State seeks entrepreneurs to innovate to improve water quality

by Anson Tebbetts, Julie Moore and Mike Schirling

Editor’s note: This piece is written by Anson Tebbetts, Vermont’s secretary of Agriculture, Food & Markets, along with Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore and Secretary Mike Schirling of the Department of Commerce and Community Development.

From Vermont’s inception, freedom and unity have spurred innovation.

John Deere invented the tractor. Ben and Jerry created world-class ice cream. Environmental leaders such as George Perkins Marsh defined conservation. The state’s rich history highlights how Vermonters and their values have led the way.

Innovation continues today. Farmers are working with engineers, scientists and researchers on projects that improve the environment while improving their finances. Biodigesters transform manure to electricity. Perennial plants and grasses transform bare soils into buffers to protect rivers, and lasers help milk cows.

Our next challenge is phosphorous innovation. Phosphorus is essential for plant growth and both human and animal health. Too much phosphorus can be harmful to our waterways. Farmers deploy a bevy of conservation measures to keep phosphorous on their fields. Adopting these best management practices to protect water has also improved soil. And efforts are currently underway to spark further innovation in phosphorus management, building on that progress.

Gov. Phil Scott has challenged the agencies of Natural Resources, Agriculture and Commerce to find engineers, innovators and entrepreneurs who can work with farmers to implement new and innovative approaches to capture and reuse phosphorus. That innovation could take the form of extracting phosphorus from manure, processing waste to produce energy, and perhaps generating revenue and creating jobs. Possible approaches include production of compost, fertilizers and bio-char. There are many companies working on these solutions and, through the Phosphorus Innovation Challenge, Vermont is at the table.

In phase one of this project, the state has made $250,000 available for “proof-of-concept” grants to support several projects. The state is accepting proposals for this seed money over the next two months. A panel comprised of scientists, entrepreneurs, and business experts will help guide the selection. If you would like to take up the challenge, we look forward to hearing from you!

We know that achieving Vermont’s clean water goals will require us to employ both traditional conservation measures and new methods and ideas. We look forward to a day when products or processes that ensure clean water and farm viability are the standard, taking their place alongside other tools on our farms, many of which have their roots in Vermont.

Freedom and unity includes innovation, which continues to move Vermont forward, as it has for centuries, improving our environment, families and communities.

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