Government Programs for Organic Growers

State and Federal government programs can help farmers by reducing the costs associated with using practices that protect or conserve environmental resources. These programs pay farmers to:

  • prevent soil erosion;
  • grow cover crops;
  • include rotations, cross slope tillage and strip cropping;
  • maintain nutrient management plans;
  • maintain vegetative buffer-strips on crop, hay, and pasture land along streams;
  • manage their manure resources; and
  • install fencing and crossings to keep animals out of streams.

Below is a summary of programs that can help farmers. Be aware that programs can change with funding cycles, so use the links for the most current information. The goals of many of these programs are to work with farmers to protect water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, or reduce non-point source pollution. Programs and their acronyms are described below. These programs offer farmers technical assistance on how to solve problems and cost-share the solutions. Please be cognizant that often State and Federal programs can be combined, so farmers end up paying a small percent of the total costs.

Federal Programs

Federal Resources Overview from ATTRA

ATTRA publication Federal Resources for Sustainable Farming and Ranching offers an overview of the major federal conservation programs that provide resources for farmers and ranchers to enhance and maintain sustainable farming and ranching practices. This guide helps farmers and ranchers make their way through the often complex and difficult application processes.

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) - Vermont

NRCS puts nearly 70 years of experience to work in assisting farmers with conservation. Their programs provide technical assistance and helps cover costs on a flat rate basis to farmers for implementing good conservation practices that improve environmental quality.

There are close to a dozen conservation cost-share programs that NRCS manages; listed here are the most common ones producers use.

Agricultural Management Assistance Program AMA

AMA’s  helps farmers cover costs of to address water management, water quality, and erosion control issues by incorporating conservation practices into their farming operations. Producers may construct or improve water management structures or irrigation structures; plant trees for windbreaks or to improve water quality; and mitigate risk through production diversification or resource conservation practices, including soil erosion control, integrated pest management, or transition to organic farming.

Conservation Security Program (CSP)

CSP identifies and rewards those farmers in specific watersheds, who meet the highest standards of conservation and environmental management on their operations.
* National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition'sFarmer's Guide to the Conservation Stewardship Program

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

EQIP helps farmers install structural and implement management practices to improve environmental quality using a whole farm approach. Practices covered include those that better manage or store manure, prevent barnyard runoff, prevent soil erosion, develop compost facilities, and improve existing irrigation systems to reduce water-use. EQIP payment rates may cover up to 75 percent of costs and for limited-resource producers and beginning farmer’s up to 90 percent of costs. Payment contracts are from 1 -10 years.

Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program (FRPP)

FRPP provides matching funds to help purchase development rights to keep productive farm in agricultural use. USDA provides up to 50 percent of the fair market easement value.

 

FARM STORAGE FACILITY LOAN PROGRAM

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Farm Storage Facility Loan Program (FSFL) provides low-interest financing for producers to build or upgrade farm storage and handling facilities. The FSA is authorized to implement the program through USDA's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC).

The following commodities are eligible for farm storage facility loans:

  • Corn, grain sorghum, rice, soybeans, oats, peanuts, wheat, barley or minor oilseeds harvested as whole grain
  • Corn, grain sorghum, wheat, oats or barley harvested as other-than-whole grain
  • Pulse crops - lentils, chickpeas and dry peas
  • Hay
  • Renewable biomass
  • Fruits (includes nuts) and vegetables - cold storage facilities

Wetland Reserve Program (WRP)

WRP helps landowners protect, restore and enhance wetlands with technical and financial assistance.

Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP)

WHIP helps landowners establish and improve fish and wildlife habitat with technical assistance and covers up to 75 percent of costs. Contracts generally last from 5 to 10 years.

State Programs:

Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM)

VAAFM has a great “Subject Index” that lists all the farm programs in the State, including programs, practices, and rules.

Alternative Manure Management

This program is designed to assist Vermont farmers with creating energy efficient systems that recycle, reduce, and reuse valuable agricultural resources. Examples includes manure digestion, manure solid separation, composting and heat recapture. This program typically combines funding opportunities with USDA or private organizations to provide farmers with cost-share to create these new and innovative systems. Contact: Rob Achilles at (802) 828-6510 or rob.achilles@state.vt.us

Best Management Practices (BMP’s)

BMP, helps farmers improve water quality and decrease phosphorus loading by constructing waste-related structures and supporting farm conservation practices. The cost-share can be up to 80% for production area practices; however coverage has historically been up to 90% for new and limited resource farmers, when funding is combined with USDA programs. The length of contracts depends on the expected lifespan of the practices, which is determined by the NRCS. Contact: Jeff Cook at (802) 828-3474 or jeff.cook@agr.state.vt.us

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)

The CREP program, a partnership of the VAAFM, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Fish and Wildlife, helps farmers to implement streamside buffers next to crop, hay, or pastured land. It can pay 100% of the costs for the purchase and installation of trees, permanent fencing, stream-crossing and water systems to keep animals out of streams. On projects with grassed buffers, delayed mowed grasses, 90% of the costs are covered. Contracts are for 15 or 30 years. Contact: Laura DiPietro at (802) 828-1289 or laura.dipietro@state.vt.us

Farm Agronomic Practices (FAP)

VAAFM’s FAP program helps farmers to implement conservation practices on a per acre basis for lands not currently in such a program. Five practices are eligible for funding—regardless of whether these practices are new or farmers are already doing them. Farmers are paid for each practice they do: nutrient management plan, updates, cover cropping, strip cropping, conservation crop rotations, and cross-slope tillage. Contact: Matt Kittredge or (802) 828-6908 or matt.kittredge@state.vt.us

Nutrient Management Plan Incentive Grants (NMPIG)

NMPIG was developed to assist farms with nutrient management plan development and implementation. It provides cost-share assistance as well as technical support to Vermont farms of all sizes and livestock types. The program reimburses farmers for plan development, costs of soil, manure, and other waste testing, plan maintenance and updates. Payment is contingent upon meeting nutrient management in the General Permit for Medium Farm Operations (regardless of farm size) and USDA NRCS Technical Practice Code (590) standards. Contact: Abbi Pajak at (802) 828-1397 or abbi.pajak@state.vt.us

Other State Programs

Crop Insurance

VAAFM’s risk management education efforts increase farmers’ understanding of and participation in Federal crop insurance programs as a production risk management tool. Crop insurance programs are administered by the USDA Risk Management Agency. Polices are purchased through private insurance companies with rates subsidized by USDA for increased affordable. Crop insurance programs cover: corn, small grain, forage seeding, apple, nursery, and sweet corn crops. There also is a new policy that protects adjusted gross revenue, instead of specific crops.

Current Use Program

Vermont's Current Use Program offers landowners use-value property taxation based on the productive value of land rather than its development potential to reduce the property tax burden on owners of productive farm and forest lands. In 2000, the current use value of the land in the program averaged about 20 percent of the full fair market.

Energy Efficiency

Efficiency Vermont provides information and resources on how to save energy to make businesses more viable. They have energy-saving tips specifically for dairy farms and rebates for agriculture operations in lighting, motor controls, and commercial refrigeration.