Opinion: Manure pits are key to sustainable farming process

The Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition felt compelled to respond to the stories and an opinion letter published recently in the Addison Independent regarding the construction of a manure pit by Allandra Farm. As a farmer organization that aims to educate farmers, the public and lawmakers about how a clean Lake Champlain and thriving farms in Vermont can work together, we find this particular circumstance highlights one challenge of trying to accomplish this goal — public misconceptions about farming practices.
Too often the debates over manure applications (and storage, in this case) are framed in the context of farmers needing to “get rid of their manure.” In fact, this is typically just the opposite of what actually happens. Most of the hay and cropland in Vermont is associated with the production of animals, which also means manure. Manure is a valuable resource for any farm as we try to raise crops and livestock in the most sustainable manner possible. By applying manure, we are building organic matter, fertilizing a crop, and recycling the nutrients that came off those very same fields.
That said, the land application of manure is something that should be done with care. As the state of Vermont is carefully recrafting farm water quality regulations as we speak, family farms like the Brissons’ and many others are trying to be proactive under increasing pressures on their current infrastructure to capture not only manure, but all kinds of runoff from their farms.
To be responsible stewards, farms are faced with coming up with alternatives like increasing manure storage capacity, sometimes in the form of satellite pits that are not associated with the barn or farmstead. This enables farmers to store manure, barnyard runoff, silage leachate and milkhouse waste for longer periods, allowing us to apply it when it is the most appropriate and will have the least likelihood of leaving our fields and contributing to nutrient runoff into our waterways.
It also enables us to apply manure with new and innovative technology that reduces compaction on fields, injects manure below the soil surface to reduce nutrient loss, and keeps tanker trucks and manure spreaders off town roads.
Whether a farm is large or small, organic or conventional, livestock based or grows only crops, we all have manure, compost or other forms of nutrients that get applied to our fields. We all need to do this in the best, most efficient and responsible way possible. Our farm members have a long-term commitment to the environment and the communities where we live. We are family businesses that live on or near the land that we farm. We understand the importance of protecting natural resources and have a stake in following regulations. We also provide a safe and reliable food supply for the New England region.
Our goal is to continue to work together … with each other as farmers, with our neighbors and with our communities to make Addison County and Vermont a thriving agricultural landscape that provides environmental, aesthetic and community benefit. Instead of being divisive and contentious, we would hope the shared goal of clean water would bring us together to learn more about sustainable, responsible farming practices that will maintain a thriving working landscape that supports a healthy lake and healthy communities.
Brian Kemp
Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition

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