Farmers Dedicated to Healthy Lake and Healthy Community
Originally Published in the St. Albans Messenger on 4/13/2018 in Opinions: Editorial Comment & Letters to the Editor.
The farmers of Lake Carmi share our neighbor’s concerns about phosphorous in our watershed and have come together to share the work we have done in, and for, the Lake Carmi watershed. This work, for many, has been implemented over the past ten years and well ahead of state mandates. From practices like cover cropping, which keeps a growing crop on the fields all year long – reducing the chances for runoff; to manure injection, which shoots fertilizer up to 10 inches under the surface to keep nutrients in the ground, and out of our waterways. Farmers are leading the way in protecting our environment, one that we are all a part of. Why? Because we believe in healthy food for our communities and beyond – food that sustains us, but also sustains the earth for future generations.
We feel until this point, our story in the Lake Carmi watershed hasn’t been factually told. We want to have a voice in the continuing conversation of protecting our waters and our communities; and we want others to make decisions based off the correct information.
Over the past month, we have met and gathered information on our practices: Nutrient Management Plans, field maps, soil samples, manure samples, and agronomy practices – information gathered with the assistance of the UVM Extension, which has taken an unbiased approach throughout this process.
We are proud to share a factually-based representation of what is really happening in Lake Carmi with you:
Data collection shows there are just over 7,700 total acres in the Lake Carmi Watershed, out of those acres, roughly 1,430 are used as agricultural crop lands, mostly hay fields. The work done by the UVM Extension shows that of those agricultural acres, 72% utilize cover crops to reduce runoff year-round; 82% of those total Ag acres are managed using reducing tilling practices to avoid soil disturbance.
Corn, a crop that needs phosphorous to grow and thrive, makes up just 229 acres (16%) of the Carmi Watershed, and of those, 63% are cared for using manure-injection techniques to lock phosphorous underground.
When it comes to that phosphorous, farmers in the watershed apply this nutrient in responsible ways and in responsible amounts – 81% of watershed acres are managed using state mandated Nutrient Management Plans. The remaining acres are not required to have Nutrient Management Plans, including land owned by the State of Vermont.
Whether you believe it or not, UVM Extension data shows, the facts show, that manure-fertilizer only supplies 74% percent of the phosphorous crops and fields need to grow in the Watershed, meaning there is a phosphorous deficiency on cropland (corn, hay) in the watershed.
And despite the thought that Lake Carmi is surrounded by dairy farms, there are less than 500 dairy cows total in the watershed, none of which are actively being milked.
The future of Lake Carmi is a responsibility shared by all of us, not just farmers. The farmers of Lake Carmi are committed to continuing the environmental practices we have established, to being respectful neighbors, and moving the bar higher in Franklin County.
As a community we set ourselves up for failure thinking the work being done by farmers alone will be enough to restore the lake and to eliminate the legacy phosphorous built up over decades. It will take all of us to make this a reality.
Research has shown and will prove that the best use of our land in Vermont is a working landscape. Reaching a place of agricultural success and environmental protection is a balance we look forward to leading. We take pride in our integrity as members of this community; the facts represented above will lead towards the water quality standards we all desire for the lake.
The Lake Carmi Watershed has not been impacted over-night, and it will take time to show results. We will continue to do our part – adopt new practices, stay educated on the latest science and trends, and much more.
This is the story that has not been told. We are proud to be part of the small group of people that make food, and are proud that we are learning how to improve our practices every day for our community and beyond. We hope you will join us in a conversation, one in which we can listen and learn from each other to make the best investments and efforts towards a healthy lake and healthy community.