Featured Farmer: Darlene Reynolds, Crosswinds Dairy & Daughters, Alburgh, VT

To get to know the Farmer’s Watershed Alliance (FWA) membership, we are highlighting a member farmer and their good work!  Our featured farmer in this article is Darlene Reynolds.  Darlene is the Chair of the Farmer’s Watershed Alliance, as well as one of the founding members.  She farms with her husband, Newton Reynolds, at Crosswinds Dairy & Daughters in Alburgh.  They have been farming in Alburgh together since 1994.  They currently run a Medium Farm Operation (MFO).

I arrived on a Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. and the farm was bustling.  Darlene had been up working since 3:30 a.m.!  She and Newton greeted me with excitement and immediately began to show me around their dairy farm.  My tour started at the main cow barns with explanations of the different methods they use to take care of cow comfort and health.



All of the cows at Crosswinds Dairy wear a pedometer on their ankle to monitor their health and condition.  The pedometer gives the Reynolds insight into how the cows are feeling.  Typically, if a cow takes more steps than average it is a sign she is in heat.  Cows in heat will see one of two specialists to determine if they are ready for in-vitro fertilization (artificial insemination).  For cows that have trouble getting pregnant through in-vitro, the Reynolds have a bull on site.  If a cow is taking fewer steps, she might be sick.  This allows the Reynolds to get the cows the attention they need as soon as possible.  For the cows that are taking fewer steps and might be sick, the Reynolds call one of their veterinarians that routinely stop on their farm for a special visit.


The Reynolds also provide sand bedding for the cows to sleep in (pictured above in the stalls) that is a similar to beach sand!  Darlene chose this option because she wants her cows to be as comfortable as possible.

“If you notice, none of our cows have bruises on their legs.”  Darlene said, gesturing to some of the cows in the stalls.

Cows can get bruised legs if they sleep on hard surfaces, such as rubber or concrete beds.  That is why farmers choose alternative options like sand beds and even water beds!  Darlene and Newton like knowing their cows are comfortable.  The sand in the beds gets changed about every 8 days to ensure it stays fresh.


Next, we walked outside to see a newer addition to Crosswinds Dairy – the manure pit.  The manure from the cow barns gets pumped out of the cow stalls and shoots into the pit.  It is a mixture of manure, sand, and saw dust.  Almost all the manure is recycled to be used as fertilizer on the corn fields.  Any extra gets used by friends of theirs and fellow farmers.  This farm has a nutrient management plan that tells them how much manure to apply on the fields – it is based on federal, state, and local clean water laws that regulate how manure is applied on cropland, so nutrients are absorbed by crops, not groundwater.  The manure pit is lined with cement walls and well-tiled to ensure it is secure.  When it was being constructed, it would have been deep enough to bury the cement truck being used to build it!  It is about 14 feet deep, with a stadium design.  The Reynolds received government grant funds to build the manure pit on their farm because it meets standards set for water quality and environmental protection in the state.


After walking the property and chatting with Darlene, I was able to ask her some more specific questions:


What are you most proud of?

“I’m proud to be [farming] here for 25 years and have made it!”  Darlene said, reflecting on the past couple of decades that have left dairy farmers of Vermont facing new, difficult challenges.  Darlene and Newton take a lot of pride in being able to stay farming and provide for their family, while adapting to the changing regulations and fluctuating milk prices.  Darlene shared how amazing it feels to help her family make such great progress.  Her grandmother could not read or write, and her mother taught herself to do so.  Darlene has a degree in social work.  Of Darlene and Newton’s four daughters (pictured below), one is still in high school, one will soon graduate with a B.A., another is attending Vermont Technical College, and the oldest graduated from Vermont Tech.  “We are building new roads every step of the way,” Darlene said.

Darlene is also extremely proud of her employees.  Working in the barn so much herself, Darlene’s full-time employees start to feel like family to her.  She likes to take the time to get to know her staff and learn about their personal goals.  She wants to inspire her crew to be the best they can be.  Darlene thinks of her farm as a stepping stone for her employees.  She encourages them to pursue ways to improve themselves and leave better than they came.  Her support has motivated workers to get their GED and other certifications that help propel them in their careers.

Last, but certainly not least, Darlene is proud of the care the farm gives to their cows. “You do it every day.  Take care of the animals,” she said.  One of the most rewarding aspects for Darlene is knowing that she is doing her best to give her animals a happy and healthy life.  She said she loves to, “take an animal that’s not feeling well and turn her into a beautiful lady.”


