Friday, December 18, 2015

Sugar Mountain afraid of bein' regulated!

Walter Jefferies is over on his blog complaining about some regulations that the state of Vermont is considering implementing, with the goal of preserving water quality.

Since Mr. Jefferies is looking for feedback on the proposed regulations, I thought I'd help him out, and illustrate the impact of this sort of regulation on a farm by marking up the map of Walters farm.   These are estimates and rough speculation based on aerial photos.  They're my best estimate, but don't bet the farm on absolute correctness here.    This post represents my opinion only.

old photo/Farm map showing paddock names: Source: SMF
This picture showing paddock names is pretty old, but from it you can generally see the area of the farm we'll be talking about.  Here's roughly the same image, but a more recent picture.  I've added counter lines showing elevation gain/loss in 25' increments.    In doing so there are apparently large areas of walters farm that are more than 10% grade -- which means that with bare dirt there's an increased chance of erosion without plant cover.  that said, here's the pic:

More recent picture, with contour lines showing slopes.  Source:  Google maps
Here's the effect of the first proposed rule Vermont:  intermittent waters, ditches, diversions, swales and conveyances shall be buffered at 10' or 25' for surface waters.  Buffered means planted areas surrounding and filtering the water.  It looks like Walter has either been driving his tractor in the marsh areas, or livestock has worn trails in it, but either way these proposed rules would restrict access to those areas.  Yellow in the areas below are the areas that would require a buffer, either 10 or 25'
10' or 25' buffer around intermittent water or surface water.  Source:  Google maps
Here's the effect of the second rule:  livestock will have no access to surface water except at defined crossings or watering areas, unless there's 3" of vegetation cover maintained by a rotational grazing plan.  Blue areas are areas that appear to me to be either very wet or surface water.  These areas would require livestock to be excluded from them.
Livestock fenced off from surface water.  Source:  Google maps
The surface water thing has a provision:  If you use an approved rotational grazing plan, and keep 3" or more of vegetation, you don't have to exclude the livestock, but in my opinion what is showing around most of this water area is either bare dirt, or very sparse vegetation.  In my opinion much less than the required 3" cover.   Here's a shot of Walters south field:
Click on picture for bigger view.  SMF south field.   Source:  Google maps
Look at the area immediately to the right of the greenhouse (that black thing in the upper left corner); bare dirt, and that color of dirt shows through over the majority of that field, in my opinion.  It can be hard to tell, but it looks like there's basically no underbrush left, and very little in the way of grasses or other ground cover.  what remains are low, scrubby bushes.   This sort of bare earth also appears to show up in all grazed areas of Mr. Jefferies farm, in my opinion of course.  So Mr. Jefferies farm wouldn't qualify as maintaining 3" of vegetation, and whatever grazing plan he is using now, since it doesn't end up keeping that 3" minimum, probably wouldn't be approved.  He'd have to come up with a grazing plan to fix this, and then implement it.

I don't think that Mr. Jefferies land has an area that floods, except maybe the "marsh" and "north marsh" areas, but we'll skip that part of the proposed regulation.

Here's a big one:  Manure stacking.
200' manure exclusion zones.  Source:  Google maps

Now I've taken Walters cleared area as being his property line, and drawn the exclusion lines that way.  But he may not have a property line there, so it might not apply.  The two circles are around what I presume are his personal water supply, at the house and at a spring somewhere uphill.  I don't really know where is uphill spring is, so I just picked a spot.

Now the state of Vermont isn't done with manure.  They want you to test the soil, and not to apply manure to soils that can't absorb the material.  (over 10% slope without 100% vegetative cover 100' around surface waters, exceed phosphorus levels of 20ppm, are frozen or snow covered or saturated with water.

The 10% slope/100% vegetation cover may exclude the entire area of Mr. Jefferies farm from being used, or at least a big part of it.   In my opinion, from what I can tell about Mr. Jefferies farm from these photos, there doesn't appear to have 100% cover, and most of his farm appears to be more than 10% grade; he is in the mountains of vermont, after all.  Grazing animals spread manure.  So this could be construed as prohibiting grazing unless the ground has vegetation on it; and since there are apparently patches of bare ground all over the place, well...

By keeping his animals outdoors, manure is being deposited on top of snow, frozen or saturated ground for a portion of the year, and this would apply to Walters ENTIRE farm with the exception of the greenhouse.  And that's may be a violation of these proposed rules.  To comply with this portion of the regulation, Walter  would have to confine his pigs to the greenhouse for as long as the ground is frozen -- 4 or 5 months a year, maybe?  Probably December 15th to April 1st, which is 4.5 months.  Maybe October 15th to April 15th (6 months) - both date ranges are mentioned in the regulations.  Welcome to mucking out barns and owning a manure spreader, Walter!  and by the way:   you can't spread it in the manure exclusion zone.

 In addition, Mr.  Jefferies will have to either develop a nutrient management plan (NMP) that meets NRCS standards to be certified, or choose to be uncertified and do soil tests, manure analysis, and to keep records on manure application and spreading.

Now in truth, these water quality standards are probably based on federal standards, and honestly, they're pretty darn close to those standards that I am required to follow (and do follow) on my own farm.

I understand Mr. Jefferies squawking about these regulations, but there is a price to being a good neighbor and a good farm, and this sort of regulation is just that.

Welcome to the club, Sugar Mountain Farm.


George said...

I'm not sure about VT, but here in PA and MD, animals can spread their own manure on pasture (not bare dirt) regardless of slope, at any time of year. But looking at those pictures, I don't see a lot of good vegetation there.

We also have 10' set backs on all water ways,except for crossing and approved drinking areas etc. We also maintain a nutrient mgmt plan and document where manure is field stacked (soon to not be allowed at any time) and then spread later.

Walter will need to follow his nutrient plan, and those regs.. being out of compliance, can bring $250/day fines (at least in my state).

Bill Gauch said...

In RI, we have 50' setbacks from all wetlands and 200' areas of non-disturbance. The 50' line prevents you from doing anything. The 200' line just means you need continuous cover with no digging or other alterations. Exceptions and exemptions can be (and are) granted through an involved and expensive permitting process. Farms have an easier time if they maintain continuous cover (usually corn followed by winter rye). What's really messed up is that they (our civic ancestors) have filled and channeled and redirected more wetlands than anyone, but all those old, established changes are perfectly fine. Back in the day, they would dump all their rocks and tree stumps and whatever else in the bogs and vernal pools to fill and flatten the area. Now, you can't even cut the grass within 50'.