Environmental regs force dairies to make costly decisions
Vermont’s small farms have gotten a pass on most environmental laws, but not anymore. The state’s two-year-old Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) now apply to all but the smallest farms.
The RAPs are designed to protect Vermont’s waterways, but they’re also forcing many dairy farmers to make painful financial decisions.
Dairy farmers such as Mark Vosburg of St. Albans, Vt., are carefully going over their finances to see if they can afford improvements. Because Vosburg’s unlined manure pit is no longer certified by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, he’ll have to replace it with a bigger, more expensive system if he wants to keep milking cows. He’s chosen to do that, if he can scrape together the money.
“You need to keep the infrastructure up to date; otherwise you’ll be done and the farm will be worth just the land. There will be a shrinking pool of possible buyers,” Vosburg says.
Money to help
Fortunately, there is government grant money to help dairy farmers like Vosburg, who has a 145-head herd on the farm where he has worked all his life.
He’s looking at a $617,000 above-ground slurry store that will have to replace some cropland, with the manure pumped uphill to the pit.
Vosburg has $357,000 from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program and $200,000 from the state to put toward a new manure handling system. But he has $61,000 in cost-share to come up with. That’s a big chunk of money for a small dairy in the middle of the worst dairy financial crisis in decades.