As is often the way with Nuffield, the best quote of the day yesterday came from someone who I wasn’t even supposed to meet! At the Vermont farm show which we stopped in at I came across Brian Kemp, who is a beef farmer and chairman of this farmer coalition. During the earlier farm visits I had heard about the issues that were starting to come along in terms of phosphorus and water quality in the lake and the threat of regulation of practices, that was looming.
This farmer led organisation was set up a year ago, to try and work together and provide leadership and a unified voice for farmers to proactively protect water quality in Lake Champlain. They have set up as a not for profit organisation to make sure that farmers voices are heard and farmers views and actions are heard by the general public, the policy makers, other farmers and regulators.
Brian explained, “We are a group of farmers in the Lake Champlain Basin who have taken a leadership role to show that farm economic resiliency and a clean lake can work together. We are primarily a farmer based corporation that exists to be a unified voice for farmers who are proactively addressing water quality.”
Educating the general public includes hosting school groups, holding farm breakfasts, and holding open days for people to come and see what these farmers are doing to not just produce food but protect water quality. Practices that are being advocated include the use of cover crops, conservation tillage, minimising compaction and making buffer strips alongside watercourses to stop run off.
They use the extension team at the University of Vermont to leverage in research funding and to provide the secretarial function for the group, but it is strictly by invitation only for non-farmers! The opportunity to do farm based research allows them to show the benefits of adapting these practices, and gives an opportunity to try innovative practices.
I asked Brian what the plans were moving forward for the group. Membership is growing rapidly with 80 paid farmer members and more joining every week. Brian sees the value to new farmers as an opportunity to see these new practices working and talk to farmers about the practicalities, “extension is great, but as a farmer, you don’t change what you do until you see it working.”
A great example of farmers working together to show the positive things that they are doing to integrate profitable farming and resource protection. Inspirational stuff.