What do you want the non-farming community to know?

“Farmers are out there to produce a nice, healthy product.”  Crosswinds Dairy takes pride and responsibility in the dairy products their cow’s milk contribute to.  That is one of the main reasons why Darlene is so in-touch with and concentrated on individual cow’s health.  She noted, with the growing population of the world, “We [farmers] have to [be prepared to] feed the people of the world.”

Darlene said the majority of Vermont farmers want to make water quality improvements on their farms, and have been successfully working towards that goal.  But for many farmers this means making changes in both agricultural practices and infrastructure.  There needs to be funding and education opportunities readily available to farmers for a difference to be made.  She added that the negativity she sees in the media surrounding agriculture is disheartening for farmers, “water quality is not a simple task.”  It takes time to learn new practices, invest in and build infrastructure, and become educated on conservation practices/techniques that work in Vermont, and farmers need support.

Some of the notable water quality improvements completed at Crosswinds Dairy & Daughters:

  • Cement driveways
  • Manure pits to increase storage capacity
  • Buffer strips to reduce potential runoff
  • Cover cropping all corn fields to increase soil health and reduce potential runoff
  • Creating and following a state-approved Nutrient Management Plan
  • UV water pump for cows drinking water
  • Monitoring slope of the land for any potential runoff developments


Why do you farm?

Darlene farms every day for her family.  While Newton grew up in a farming family, Darlene did not come from a farming background.  Before joining Newton as co-operator and co-manager of the farm, she was a social worker.  Part of her decision influencing her transition from social worker to farmer came after her first daughter was born.  She made a conscious decision to be with her on the farm as they began raising a family.  Farming provided Darlene with a lifestyle that allowed her to work toward her ultimate goals to be happy, provide for her family, and give her four daughters the opportunities in life that they deserve.


Conservation Practices on Farms in St. Albans Bay

Thursday, September 7th, 2017 was the Conservation Practices on Farms in St. Albans Bay bus tour!  This event was a hosted by the Farmers Watershed Alliance, UVM Extension NW Crops & Soils Team, and the USDA NRCS.  There were approximately 30 attendees comprised of farmers, agency officials, community members, and local organization members.

The bus boarded at the UVM Extension Office in St. Albans.  The tour highlighted conservation agronomic practices being done on various sites around St. Albans Bay.  See some of the highlights below:

