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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

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Agricultural Best Management Practices Lead to Less Phosphorus in Lake Memphremagog



Richard DelFavero flicks a switch in his barn in Derby, Vermont, and the manure from his 100 beef cows and 200 young stock begins moving toward an animal waste storage structure. DelFavero is quite proud of the round concrete structure built with financial and technical assistance from the Orleans County Natural Resources Conservation District and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

DelFavero is one of 26 farmers who participated in the Lake Memphremagog Best Management Practice Demonstration Project. DelFavero says he could not have built the structure and implemented other conservation practices without financial assistance from the project, which began in May 1994 and ended in February 1997. The purpose of the project was to reduce the flow of nutrients (primarily phosphorus) and other pollutants to Lake Memphremagog by installing agricultural waste management systems in the Black, Barton and Clyde river watersheds all of which drain to Lake Memphremagog.

Learning from the past

Lake Memphremagog is a 5,800-acre lake that straddles the border between Vermont and Canada. An international study by the Quebec/Vermont Working Group, published in 1993, stated that surface runoff and nonpoint source pollution from agricultural watersheds were contributing to the lake's water quality problems and impairing its beneficial uses.


Pollution reduction was further enhanced in the watershed when modified waste utilization plans were developed for all farms receiving section 319 funds.

The NRCS started two projects in the 1980s to help farmers in the Black River, Barton River, and Clyde River watersheds. These projects included cost-share measures funded by the Small Watershed Protection Act (Pub. Law 83-566) to implement conservation practices that would reduce phosphorus loading to Lake Memphremagog.

Several farms did not have enough capital to complete their contracts in those projects (i.e., they could not match the federal grant). The Orleans County Natural Resources Conservation District believed that if the cost-share rate was raised to 75 percent, more farmers could install best management practices and thereby reduce the pollution from agricultural land.

Testing the belief

The Newport office of the NRCS provided technical assistance to 42 farmers who volunteered to participate in the new project. Of these farmers, 26 installed water quality improvement practices with section 319 funds, including 18 animal waste storage structures and 12 barnyard runoff improvement practices. One animal waste storage structure was modified for better performance. Where milkhouse waste was a problem, it was incorporated in the waste storage structure or treated separately.

The NRCS estimates that 250 farms in the watershed house about 27,600 animal units. Thus, the 26 farmers receiving section 319 funds have increased the number of animal units under best management practices by 10 percent. Estimates of phosphorus loading reductions using computer models indicate that about 2,500 pounds per year are retained on-farm by the increased cost-share an estimated 10 percent of the total nonpoint source pollution load.

Pollution reduction was further enhanced in the watershed when modified waste utilization plans were developed for all farms receiving section 319 funds. Orleans County district supervisors worked to develop these plans, which specified waste application rates for fields based on nutrient needs for average crop yields. Manure nutrient tests and soil nutrient tests were used to develop the plans. The modified waste use plans provided recommendations for nutrients needed, number of spreader loads needed, and any remaining nutrients needed from inorganic fertilizer for each field on the farm.


CONTACTS: Paul Stanley
Franklin Natural Resources Conservation District
(802) 524-6505

Jon W. Anderson
Vermont Conservation Council
(802) 828-3529

Rick Hopkins
Water Quality DivisionVermont Department of Environmental Conservation
(802) 241-3770




Integrated Crop Management -
Preventing Agricultural Pollution



In 1992, the Vermont Natural Resources Conservation Council, the Agency of Natural Resources, and Vermont's Natural Resources Conservation Districts were looking for a way to incorporate pollution prevention into dairy farming operations, specifically to improve water quality. A group of state, federal, and local government personnel, farmers, conservation district supervisors, the Cooperative Extension Service, and business owners met to consider ways of reducing agricultural nonpoint source pollution on Vermont dairy farms. As a result, the Franklin County Integrated Crop Management (ICM) Service was developed.

Franklin County takes the lead

The Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District took the lead in developing the ICM Service for Franklin County dairy farmers in the Mississiquoi River watershed. The project began in northwestern Vermont for several reasons:

The Mississiquoi River is a major tributary to Lake Champlain. Many segments of Lake Champlain have become eutrophic as a result of excess phosphorus loadings, particularly from nonpoint sources in watersheds that are heavily agricultural. These sources must be reduced if Vermont is to meet its in-lake phosphorus criteria.

Farmers in the watershed have been involved in other USDA water quality programs, and many of them already have the infrastructure (manure storage facilities) in place to manage their manure in a more efficient manner. The ICM Service was developed to improve farm management and the economic viability of the farm to foster the creation of environmentally sound and sustainable farming operations. It provides direct assistance to help farmers improve their management of crops and pastures. The improvement follows from reduced chemical (fertilizer and pesticide) inputs made possible by optimal use of the nutrients in dairy manure. Properly managed waste applications can reduce the farmer's dependence on chemical inputs with no reduction in crop yields.

ICM methods

The program provides accurate, detailed information at the individual field level based on soil tests, manure sampling for nutrient content, pest scouting, side-dress nitrogen tests for corn, crop yields, and economic analysis of all crop management activities. A computer-based record-keeping system developed by the University of Vermont Extension Service helps each participating farmer track this information.


The immediate results of the program included reduced inputs of commercial nitrogen and phosphorus on nearly all of the first 11 farms enrolled in the program.

A review of pesticide applications indicate a marked difference in field management. Instead of using broad-based chemicals for pesticide applications, information received through pest-scouting led to the use of pesticides based on specific pest species and population numbers. The end result was a reduction in the amount of chemicals applied to the fields and a reduction in the cost of pesticides to the farmer.

While no in-stream monitoring was conducted in conjunction with this project, it can be assumed that reductions in inputs of commercial fertilizers and pesticides, accompanied by tailored applications of manure to fields, will eventually reduce the amount of nutrients and pesticide chemicals in field runoff, and ultimately, in the Mississiquoi River. Less than 10 percent of the watershed is affected by the section 319-sponsored ICM program. Combined with other ICM services, however, the percent of the watershed affected may be 10 percent.

Project funding

The ICM service has been funded through two section 319 grants that the Conservation District considered as seed money. A second section 319 grant was used to support the program through the spring of 1996. The initial goal of the project was to have 15 farms signed up for the service by Fall 1995. Currently, 23 farmers are active in the program and numerous others have expressed their desire to contract for services.

The initial intent of the Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District board was to facilitate the start-up of a crop management service in the community. It will, therefore, relinquish the service to the current Crop Management Technician as a private business this spring. The District does expect, however, to continue its leadership role in crop management services by piloting a program to provide geographic information systems databases and field-specific maps to farmers to increase their efficiency in nutrient and field management.


CONTACTS: Paul Stanley
Franklin Natural Resources Conservation District
(802) 524-6505

Jon W. Anderson
Vermont Conservation Council
(802) 828-3529

Rick Hopkins
Water Quality Division Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation
(802) 241-3770



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