Land access project connects prospective farmers with landowners

VERMONT — You can tell a lot about a farm by looking closely at the soil. That’s why the new, statewide program to recognize Vermont’s most environmentally friendly farmers will be based on soil-sampling and monitoring.
Last week Gov. Phil Scott announced the pilot launch of the new Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program (VESP), which will use soil-based analysis to identify farmers who are going above and beyond to protect our natural resources.
Surrounded by state and federal officials at the North Williston Cattle Company, owned by the Whitcomb family, Scott emphasized the important role farmers play in Vermont communities.
“Vermont farmers are contributing to our economy and keeping our landscape beautiful and productive,” Scott said. “This new, science-based program will use soil health data to help us identify and honor farmers who are going above and beyond the regulations to protect our natural resources.”
The program is a partner effort by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets; the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; the Vermont Association of Conservation Districts; Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation; and the University of Vermont Extension.
“We are still accepting VESP applications, and encourage farms of all types and sizes to apply,” Vermont Ag Secretary Anson Tebbetts said. “We want farmers who are going the extra mile to be recognized and celebrated for their efforts.”
Tebbetts noted that many partners across the state and federal government came together to create this innovative program.
Following Scott’s remarks, farmers Lorenzo and Onan Whitcomb gave a tour of their farm, including their robotic milker, and discussed some of the conservation practices they employ. The Whitcombs’ conservation practices include no-till corn, cover-cropping, and buffer strips.
To apply for the VESP Pilot, farmers must be in compliance with all state and federal environmental regulations, and be actively farming their land.
Applicants for the VESP Pilot will be selected for participation through a competitive application ranking process on a rolling basis; there is no fee to participate. Five to 10 farms will be accepted into the pilot program, which will inform the final parameters of the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program, launching in 2019. For more information, visit: agriculture.vermont.gov/vesp
Conceptualized in 2016 in response to statewide water-quality and environmental challenges, the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program is a voluntary program that encourages and supports local agricultural producers to achieve environmental and agricultural excellence. VESP’s goal is to accelerate water-quality improvements through additional voluntary implementation efforts, and to honor farmers who have already embraced a high level of land stewardship.

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