Brigham Road Site – No-till Corn into Harvest Cover Crop:  Our first stop began with hearing from John Thurgood and Sarah Lerose, both from the NRCS.  John viewed this event as a celebration!  He spoke of how in 2015 the NRCS, other agencies, and farmers came together to work on water quality issues.  “We wanted to make sure farmers who wanted to do something could.”   Referencing EQIP, funding pools, the 4 target watersheds (St. Albans Bay included), and developing a Watershed Action Plan.  Sarah emphasized the necessity to get the message across to the public that farmers are doing good things for water quality.  Heather Darby (second from the right) shared with the group how behind the corn harvest is due to weather conditions this season.  The weather is ~3 weeks behind schedule, making corn ~2 weeks away from harvest.  Having a late corn harvest will make cover crop establishment difficult.
Janes Road Site – No-till Corn into Sod:  These fields were grass fields, but the Longway’s wanted to convert them into corn fields.  They came in, hayed it off, and planted the corn directly into the grass.  They were able to reduce erosion and see soil savings because of this practice!  They also experimented with fertilizer.  The half of the field that had fertilizer looks better because it got more nitrogen.  It was noted that farmers who spread fertilizer a little later on this year had a better yield because the rain season had passed.  Heather added with that, “It’s the science of farming we’re all aware of, but the art of farming is different.”  Farmers need to be able to adapt their practices to weather and environmental stresses.  They need to have the resources available to re-learn when they see new practices come into play.
Corliss Road Site – Forage & Biomass Planting:  These were corn fields for 10+ years.  They decided to switch to forage & biomass fields through an EQIP program.  They harrowed last fall and again this spring, seeded down the third week of June, rolled it again, and were able to harvest twice!  The seed they used was a mix of alfalfa, red clover, orchard grass, and a few other varieties.   They have seen much less erosion since switching from corn.  There is also much less opportunity for nutrient run-off than before.  Forage & biomass fields are becoming increasingly popular in Vermont.  Someone asked if we are seeing less corn in Vermont as a result.  Jeff Sanders answered that typically we are rotating corn to new fields.  So there are not fewer corn acres in Vermont, just different acres.
Dunsmore Road Site – Roller Crimp No-till vs. Conventional:  These fields used the UVM ZRX Roller Crimper.  Parts of the fields are conventionally tilled, and parts are minimally tilled.  They also have experimented with cover cropping.  They put the roller on the planter earlier in the season to roll down the cover crops (pressures down the weeds).  Although, they had a carbon issue with the cover crops being left on the field.  The cover crops soaked up too much nitrogen, impacting the corn yield.  In Vermont, no-till is much more successful on non-organic farms than on organic farms.  This is because no-till is a lot more successful when combined with spraying to get rid of the cover crops and weeds.
Maquam Shore Road Site – No-till into Standing Cover Crop; Manure Injection:  We were able to see the UVM ZRX Roller Crimper!  This is a 6 row planter.  It has undergone quite a few modifications with Scott Magnan’s Custom Service to make it as efficient of a tool as possible for farmers.  Scott Magnan (featured speaking in the photo) explained a few of those modifications.  One is the hydrolic down pressure.  This feature applies pressure to row units and allows the user to either auto-adjust or adjust as they see fit.  Another modification is that the fertilizer application was switched from a squeeze pump to an electric pump.  With the electric pump it is much easier to know exactly how much is being applied.  Lastly, they added advanced seed-tube monitoring.  This feature takes the guessing game out of seeding.  A farmer can see if the machine is skipping seeds or double-seeding.  This gives farmers the ability to react to issues as they are happening.  This machine is one of the first in the county!  Farmers are able to rent this roller crimper and test it out on their fields before committing to buying expensive equipment on their own.  All of this is made possible through funding.
Lake Road Site – No-till Roller Crimp vs. Conventional:  This was the final stop of the bus tour.  This field was half no-till roller crimped and half conventional tillage.  On the no-till half, there was a heavy mat of rye which helped reduce erosion and hold in the moisture.  That half is filled with some of the best corn in the Bay this season!  Jeff Sanders (on the right) ended the tour remarking on how amazing it is that so many farms in the bay are practicing agronomic conservation in their own way.  “There’s a lot of different paths getting to the same place.”  All but 2 farmers in the area that could have signed up for an EQIP program have.  We need to make this profitable so that when the funding dries up farmers can and will continue to follow these practices.  “Without the cost share, this stuff would probably not be happening.”


2017 Summer Farm Meeting at Bridgeman View Farm

Thursday, August 17th was the 2017 Summer Farm Meeting at Tim and Martha Magnant’s farm, Bridgeman View Farm in Franklin, VT!  This event was hosted by the UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Program (NWCS), Friends of Northern Lake Champlain (FNLC), and Farmer’s Watershed Alliance (FWA).  There were approximately 50 attendees comprised of community members, farmers, organization members, and state officials.

This year’s topics included conservation tillage practices such as no-till corn and interseeded cover crops, soil health, and precision agriculture.  Please see some of the highlights below:

