Letter to the editor: State used flawed logic on farm waste management

I am responding to Paul Ralston and Vermont ANR Secretary Moore Community Forum commentaries on water quality issues. At one point Mr. Ralston says, “the manure from an organic farm is no different than the manure from a conventional farm in terms of the impact it has on water quality.” This reveals a fundamental misunderstanding about the potential benefits of organic production methods on farms with regard to water quality.
But it also gives the false impression that some conventional farms are not currently utilizing these same “organic” methods while preserving their ability to use conventional tools to manage their nutrients and herd health. Mr. Ralston presents an all or nothing picture while artificially driving a wedge between “organic” and “conventional” farming practices. 
The point here is nutrient management should be just what it implies, a management strategy, and a one-size-fits-all proposal that relies heavily on centralized technological fixes for on-farm management is discriminatory, may be extremely cost prohibitive and in the end may not solve the problem as planned. The idea that we will haul, separate, and commoditize the target pollutants as a criteria for “management” is simply ridiculous. It creates a whole new industry that relies on the perpetuation of the problem for its very existence. Sound familiar?
Biologic farming methods inherently manage nutrients through best practices. But transition to these methods involves investments. And there are simple local materials and technologies that can help. As an example, there exist natural minerals in economic supply right in the Champlain Valley that have been scientifically proven to be powerful selective sorbents for Solution Reactive Phosphorus (SRP).
Additionally, biomass to bio-carbon technologies that convert natural biomass forestry by-product or on-farm biomass to fuels (energy) with a carbon capture potential can augment and in some cases out perform conventional anaerobic methane digesters. And these methods are scalable. Small holders as well as industrial operators can deploy them “as needed, where needed”.
This is where significant State funding should be allocated. Farms need financial incentives and outright financial help to transition to effective nutrient management strategies that do not rely on costly centralized technological fixes or wholesale watershed re-engineering. The problem now seems to be a question of legislative priorities, and the Vermont agencies’ resolve to rapidly develop and deploy strategies for cost effective and workable on-farm nutrient management methods without destroying the agricultural economy altogether.
Thomas Vanacore

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