EAST MONTPELIER, Vt. — Demand for water quality grants by Vermont farmers has been high, according to the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.

VHCB recently awarded $956,000 to 30 farms in Addison, Caledonia, Chittenden, Franklin, Orange, Orleans, Rutland, Washington, and Windham counties so they could make improvements to reduce water pollution.

The awards come through VHCB’s Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program, said Ela Chapin, the program director.

Since 2017, the program has awarded between $1 million and $1.1 million on an annual basis, said Chapin. This year was slightly lower due to high demand.

She said applications for these rounds of funding were due prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, so those who applied didn’t have to navigate the challenges that come with that, however it’s likely some projects may end up being delayed.

“Farmers are always listening and learning,” stated Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts, in a news release. “The Vermont Farm & Forest Viability Program’s Water Quality Grants are helping farms invest in sustainable practices during a critical time. These grant funds will help these businesses and our working landscape now and into the future by building soil health, reducing runoff into waterways, improving management practices, and contributing to long-term viability.”

Among the awardees was Fairmont Farm in East Montpelier, which received $20,000 for a manure injection system.

According to VHCB, Fairmont Farm is a third-generation dairy farm owned by Clara Ayer, Richard Hall, Bonnie Hall, Ricky Hall, and Tucker Purchase. The $20,000 grant was matched by the farm and the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Market’s Capital Equipment Assistance Program. The manure injection system will allow the far to spread manure with less soil compaction and nutrient loss.

“We realize that to farm now, and in the future, focusing on sustainability measures is crucial,” stated Ayer in a release. “We recognize that the land will not take care of us unless we take care of the land.”

The farm has also planted tree buffers along waterways and worked with the Vermont Land Trust to conserve 1,600 acres of land.

Chapin said she expects demand for these grants will increase as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts farmers’ finances in various ways. She said typically about 60 to 70% of applicants receive awards, though it was slightly below average this year owing to demand. Successful applications include a long term ownership plan for the farm and a well engineered project that fits the scale of the farm and directly helps water quality. She said those who don’t receive awards are encouraged to tweak their proposals and guides towards other sources of funding. Often they come back in future rounds and get their award.

The next round of applications is due Dec. 4, with another round due March 12. Information on applying can be found online at vhcb.org/wqg.

VHCB, in response to the pandemic, has also launched a program offering business coaching to those in the farm, food, and forest products business who need guidance. More information is available at vhcb.org/support-services.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com

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