Tim Magnant of Bridgeman View Farm:  The event began with Tim thanking everyone for coming out.  He shared how he enjoys being able to host educational opportunities for farmers and community members, and that he sees events like the 2017 Summer Farm Meeting as “a meeting of the minds”.  Tim stated that, “If it costs me anything, I get paid twice back for it.”
Jim Hershey – President of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance:  Jim gave a presentation on his trials/success in improving soil health through no-till practices and cover crops.  Jim is a farmer himself, and manages other farmer’s land in PA assisting in planting and nutrient management.  He noted that often poor water quality health is pointed at agriculture, so it is important for farmers to showcase the efforts they are making towards improving it.  Cover crops have a plethora of benefits when it comes to water quality!  They keep nutrients in the soil and out of the water.  The roots go into the soil, feeding microbes which recycle nutrients into the crops.  Healthy soil provides habitat for beneficial species such as earthworms.  They also soak up the sun which helps the soil retain moisture.  He encourages farmers to, “Try to keep your soil covered and something planted 365 days a year.”  He uses various seed blends including rye grass, clover, radish, oats, peas, and more.
Brian Zimmerman of BZ Manufacturing:  Brian has worked at BZ Manufacturing (a division of Hershey Farms) since 2006.  Brian designs, builds, and manages the equipment for Jim, such as the interseeder Tim has.  He spoke about how new precision agriculture technologies can be applied on older planters, and that there is a lot of customization available.  Brian has seen how long-term no-till combined with cover cropping can help reduce unevenness in corn fields.  His presentation included things to consider when planting cover crops, as well as different cover crop combinations they have found success with in PA.  Some things to consider: weather conditions, sunlight, control methods – can grow into weeds if not terminated in time, planter readiness – spikes can wrap, so using smooth disks or ‘sharktooth’ styles can help prevent wrapping.  Cover crop seeds to use: radish, rye grass, cow peas, black oats, triticale, hairy vetch, Blansa clover, crimson clover, barley, and Austrian winter peas.
Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts:  Secretary Tebbetts encouraged farmers to tell their story.  Doing environmentally positive projects on your farm can help public perception.  He expressed that the Agency is aware that since it has been a wet season, farmers might need extensions on things like spreading manure.  He said that the earlier farmers make these requests, the more likely him and his team will be able to give the variances through the state.  Secretary Tebbetts also shared that the Agency will be focusing on RAP (Required Agricultural Practices) education for small farmers.  “What we’re trying to do is do a ramp up on education before we get really into the certification part.”
Tim Magnant (right) & Jeffrey Sanders (left) at the Ben & Jerry’s Field:  This corn field has been no-till and interseeded for 3 years.  UVM Extension has done a lot of cover crop work/research on this field with their equipment.  The soil health has improved tremendously!  With the combination of cover crops and no-till, corn yields are higher than conventional corn BUT only if combined.  The yield is less than conventional corn if you use no-till without cover cropping.  So, in order to see an improvement you need to combine no-till and cover cropping.  While the cost of cover crops up-front can seem high (purchasing extra seed), Tim said it is worth it to him because he saves on fuel costs, herbicide costs, and time in the tractor seat.  Also, he finds harvesting easier when utilizing cover crops because they make the soil more solid, helping to hold up the tractor.  The UVM team has been experimenting with cover crop seed combinations, as well as coordinating planting time.
Lunch Break:  We enjoyed a lunch generously provided by Champlain Valley Equipment!  This gave folks time to meet one another and discuss the mornings activities.  We also got to hear some updates from the NRCS and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.  We learned that, due to the efforts made by farmers, the phosphorus levels in the Lake Champlain basin have gone down!
Fay Benson – Cornell Cooperative Extension:  The Cornell Soil Health Lab gave a soil health demo which used a rain simulator (pictured above) on 5 different types of soil.   These soil types included a conventionally tilled corn field, a no-till corn field, a buffer strip, a continuously grazed pasture, and a grazed pasture that was rotated.  The simulation showed how the different types of soil retain water, filter water, produce runoff, and how much sediment is in the runoff they produce.  The front row of jars were there to catch the runoff, and the back row of jars caught water that filtered through the soil.  Ideally, the front jar should be nearly empty, and the back jar should be mostly full and clear to show that the soil properly absorbed and filtered the rain water.  Rachel Gilker of Ben & Jerry’s Caring Dairy was assisting Benson in the simulation and interacting with the crowd.  She shared the water retention benefits of adding organic matter to soil.  “You add 1% organic matter in an acre, you’ll hold another 20,000-25,000 gallons of water.”
Tim Magnant (left) & Scott Magnan (center):  The final activity on the agenda featured Precision Agriculture Technology on Bridgeman View Farm.  There are various types of precision agriculture technologies available.  Many farmers find use in manure injection, advanced seed tube monitoring on a corn planter, and more!  On Tim’s tractor, he and Scott Magnan’s Custom Service installed Auto-Steer.  Auto-steer gives Tim the ability to easily and accurately plant/spread in straight rows, even on a hilly field.  This technology uses GPS and GIS software so that a user no longer needs to rely on row markers.  Tim finds less stress when using spreaders.  This technology is extremely user-friendly and easy to learn.  It helps to not overlap rows.  Overlapping can lead to some parts of the field being over seeded/spread and other parts being missed.  The ability to make straight and precise rows saves a farmer time, money, and resources.

UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Team 10th Annual Field Day!

Please come join us at Borderview Research Farm on July 27th for UVM Extension Northwest Crops and Soils Team 10th annual field day!  Please let us know if you can come by registering here online: www.regonline.com/2017cropsfieldday

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Featured Farmer: Tim Magnant, Bridgeman View Farm, Franklin

To get to know the FWA membership, we are highlighting a FWA member farmer and their good work!  In this article, our featured farmer is Tim Magnant, owner of Bridgeman View Farm, third generation farmer, FWA board member for five years, town meeting moderator for nine years, and school board member for 15 years.

