VT ag agency releases draft water quality rules for public input
By Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets
By Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets
November 4, 2015, Montpelier, VT – The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) has released a draft copy of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for a period of public comment that will run through December 18, 2015.
This is a pre-filing period affording the opportunity for all interested stakeholders to review the draft RAPs and provide initial comment before VAAFM formalizes the draft this winter. The agency will then enter into the formal rulemaking process in the spring of 2016. Additional public comment periods will follow both the draft rewrite as well as the formal rulemaking period.
For a copy of the draft RAP document, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/water_quality/VAAFM-Draft-RAP.pdf
To help facilitate this comment and input process, VAAFM has scheduled 10 public meetings across the state. These public meetings will include a detailed presentation of the draft RAPs, with a question and answer session to follow. In order to maximize public input, VAAFM is also offering to hold smaller group meetings for interested organizations and stakeholders to review the rules in greater detail. For the current list of scheduled public meetings, please visit VAAFM’s webpage at: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/news-events/public-meetings
“It is important for all stakeholders to understand the rules are in draft form – and that their feedback in this process is critical,” said Vermont’s Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross. “We are holding these meetings because we want to engage with the public, to gather their feedback, and to ensure we are implementing a realistic, workable framework for agricultural practices in our state that effectively protects our lakes and rivers. We hope, and expect, that key stakeholders will step up and attend these meetings, to ensure their perspectives are heard.”
VAAFM was directed by the Legislature to draft the RAPs pursuant to Act 64, signed into law on June 16, 2015. Act 64 amended and enacted multiple requirements related to water quality in the state. The “Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs)” were rewritten to a higher level of performance and renamed the “Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).” VAAFM was charged with revising the RAPs by rule on or before July 1, 2016. Act 64 requires that the revised RAPs include requirements for: small farm certification, nutrient storage, soil health, buffer zones, livestock exclusion, and nutrient management.
“The Agency of Agriculture wants to be very transparent with this process,” said Jim Leland, VAAFM’s director of agricultural resources management division. “This collaborative process will ensure VAAFM develops a rule which meets the intent of Act 64, and is workable and implementable by the diversity of agricultural operations in the state.”
In addition to requiring the implementation of RAPs, Act 64 instructed VAAFM to establish a program certifying and training small farm operations. With more than 7,000 farms in the state, according to the 2012 USDA Ag Census, a significant portion of small farms could be required to newly certify compliance with the RAPs when the program is implemented on July 1, 2017.
“Farms of all sizes will be impacted by the RAPs, which is why it is important for all farmers to attend a meeting and provide comment,” said Leland.
Significant and expanding technical and financial assistance is available from Federal, state and local organizations – including Vermont’s new Clean Water Fund established by Act 64. This will help ensure farms of all sizes are able to continue to access resources to assist in the planning and implementation of management changes and conservation practices to improve water quality on farms.
“Farms of all sizes are already making significant progress at developing plans and implementing conservation practices statewide,” said Leland. “When implemented, the RAPs will set a roadmap and standards to ensure current and future planning efforts are as effective as possible at improving water quality on farms in Vermont.”
Act 64 also requires that a VAAFM submit a draft report on water quality considerations regarding tile drainage to the legislature in January 2016, with the RAPs revised to included requirements for tile draining by January 15th, 2018. Successful implementation of the RAPs will assist in Vermont’s mission to meet the goals of Act 64 as well as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Phosphorus for Lake Champlain.
For more information about the RAPs, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap
A timeline for RAP public input, revisions and implementation can be found at VAAFMs webpage http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap#Q9
VAAFM will seriously consider all comments received during this pre-filing period, though there may be no formal response to individual comments received. Comment can be e-mailed to: AGR.RAP@vermont.gov or mailed directly to: 116 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05620
Comment received by VAAFM regarding the draft RAPs will be used solely for consideration during the revision of the RAPs and will not be used for water quality regulatory enforcement purposes. VAAFM encourages farm operations to submit comment with examples of areas on their farm where their current management meets state water quality standards, but would be out of compliance with the draft rules.