HARDWICK, VT — From the 2017 Annual Report, “The Caledonia County Conservation District is a local government organization housed at the USDA Service Center in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. The Conservation District coordinates resources for landowners and municipalities for the conservation of soil, water and other natural resources. Projects are determined by documented local water quality needs as well as regional and statewide priorities.”
Vermont’s Clean Water Act has put a spotlight on all water issues in Vermont. Everything from small farms to large farms, roads, bridges and culverts are under scrutiny. The goal for the Caledonia County Natural Resources Conservation District’s (CCNRCN) annual meeting is education and outreach to highlight project areas relating to water quality. The three main areas relating to this are:
- Storm water remediation (through town’s Master Plans)
- Roads and infrastructure (culverts, etc.)
- Agricultural nutrient management plans (soils and mapping)
The goal is to keep clean water clean. In keeping with that theme, this year’s meeting for the CCNRCD was held at the Laggis Brother’s Farm in Hardwick, VT where they milk 530 Jerseys and grow crops. The hosts were John and Chris Laggis.
Almost completed at the time of the meeting was a “water quality” project in the form of a new six-million-gallon manure pit which also contains an animal mortality composting facility and a silage leachate treatment system funded by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. During the meeting, NRCS Civil Engineering Technician Jake Clough and Soil Conservationist Nick Comerci provided an overview of EQIP, the manure pit design and the logistics of construction.
John Laggis puts a positive spin on manure. Managed properly manure is a high-quality fertilizer. To make the best use of this constantly produced product there must be a plan in place not only to safely store it, but to use it effectively and efficiently for growing crops to feed the dairy herd. Within that plan is documentation that the Required Ag Practices (RAPs) are followed which include a certified nutrient management plan. In that management plan is the cropping routine, conservation plan, documented setbacks and manure spreading volumes on each field, to name a few of the requirements.
The Laggis brothers had done their homework ahead of time and were on target to proceed with the engineers to see what will work. When the engineers and the farmer get an idea of the cost, then they apply for the funding. It is a contract between the farm and USDA where each component of the plan can receive cost sharing. At this point the farmer can see what NRCS will provide for funding for the project.
Since no one can accurately predict rainfall times and volumes, there needs to be safety factors to allow for downpours and methods to contain everything while allowing that excessive rain to go to a vegetative area. In the Laggis Farm situation there is a settling pond that can retain the run-off in this vegetative area which allows the water to slowly drain off after the rain stops. In this case, they have a well tile and a standpipe within that grassy area.
The plans call for a minimum of eight months of storage. As many modern dairy farms bed with sand there is an extra concern as the sand builds up in the manure pit. Some farms have had success with a type of “lagoon crawler” that will put the sand back into suspension in the manure. The Laggis pit has an access road built in to remove the sand. The solids are cleaned out once a year and then spread on the corn land after chopping and after the cover crop has been seeded. There is enough manure in that more solid portion to give the cover crop a good head start in growth.
With a manure pit under construction the challenges of daily manure handling can be daunting. This farm already had a push ramp so they could push out 4 or 5 loads per day into the spreader and haul to their heifer pasture. They also commented that they gave away a lot of manure too. This spring was especially challenging with the excessive volume of rain that fell early in the season.
The Laggis Brothers Farm is an example of a large farm that is following the new RAPs. They are effectively doing their job not only as responsible dairy farmers and animal husbandmen but also as respected stewards of the land and waters.