The Vermont Farm Bureau is again offering members an opportunity to visit with legislators at the Statehouse! Join us for a Meet and Greet in the Cafeteria, beginning at 8:30 – we will be offering hot beverages and pastries to everyone stopping by, and it’s a great chance to chat with your representative and senator in a relaxed venue.

       At 10:00 am, we head to the Ethan Allen Room (directly behind the cafeteria) to talk with the Senate Agriculture Committee for an hour. Members include Senators Starr, Hardy, Pearson, Pollina and Collamore.

       At 11:00 am, the House Agriculture Committee will stop by the same room. (This is much easier than trying to fit all of us in the Committee rooms!). Members include Representatives Partridge, Graham, Fergard, O’Brien, Strong, Bock, Norris and Bartholomew. 

       Farm Bureau members had some great comments and questions for the legislators last time around and we hope you can attend with follow-ups or new thoughts. Some of the issues include wetlands, on-farm slaughter, using composted food waste for chicken feed, hemp, pollinator protection, and Act 250. If you have anything else to talk about, please do so!! But JOIN US ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 20 TH !! Free parking and shuttle behind the Department of Labor on Memorial Drive!


       This is the week any bills trying to make it across the hall to the other body have to be voted out of committee and okayed on the floor – except for money bills, which have until next Friday. Most of member time this week has been on the floor, as a sense of urgency hasn’t occurred yet (since they have until the end of the 2020 session to pass laws). Some bills were passed out of House Ag this week, but the Economic Development language in Senate Ag was just passed out of that committee today and because of an appropriation of $95,000 for the Forestry Safety Program, will have to go to both Senate Finance and Senate Appropriation Committees before heading to the Senate floor.

       The Administration’s language (as yet without a bill number) introduced earlier this year has reached a stalemate in Senate Agriculture, as staff of both Agency of Agriculture and Agency of Natural Resources visited with the Committee to try and work out differences. It’s becoming a challenge to determine what to do, and Senator Pearson has suggested “putting both agencies in a room until they can figure out how to make this work for the farmers.” The latest thought today was to send staff from both agencies at the same time to delineate wetlands prior to farmers starting projects, so there would be agreement on whether the project would affect any Class II wetlands. Senator Pollina wanted to table the language, but others on the Committee suggested taking more testimony next week and trying to find a resolution. The bill has missed cross-over (which was today), but Senator Starr felt positive he could move the bill if there was a final vote. 
       Stay tuned! House Agriculture is waiting for the bill to come upstairs, although they have been taking testimony on the Administration’s proposal, too, and have heard from both Agencies as well as Secretary of ANR Julie Moore.


       House Agriculture voted out a letter to be sent to the Congressional Delegation, Bob Gray from NDFC, the FDA and the Vermont dairy cooperatives, citing USDA’s own definition of milk and strongly requesting the Federal government enforce their own law regarding labeling of milk versus plant-based juices. A copy of the letter is on the House Ag website. They will not pass H.81 out of committee.


       House Natural Resources has been focusing on downtown development and administration and appeals this week, so your team has not been spending much time up there. This bill will probably not make cross-over, as there is much of it that hasn’t been vetted and many groups (including Farm Bureau and other agricultural folks) have not weighed in.


       The House Ag Committee continued testimony on the neonicotinoids language. This bill focuses on outdoor use by homeowners and doesn’t ban treated article seeds but requires users of the seeds to have a certified applicators license when applying the herbicides. According to the Agency of Ag, currently 900 products available to consumers have neonics in them, mostly for dogs (flea collars) and in-house use (headlice). About 140 products would be restricted for use if this bill passes. On a question by Rep. O’Brien, it was noted you couldn’t go to New Hampshire or on the web to purchase these products because the language references USE, not purchase. The Agency will have to visit every retailer to update them on restricted sale items. Section 3 in the bill was changed to codify registration (with the $10 fee) and certificates become optional for beehive owners. 


       This language was passed out of House Agriculture and adds the words “and parts or accessories sold for the machinery” used for timber cutting, removal and processing shall be exempt from the tax on retail sales and the use tax. Joint Fiscal Office (which determines financial implications of bills) noted a possible cost of $25,000 in foregone revenue which is a direct cost to the Education Fund. 


       There was a lot of discussion about this bill; the current statute would end as of June 30, 2019, if the repeal of the sunset wasn’t passed. Rep. Graham was against continuing the language, as Randy Quenneville had testified the reporting and registering required in current statute was not being followed by folks doing on-farm slaughter. Representatives of Rural Vermont felt the law was hard to comply with and farmers were afraid to register for fear of retaliation or some kind of enforcement. VT Farm Bureau testified in favor of a proposal to repeal the sunset but only for a specified number of years and pledged to work with our members and other agricultural organizations to do outreach and training to the community. In the end, the language passed was to repeal the sunset until 2023 and then re-visit the statute in the hopes that outreach had resulted in more farmers following the law.


       This language has been floating around for several years, first introduced by Rep. Buxton and then Rep. Ainsworth. Rep. Bartholomew walked the House Ag Committee through the bill and then a list of possible witnesses was developed. I have suggested the VT Horse Council be contacted, as there is specific language for equine. The bill as currently written is not directed at dairy.


       This bill was voted out of Committee on Thursday and has to be okayed by a few other committees before hitting the floor of the House. “Housekeeping” refers to language requested (usually by the Agency of Agriculture) to “clean up” some challenges they have discovered and often are not controversial. There were lines referencing the Local Foods Grant Program and who is eligible, new definitions for farmers in Agricultural Water Quality (being in “good standing”), a process to certify NMP technical assistance providers, a section on the Environment Stewardship Program, the codification of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, the creation of the Ecosystem Services Incentive Program, clean up of acquiring records of slaughterhouses for the Agency, and the addition of an audit for the Department of Environmental Conservation to the Clean Water Fund.


       This is also a committee bill (currently without a number) which attempts to do a variety of economic development proposals, including: requiring a study by the Agency of Agriculture on a strategic plan to stabilize and revitalize agriculture (including an assessment of the potential to increase local products in schools), a report by the Agency of Ag regarding developing a dairy processing plant in Vermont, a convening of a Soil Conservation Practice Working Group to recommend financial incentives for farmers, a Vermont Clean Water Affinity Card Program (credit cards) where proceeds will go into the General Fund for farmers and for one of the above reports, repealing the on-farm slaughter sunset and changing language from single owner of an animal to multiple as well as requiring livestock to be slaughtered in a humane method, a report on radio frequency ID tags for livestock (cost and federal requirements), a request to the Working Lands Enterprise Board to include funding “independent animal welfare certification programs”, a pilot project for determining how to enter lands into carbon markets, an accident prevention and safety training program for loggers, a master logger certification program, and financial assistance for anyone engaged in adding value to forest products in Vermont.

       Late additions included a repeal of the sunset on sales tax exemptions for advanced wood boilers as well as a certification of farms accepting food residuals for composting. This last addition has been opposed by both the Agency of Agriculture AND the Agency of Natural Resources; current food residuals are considered solid waste in statute and neither Agency would like that changed. A group of poultry producers who use food waste in their composting mixture to feed their birds testified in front of Senate Agriculture a few weeks ago and requested this language. 

       This bill needs to go before both Senate Finance and Appropriations before heading to the floor; if voted out, it will go to House Agriculture for discussion.

       Next week will be a busy time for the members, as they will be receiving bills and also spending time on the floor discussing money bills.

       As always, we will try and be everywhere there is something affecting our industry!

       From the Team – Lyn, Joe and Jackie (Humon was on college break this week!)