Farmer uses own farm to make waste control point

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(Host) Dexter Randall, a Northeast Kingdom farmer and legislator, says the state isn’t doing enough to help control waste from dairy farms. Randall has first-hand knowledge of the problem.

His own manure pit is leaking. And now the Agency of Agriculture is investigating his farm for possible water pollution violations.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Randall, who’s a member of the Progressive Party, has about 250 cows on his farm in North Troy. About twenty years ago, he built a manure pit so he wouldn’t spread farm waste in the winter and pollute nearby streams.

But he’s boosted milk production since, and now the pit is too small. In the spring, it sometimes overflows. He says too many other farms are in the same situation.

(Randall)” And every year I have this same problem. We clean the pit out as late in the fall as I possibly can, and it just isn’t big enough. So, I’m just using my own place as an example. They’re all over the place. And I think the state of Vermont, the federal government – if we’re going to clean up the waterways, and if we’re going to talk about manure management – these are some of the most serious things right here that have got to be done. And it should not be a complaint-driven program.”

(Dillon) Randall’s honesty may have sparked a complaint against his own operation. The Agency of Agriculture is now investigating potential water quality violations.

Phil Benedict, an official at the Agency, told Randall last week about the investigation. Benedict says the complaint came in anonymously.

(Benedict) “He has been discussing his farm in the Legislature. I just thought it was appropriate to let him know that we would probably be coming to do an investigation, at least check out the accusation.”

(Dillon) Randall says he applied several years ago to get federal funds to expand his manure pit so it wouldn’t overflow and potentially pollute a stream nearby. But he didn’t qualify for the money.

The state has a program that pays for half the expense. But like many farmers, Randall is often low on cash and says he can’t afford even half the ten to twenty-thousand dollar cost. He says the state should focus on helping those farmers who need it, instead of developing new regulations.

(Randall) “The small farm, from the two-hundred cows on down, is basically the most vulnerable of all, this point here, because there’s no real program for them.”

(Dillon) Benedict of the Ag Agency says he doesn’t know how many farms have water quality problems, but he says it’s a lot fewer than a decade ago.

According to Benedict, the state is now regulating medium sized dairy farms because that’s where most of the animals are.

(Benedict) “If we’re going to clean up Lake Champlain we’re probably going to have to focus on this group of farms, just because the number of animals is more concentrated in this case.”

(Dillon) Benedict says he doesn’t know what the investigation of Randall’s farm will find. He says his goal is not to punish farmers with heavy fines, but to clean up pollution problems.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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