When I walked into his milking parlor at 7:00 a.m., Tim and his hired-man, Ryan had already been with the cows for two hours.  The cows were calm as they walked into be milked and back out into the barn.  The only trouble came from a cow in heat who was too infatuated with the world to move.  She eventually got bored enough to follow Ryan back to the barn.

Tim stays busy milking his 103 cows.  He’s keen to try out new ideas if they make both environmental and economic sense.  For example, Tim plants cover crops.  Year after year, Tim notices that cover crops have improved soil health, increased soil fertility, and reduced erosion on his farm.  He has seen the good work cover crops do and has invested in purchasing his own seeder.  He also uses reduced tillage methods that increase soil biodiversity and decrease fossil fuel use.  He keeps up with UVM agricultural research and works with UVM Extension to implement practices that improve the quality of soil on his farm, “I’ve leaned on UVM for the whole process.  I’ve got most of my information from Extension’s  Northwest Crops and Soils Program.  They’ve been an integral part of my transition to no-till and manure injection,” said Tim.

Tim shared that one of his greatest concerns, and one that he shares with other farmers, is losing soil.   Aggressive tilling can break up the soil and leave it bare, ultimately making it more susceptible to erosion.  He says, “Injection and no-till are systems that work well for me right now.”  Injection refers to liquid manure applications that go into the ground, reducing risks of manure run-off and odor nuisances.

Tim is a member of the St. Albans Cooperative Creamery where the milk from his farm is processed. The co-op introduced Tim to a pilot program that encourages farmers to plant non-GMO crops in response to consumer demand for milk products produced from cows fed non-GMO feed.  In exchange for planting non-GMO crops, Ben and Jerry’s offers a premium to help defray any risks.

I asked Tim a number of questions.  Here are a few:

1. What’s one way to mark success on your farm?
Dairy farmers use a number of markers to track success and today, Tim focused in on herd health.  He was proud to say that his cows were in great condition, as evidenced by the good condition of his cow’s hooves.  Hoof health is a marker of herd health.   Tim says, “It’s the cow’s foundation and a good foundation leads to a healthy cow, like a good foundation for a house is necessary for a strong home.”

2. What is a point of pride for you to show other farmers?
Tim’s face lit up when he said, “the view.”  He told me to go over to the intersection and take a look at his farm.  The view from the intersection that day was gray and rainy, but it was clear that his answer was also a reflection of the pride he has in the integrity of his work.  Tim invests a lot of time on and off the field to take manage his land and animals the best that he can.  For example, on the fields, Tim uses no-till methods and plants cover crops.  He also took on the cumbersome task of turning a once a stony field that he turned into productive pasture by careful management and by picking lots of stones.  Off the field, Tim updates his Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) every year.  An NMP is a tool used to optimize nutrient allocations to maximize crop production and reduce potential environmental risks.

3. What do you want the non-farming community to know about farming and the FWA?
Tim expressed great concern about the discrepancy between the public image farmers have now and the reality of how they work on their land and with their animals.  Tim works hard to be a good steward of the land and provide his cows with quality food and care.  He also needs to be prepared to adapt to any unforeseen challenges on any given day, “Mother nature always provides us with sudden changes in circumstances.  From a wet spring delaying planting, to a dry summer effecting crop quality and quantity of feed, to machinery breaking down, to covering for a sick employee, the unpredictability of farming make it difficult to strictly follow any well-intentioned plan.  In addition, the dedication Tim has for Bridgeman View Farm, he is also deeply committed to his local community and farmer organizations.  As a Franklin County resident, Tim has served as the moderator for town meeting for nine years and been a long-time member of the school board for twice as long.  As member of the Farmer’s Watershed Alliance (FWA), he helps implement on-farm water quality projects and keeps himself and others informed of current changes in agricultural regulations.

4. And finally, why do you farm?
Tim’s answer was simple and straightforward.  He likes it, “I like the animals and being outside…I like my job because it provides lots of challenges.”  The best part of his day he says is milking, “These aren’t my pets, but they are my friends.”


FWA Seeks Program Coordinator Applications

Position Summary:  The Farmer’s Watershed Alliance (FWA) seeks a Program Coordinator to join our organization in St. Albans.  The FWA is a trusted farmer run and lead organization based in Franklin and Grande Isle Counties.  The preferred applicant will be responsible for coordinating and advertising outreach events, generating outreach materials, fundraising, managing membership, and representing Farmer’s Watershed Alliance online and in public. This person will have a high level of interpersonal communication skills.  A background in agriculture is preferred.  Enthusiasm is essential. Compensation starts at $15.50/hour.

