Vermont farmers are facing new rules to prevent runoff into Lake Champlain, which some call the biggest change to the industry in their lifetime.
The new agricultural practices, with took effect Monday, include rules for small farm certification, storing and spreading of manure, planting cover crops to improve soil and prevent erosion, and expanding vegetated buffer zones on fields near water and ditches.
The rules are part of Vermont's commitment to reduce phosphorus runoff into Lake Champlain, which has been plagued by toxic algae blooms. The state says agriculture is the biggest phosphorus contributor at more than 40 percent.
"A lot of farms, whether it's small, medium or large haven't had this type of regulation handed down with as many changes," said Brian Kemp, president of the Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition. The rules are a big challenge to some dairy farmers already struggling with low milk prices, particularly those that may need to update manure storage or other facilities, he said.
The rules also will have a big impact on farms that rely on land on floodplains because they shorten the time manure can be spread in those areas, Kemp said.
"That's going to affect a lot of farmers along the river corridors that rely on that crop ground. And it really is going to shorten their window of opportunity to do their tillage, and ... implement their fall manure," he said.
The Orr Family Farm in Orwell, which milks about 100 cows, already has spent tens of thousands of dollars preparing for the requirements by building a new barn, keeping cows our of streams, planting cover crops and redoing ditches, grass waterways and buffer zones, said Rachel Orr.
The farm also received financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"I think we have been very proactive," Orr said.