Secretaries of Agriculture, Natural Resources submit report on drainage

Yesterday, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross, and Vermont’s Secretary of Natural Resources, Deb Markowitz, jointly submitted the interim report on subsurface agricultural tile drainage to the Vermont General Assembly.  The Subsurface Tile Drainage Interim Report is a summary of the progress the two agencies have made in preparing a final report on tile drainage, which is due to the Legislature in January, 2017.  The interim report is available on the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) website.
As requested by the General Assembly, the interim report summarizes assumptions and facts about the use and impact of subsurface tile drainage on Vermont’s farms and waters.  A literature review of current research around North America, and ongoing studies in Vermont, will further inform recommendations for management of tiles drains in the final report.  The Lake Champlain Basin Program is funding a tile drainage review of literature, which is due in the spring of 2016. The Interim Report provides context regarding the use of subsurface agricultural tile drainage in Vermont, outlines changes in the practice over time, summarizes the benefits and impacts of tile drainage, and outlines management strategies currently available and being researched. 
“This joint Interim Report continues the ‘all in’ collaboration that the two Agencies have delivered over the past five years to develop goals and strategies to clean up Lake Champlain and implement the Vermont Clean Water Initiative,” said Markowitz.  “Vermont’s Clean Water Initiative addresses all sectors impacting our waters—roads, wastewater treatment facilities, developed lands, forests and farms—and strategies are in place across those sectors to protect and improve Vermont’s water resources.”
While this report provides an interim assessment of the benefits and costs of tile drainage for farms and impact on waters, the final report will more fully describe current scientific research relating to the environmental management of agricultural tile drainage and how tile drains contribute to nutrient loading of surface waters.  The final report will also include recommendations on how to best manage tile drainage to prevent or mitigate the contribution of tile drainage to water quality in Vermont’s surface waters.  Likewise, the final report will identify knowledge gaps and areas where further study is needed, as well as opportunities for further investment in this field of research.
As required by Act 64 of 2015, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) will be revising the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) in 2018 to include requirements for tile drainage on Vermont’s agricultural land.  Secretary Ross elaborates, “This interim report is an important step towards delivering a final report in 2017 which will frame the RAP tile drain rule revision process.”  Ross continued, “Agricultural tile drainage is a common practice in Vermont and throughout the United States.  Balancing the agronomic need and economic benefits of the practice with a thorough review of the environmental impacts of tile drainage and strategies to prevent and mitigate the potential effects is at the core of the process VAAFM and Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (VANR) are currently engaged in as we work to develop recommendations for the management of tile drainage for the final report in 2017.”
Over the next year, VAAFM and VANR seek to bring together a working group of farmers, industry professionals, academics, and other stakeholders to review research, the use of tile drainage in Vermont, and management strategies available to farmers.  This working group will help inform recommendations VAAFM and VANR will be making to the legislature in 2017.

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