Several topics including immigration reform, water quality and climate change discussed at this year’s annual Vermont Farm Show, held at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds in Essex Junction. Farmers, extension specialist and state legislatures met to find common ground.

During the Vermont Farm Show in February, Vermont senator Bobby Star and State Representative Carolyn Partridge spoke about the future of Vermont dairy farms. Both agreed that undocumented immigrants are critical in the state. They estimate that there are 2,000 visiting workers on Vermont dairy farms and they are both eager to keep them in Vermont.

The University of Vermont Extension estimates that 177 of the state’s 818 dairy farms employ Hispanic workers. The extension estimates nearly 660 migrant workers are employed on Vermont’s dairy farms and work 60-70 hours a week. Vermont Governor Phil Scott said Vermont will not carry out federal executive orders recently signed by President Donald Trump. However, dairy farmers are not sure if they will have the necessary work force to run their farms and migrant workers are fearful for their futures. With Vermont dairy farms producing mike at an estimated $3 million per day, the threat of losing a trained and hardworking labor force poses a serious challenge to the success of the state’s dairy industry.

Top agricultural officials and UVM extension agents have been thinking of emergency solutions if dairy workers are deported such as prison training or temporary refugees as possible labor sources. Another proposal is looking at using foreign workers through a seasonal visa program said

“Right now, everything’s perfectly fine – nothing going on – but we just want to be a little bit proactive,” said Agricultural Secretary Anson Tebbetts. “It will become something we need to pull together quickly if it does happen.”

The state’s updated Clean Water Act rules were intended to reduce agricultural impact on Vermont’s waterways. Dairy farms of all sizes are affected by the implementation of the new rules which include manure application, cover crops, nutrient management, required training hours and state inspections.

Last year was Vermont’s hottest on record which led to discussions about adapting practices to higher temperatures especially as it concerns the health of the herd. This topic will likely be discussed at the Vermont Dairy Producers Annual Conference as well as value-add products.