Please send cover letter and resume by June 5th to: FarmersWatershedAllianceNW@gmail.com                                                                        Subject line: Farmer’s Watershed Alliance Program Coordinator.

FWA Annual Meeting

In mid-March, the Farmer’s Watershed Alliance held its 11th annual meeting.

We are continually grateful to all the agricultural leaders who take time out of their busy schedules to meet with us.   In particular, we would like to recognize Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts, Deputy Secretary Alyson Eastman, Senate Committee on Agriculture Chair Bobby Starr, ARM Deputy Director Laura DiPietro, DEC Assistant Program Manager and Water Quality Specialist Marli Rupe, Senior Agricultural Development Coordinator Ryan Patch, Champlain Valley Farmer’s Coalition Board Member Lorenzo Whitcomb, New England Dairy Promotion Board Public Relations and Communications Specialist Laura Hardie, VAAFM Agricultural Water Quality Specialist Maria Steyaart, Zone District Conservationist Corey Brink, and Vermont Dairy Producers Alliance Amanda St. Pierre and Bill Rowell.

And of course, a big thank you to everyone who joined us for an evening of sponsorship by Cargill, Oliver Seed, Fiske Insurance Agency, Northwest Veterinary Associates, St. Albans Coop, Tractor Supply, Harvest Equipment, and Claude Fortin!

Below are some highlights from the annual meeting.

The Chair of the Farmer’s Watershed Alliance, Darlene Reynolds, welcomes everyone.
FWA Board Member Scott Magnan speaks about the diversity of manure application methods and no-till practices FWA board members utilize.
FWA Technical Assistance Provider Jeffrey Sanders presents on the increased acres of cover crops FWA board members have planted.
Dairy Promotion Board Public Relations and Communication Specialist Laura Hardie shares a video she made on the importance and use of cover crops on Vermont Farms.
Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts recognizes the economic importance of dairy in Vermont, the hard work dairy farmers do, and his optimism for the future of agriculture in Vermont.
ARM Deputy Director Laura DiPietro shares VAAFM program opportunities and what to expect from VAAFM this year.
Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture Bobby Starr reaffirms his commitment to working with Vermont agricultural producers.
FWA Chair Darlene Reynolds thanks Secretary Tebbetts for his leadership in Vermont agriculture.


FWA Annual Meeting Invitation

You are invited to attend the Farmer’s Watershed Alliance Annual Meeting!

Right click on the image above to go to Google Maps.


Date: Monday, March 20th, 2017

Where: St Albans Elks Lodge (44 Gricebrook Rd.)


5:30- Happy Half Hour sponsored by Cargill

6:00- Welcome

6:30- Dinner (provided by the FWA)

7:00- State leaders highlight water quality initiatives

8:30- Final Remarks and Closing

For more information or to RSVP please contact Lindsey Ruhl by e-mail at FarmersWatershedAllianceNW@gmail.com or by phone (802) 524-6501 ext. 443.

We look forward to seeing you!

Grassed Waterways: An Effective Water Quality Strategy

The following article by Jeffery Sanders, UVM Extension Agronomy Outreach Professional, was originally published in the October 2016 edition of Vermont’s Agriview.

While grassed waterways are nothing new in the world of soil erosion and water quality, their adaptation in the Northeastern United States lags far behind counterparts in other parts of the United States.  In the Midwestern corn belt where memories of the dust bowl and the severe erosion problems of the past are still in memories and family histories, the idea of taking care of erosion issues decisively and effectively are evident everywhere on the landscape.  We do not want the devastating loss of topsoil the Midwest experienced to be our fate in Vermont.  A plane ride over any corn belt state will provide ample evidence of the efforts to mitigate soil leaving fields through the implementation of different practices.  The one that is highly visible and effective is grassed waterways.

A grassed waterway is a simple structure designed to absorb energy from moving water while holding soil from eroding in areas where water is prone to moving in concentrated flow across crop fields.  The idea is that you fill gullies and flatten out slopes in an effort to remove energy from i.e. slow down the water as it moves across the field.  This area is then seeded down and left in a permanent state of vegetation.  The vegetation acts to hold soil particles from being mechanically lifted and moved off fields while also helping to reduce the speed of the water so it has less ability to cause erosion.  A well designed and implemented grassed waterway will keep water from moving down slope without concentrating the flow into a stream.  It will move the water off the field without allowing it to pick up enough energy to move soil.  Grassed waterways have been found to be very effective at reducing erosion in high risk locations on crop fields.


