3.7: Nutrient Management Add to Collection

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Act 148 diversion hierarchy. Photo: Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

The goals of nutrient management are to provide sufficient nutrients for crop or animal growth throughout their life cycle, while minimizing the negative impacts of nutrient losses into the environment.

With the passage of Act 148 and the impending implementation of a new Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) – the daily nutrient budget for a body of water  for Lake Champlain, Vermont is on the cusp of a dramatic and comprehensive shift in the way its citizens will relate to and manage nutrients. Vermonters throw away upwards of 60,000 tons of food scraps per year, but Act 148 stipulates that all food scraps will be diverted from landfills by 2020 via source reduction, food rescue, food for animals, composting, and energy production. The Food Cycle Coalition is developing strategies to develop the necessary infrastructure and engage the public on this major transition away from waste management toward nutrient management.

Despite notable productivity gains that have occurred with the introduction of manufactured inorganic fertilizers, concerns have emerged over the negative impacts of nutrient losses into the environment from over-applied and mismanaged fertilizer. In Vermont, the primary source of crop nutrients is actually an organic fertilizer, animal manure, that is commonly integrated into the nutrient cycle on Vermont farms (e.g., spreading on corn fields). The combination of manure and fertilizer runoff, along with soil erosion and livestock access to waterways, have been implicated in the pollution of Lake Champlain and other waterways. Effective and efficient nutrient management has, consequently, become an issue that is critical to not only farm productivity and profitability, particularly as fertilizer costs increase and availability of phosphate rock declines, but ecosystem health.

Many challenges lie ahead to reduce phosphorus pollution from farmland, but there is also a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate that farm viability and environmental stewardship are not mutually exclusive pursuits.  A wide variety of incentive programs are available to encourage best practices, but a more concise, synthesized menu of incentive options should be developed for farmers to make it easier to understand the financial incentives of a program and select the options that are best suited to their farm. 

What infrastructure will be needed to achieve the goals of Act 148? What kinds of management options and incentives are available to farms that can maintain productivity and simultaneously protect the environment? This section explores these questions and many others.



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Resources

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Spotlight on Wetlands in Vermont’s Otter Creek Watershed

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Wind Energy on a Dairy Farm

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4. On Farm Nutrient Management