural standards would be better served by a new financial incentive; and

(4) recommend legislative changes that may be required to implement any financial incentive recommended or proposed in the report.

Program Required Measurements:

  • Using a combination of on-farm natural resource assessments and Cornell Soil Health tests, VESP applicants are evaluated by a team of conservation planners and technical service providers to ascertain current land-use practices.
  • The resulting data is used to set customized environmental goals for each farm and to enact a long-range plan encompassing a full range of regenerative farming practices.
  • VESP Pilot Program Standards 

Tools & Guidance:

  • The VESP Pilot will be utilizing the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) new Resource Stewardship Evaluation Tool (RSET), which is an online platform that streamlines over a half‐dozen individual field assessment tools.
  • The resulting data is used to set customized environmental goals for the farm, and to enact a long-range plan encompassing a full range of regenerative farming practices. More information about the VESP pilot program can be found here

Funding Source/s:

  • The General Fund
  • The Clean Water Fund (Generated from a from a 0.2% surcharge on the property transfer tax and a portion of funds from unclaimed beverage container deposits remitted to the State)

Funding Type/s:

  • The Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets will provide grants or contracts from existing agricultural water quality programs to provide noncapital financial incentives to Vermont farmers participating in the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program to implement regenerative farming practices to achieve certification as a Certified Vermont Environmental Steward.

Practices Eligible for Funding

  • While specific practices are not addressed, practices that address the following are of interest:
    • Nutrient management
    • Sediment and erosion control
    • General soil health
    • Greenhouse gas emissions
    • Carbon sequestration

Agencies Involved   

Rulemaking Process:

  • N/A

State Universities & Researchers

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

Education & Advocacy Groups:

Lessons Learned:

  • Work to expand upon existing agricultural infrastructure and agencies already present on the landscape
  • Incorporate legislative goals into Housekeeping and Rural Development Bills 
  • Create programs that reward farms which already implemented regenerative, soil-building practices. This helps build support for legislation and can be a model for continued implementation of healthy soil management
  • Invite farmers to speak to legislators and bring legislators to farms. Rural Vermont invited farmers to the VT State House for a whole day of workshopping and testifying; these face to face relationships were critical in garnering support for the bill’s passage

Steps Forward, according to Rural VT

  • Members of the Payment for Ecosystem Services working group, including members of the Soil Carbon Coalition, and Rural VT, an advisory organization, are eager to ensure that payments are made for more complex strategies than avoiding phosphorus runoff from dairy farms, the current focus of agro-environmental legislation in Vermont.
  • The Working Group is still on the lookout for an assessment that moves beyond simply measuring soil health to measuring all indicators of health environmental and human health present on a farm.

Media:

Maps:


Farm Agronomic Practices Program

Dates:

Established in 2010
Re-codified in 2020

Legislation: 

House Bill 656 An Act relating to miscellaneous agricultural subjects includes the Farm Agronomic Practices Program

Sponsors: 

Additional Sponsors

Description:

The Farm Agronomic Practices Program was established in 2010 under the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The Farm Agronomic Practices (FAP) Program utilizes state funding to help Vermont farms implement soil-based agronomic practices that improve soil quality, increase crop production, and reduce erosion and agricultural waste discharges. The FAP program also provides education and instructional activity grants to support outreach regarding the impacts of agricultural practices on water quality and current state agricultural water quality regulations.

HB 656 (Act 129) codifies the existing Seeding and Filter Strip Program and the Farm Agronomic Practices Program under the statutory subchapter for agricultural water quality financing. The act exempts from custom applicator certification a farmer applying manure or agricultural waste to fields of another farmer, provided that total annual volume applied is less than 50 percent of the annual manure or agricultural waste generated on the farm where the manure is spread. AAFM is authorized to require persons transporting non-sewage waste to a farm for deposit into a manure pit or methane digester to report on the composition and volume of material transported.

Learn more about the Farm Agronomic Practices program

Soil Health Definition:

N/A

Stated Goals:

“To provide the farms of Vermont with State financial assistance for the implementation of soil-based practices that improve soil quality and nutrient retention, increase crop production, minimize erosion potential, and reduce agricultural waste discharges.”

Program Required Measurements:

N/A

Tools: 

N/A

Funding Source:

The Farm Agronomic Practices Program draws on funding available under section § 4827. Nutrient management planning; incentive grants. The specific funding available, and the practices that are eligible for funding are subject to change (for example, 2019 was the first year that rotational grazing was eligible for funding).

Funding Type: 

Incentive grants

Practices eligible for funding: 

  • Cover Cropping
  • Conservation Crop Rotation 
  • Conservation Crop Rotation with Nurse crop
  • Conservation Tillage
  • No Till Pasture and Hayland Renovation
  • Rotational Grazing
  • Manure Injection
  • Educational or Instructional Activities

Agencies Involved:

Rulemaking process:

N/A

State Universities & Researchers: 

N/A

Agricultural Organizations & Technical Assistance:

N/A

Education & Advocacy Groups:

Rural Vermont

NOFA Vermont

Lessons Learned:

N/A

Media:

N/A


Questions?

Contact Vermont@healthysoilspolicy.org