Picture: Grass Waterway Cross-Section Diagram

While the idea of “giving up” productive ground to install a conservation measure seems foreign to many landowners in the Northeast, it shouldn’t be.  You can tell easily where grassed waterways would be an effective tool in a landowner’s toolbox for keeping soil on their fields.  Wherever you have gully erosion, not much is growing and it is wet and rough (from eroding topsoil), a grassed waterway may be able to fix your issue.  The productive ground in many cases is not all that productive because soils tend to be saturated with frequent water inundation which can prohibit quality crop growth.

In many cases grassed waterways do not need to be much wider than 20 feet depending on the situation.  The benefit to your field, equipment, and the environment easily offset any yield loss from not cropping that area.  Also, in some cases you could install grassed waterways wide enough to crop.  For example, a perennial forage could be seeded using a design which would allow the farmer to turn equipment within the boundaries of a grassed waterway.  The idea is not that you need tall vegetation but that you need a sod base or other vegetation with a good root system to help hold the soil.  If you are looking for the motivation to install one, but to date have just kept filling in that gully every spring, keep a few considerations in mind.

Here in Vermont with new regulations passed under Act 64, it is a violation of the law to have soil leaving fields in concentrated areas and entering waters of the state.  More importantly, it makes no business sense to allow this to happen.  The top six inches of top soil on your farm is the most important asset you have, so why let it leave your farm?  You have fertilized and cultivated the soil to grow your crop for your business.  Letting it go down the ditch is just bad business.

Furthermore, soil erosion creates sedimentation problems in ditches and creates additional work in the field to fill in gullies with more topsoil in an effort to prepare the field for planting.  If you think about the zone of influence, where the concentrated flow of water is causing problems on your field, it is probably larger than the entire grassed waterway would be. The amount of area you need to cover with soil “pulled” back into the gully to repair it just to have it wash out again is no doubt larger than the area of a grassed waterway, which would cure the problem.

Furthermore, soil erosion creates sedimentation problems in ditches and creates additional work in the field to fill in gullies with more topsoil in an effort to prepare the field for planting.  If you think about the zone of influence, where the concentrated flow of water is causing problems on your field, it is probably larger than the entire grassed waterway would be. The amount of area you need to cover with soil “pulled” back into the gully to repair it just to have it wash out again is no doubt larger than the area of a grassed waterway, which would cure the problem.

Installation of grassed waterways is a very cost effective method of addressing soil erosion on crop fields.  Many farmers already have the necessary equipment to move and shape the soil so that the grassed waterway will perform adequately.  In many cases a box blade and a Brillion seeder will make short work of a grassed waterway project depending on scale.  For larger gully erosion control, bulldozers are effective tools to move, shape, and level the contour.  Typical construction of a grassed waterway takes between one to two days.  NRCS has sample designs and job sheets that can guide a farmer through the installation for installing a grassed waterway without government assistance.  Google “NRCS grassed waterway design” and click on Engineering Field Tools (EFT) for more information or go to this webpage: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/technical/engineering/?cid=stelprdb1186070.

Grassed waterways following NRCS design are built to have an average lifespan of 10 years and require little annual maintenance.  NRCS and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets (through its Best Management Practice (BMP) grant program) can also provide financial assistance.  Keep in mind, this may require a more detailed engineering effort depending on the project, but funds are available.

The Farmers Watershed Alliance was awarded a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program* to install three grassed waterway projects in the summer of 2016.  These structures were constructed and farmers are very happy with the results. The farmers were actively involved with the projects and worked with their selected contractors to ensure the installations where done in a manner that they could work with.   As the farmers are experiencing, it actually is a common sense solution to a common problem on many Vermont fields.


Picture: Before construction of grassed waterway showing accumulation of snow in sloped area of field.


Picture: After construction of grassed waterway showing an ideal stand of a conservation mix.

lcbp_logo                                 neiwpcc_logo

*This project was funded by an agreement awarded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission in partnership with the Lake Champlain Basin Program.  NEIWPCC manages LCBP’s personnel, contract, grant, and budget tasks and provides input on the program’s activities through a partnership with the LCBP Steering Committee.  The viewpoints expressed here do not necessarily represent those of NEIWPCC, the LCBP Steering Committee, or GLFC, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or causes constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.

Request for Proposal

The Request for Proposals can be downloaded here. The Vermont NRCS 340 Standards outlining NRCS approved cover cropping standards can be downloaded here.

Request for Proposals

The Farmers Watershed Alliance is Seeking Proposals to Source Seed for Farms Cover Cropping in Summer/Early Fall 2015

Proposals Due July 1, 2015

Selected Vendor will be Notified July 2, 2015.

The Farmer’s Watershed Alliance is collaborating on a NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant to demonstrate the feasibility and efficacy of interseeding cover crops into corn. Interseeding will be completed either prior to canopy closure or at least one month prior to harvest. The Farmer’s Watershed Alliance and collaborating farm members are seeking a vendor to provide specific cover crop mixes for this project. This request for proposals is to solicit a business that can provide specific cover crop seed mixes as indicated below in 50# bags and has the ability to deliver the seed to farms during the aforementioned project period.

The bid request should include the cost of the seed for each mix listed below with the expectation that the seed will be delivered in 50# bags to each respective farm. The vendor must be able to deliver the seed to farms located in Franklin and Orleans County. We expect to begin seeding cover crops in mid-July.

Here is a list of the seed blends, ratios, acres to be seeded, and total pounds of seed for each blend:

1. Annual Rye/Radish Mix: Annual Rye 20# (83%), Radish 4# (16%)/acre                                 Acres: 613      Seed Needed: 14,750 lbs

2. Winter Rye/Radish Mix: Winter Rye 85# (95%), Radish 4# (5%)/acre                                     Acres: 599      Seed Needed: 53,350 lbs

3. Winter Rye/White Clover/Radish: WR 60# (85%), WC 6# (8%), Radish 4# (6%)/acre                Acres: 235      Seed Needed: 16,450 lbs

4. Annual Rye/White Clover: Annual Rye 15# (65%) White Clover 8# (35%)/acre                      Acres: 50        Seed Needed:  1,150 lbs

5. Winter Rye/Oats/Radish: Winter Rye 45# (50%) Oats 40# (44%) Radish (5%)/acre                Acres: 140      Seed Needed: 12,500 lbs

6. Annual Rye: 30#/acre                                                                                                                                Acres: 50        Seed Needed: 1,500 lbs

7. Winter Rye: 110#/acre                                                                                                                                     Acres: 615      Seed Needed: 67,650 lbs

8. Winter Rye: 75#/acre                                                                                                                                       Acres: 110      Seed Needed: 8,250 lbs

9. Annual Rye/Canola: Annual Rye 20# (83%) Canola 4# (16%)/acre                                                     Acres: 50       Seed Needed: 1,200 lbs

10. Oats/Radish: Oats 85# (95%) Radish 4# (5%)/acre                                                                               Acres: 150     Seed Needed: 9,800 lbs

11. Annual Rye/Radish: 15# (84%) Radish 3#(16%)                                                                                       Acres: 56       Seed Needed: 1,050 lbs

12. Winter Rye/White Clover/Radish: WR 40#(85%) WC 5# (8%) Radish 2# (6%)                               Acres: 20       Seed Needed: 950 lbs

Total Seed Needed:       188,600 Pounds of Seed

The seed mixes and seeding rates listed above were selected to meet the NRCS 340 Cover Cropping Standard and cannot be reduced. However the seeding rates could be slightly higher if needed.

The seed will need to be delivered to individual farms located in Franklin and Orleans County. The farm locations and blends needed on farms will be provided to the selected vendor.

All seed will need to be blended, bagged, tagged, and delivered prior to seeding which is scheduled to start in Mid-July.   The key is to meet NRCS seeding specifications and deadlines. Please refer to the 340 standard for clarification.

Payment for seed will be Net 30 days from delivery.

To apply for the contract please provide seed costs for each mix listed above. Also please indicate in the proposal the ability for your company to deliver the seed in 50# bags to each participating farm in Franklin/Orleans County.

All proposals should be mailed to:

Farmer’s Watershed Alliance

c/o Lindsey Ruhl

278 S. Main Street, Ste. 2

St. Albans, VT 05478

Or emailed to farmerswatershedallianceNW@gmail.com

Please contact the Farmer’s Watershed Coordinator, Lindsey Ruhl, with the e-mail address above or call (802) 524-6501 x445 with any questions.