FOR THE WEEK ENDING MARCH 22, 2019

GREAT TURNOUT FOR FARM BUREAU DAY!!

Many thanks to our members who came out on what was probably a terrific sugaring day to visit with the legislators on the House and Senate Agriculture Committee, as well as anyone who stopped by for coffee and pastries! We had an hour with each committee and folks put it to good use, as they shared challenges with H2a programs challenged by proposed minimum wage increases, continued dairy issues, hemp questions and other specific stories. A group from the UVM Equine Program joined us, and they thanked legislators for their continued commitment to the University. Heidi Krantz from the Equine Council discussed the ongoing need for more horse data as well as requesting a new equine specialist through UVM Extension. (Betsy Greene left for the heat of Arizona several years ago and has not been replaced). 

Our young dairy farmers, Mary Cobb and Jen Lambert, took issue with the House Agriculture Committee’s lack of action on H.81; this language would have required labeling using the word “milk” only on beverages from lactating mammals and not “nut juice”. The Committee investigated and discovered the Agency of Agriculture has the enforcement powers already, as does the USDA, but nothing has been done. Instead, the Committee sent a strongly worded letter to the Secretary of the USDA and copied it to several folks including Bob Gray at Northeast Dairy Farmers Coalition, all three of our Congressional delegation and the Agency demanding that USDA do its job to enforce correct labeling. If you would like a copy of the letter, please let me know.
WETLANDS WETLANDS WETLANDS

The discussion between the two agencies (Natural Resources and Agriculture) continues in Senate Agriculture, where language has been introduced to require the Secretaries to adopt a memorandum of understanding to formalize a process for coordinating whether farming or an activity related to farming requires a wetlands permit. 

Friday morning, the committee asked Legislative Counsel to go through draft 1.1 of the wetlands language and had staff from both Agencies in attendance. Discussion went smoothly until the definitions section, where concern was raised by Senator Starr about whether requiring a permit for “dredging or ditching in wetlands” would catch tile drainage. There was much discussion around the room, and the four lobbyists for agriculture were asked their opinion. VT Farm Bureau suggested we strongly supported maintain and preserving wetlands but not at the expense of a farm being required to get a permit for an agricultural practice. The Committee agreed more testimony and background was needed on this and despite wanting to vote the bill out of committee, asked Leg. Counsel to try and find a solution. 

It is the determination of Legislative Counsel that language offered in draft 1.1 “may provide more regulatory predictability” for farmers, foresters and others, although some things that did not require permits in the past would now requiring permitting.
There is a section in this draft that states” “The Department (DEC) shall not adopt rules that restrain agricultural activities without the written consent of the Secretary of Agriculture, Food and Markets and shall not adopt rules that restrain forestry operations without the written consent of the Commissioner of Forests, Parks and Recreation.”

The Senate Agriculture Committee did NOT vote this bill out today and didn’t get a complete walk-through of the language; I would guess they will continue the discussion in the weeks to come.

They also did not get a walk-through of the MOU proposal between ANR and Agriculture to formalize a process for coordinating whether farming or any related activities requires a permit.

SENATE HOUSEKEEPING BILL

Members of the Senate Ag Committee presented their housekeeping bill to House Ag this morning, in anticipation of the language passing on the Senate floor. There are some similarities between the House and Senate housekeeping versions; differences in the Senate include more language regarding on-farm slaughter requested by Rural Vermont and a new section that would make feeding poultry with composting food residuals under the purview of the Agency of Agriculture. Currently, anyone using food residuals is considered a solid waste business and are regulated by ANR. The Agency of Agriculture has agreed with ANR that ANR should be regulating and enforcing these farms. This is also language proposed by Rural Vermont; the bill would grandfather these farms and not allow any further expansion of current businesses, but once the law is changed, there is always the possibility of extending this courtesy to other “new” farms. If any of you have any comments on this, please let me know – the Senate bill will be heading to House Ag for testimony and discussion next week.

H.254 ADEQUATE LIVESTOCK SHELTER

This bill is being discussed in House Agriculture and seems to be a focus for the ASPCA, the Humane Society, and many local animal control officers. It is being proposed as language to give officers who investigate animal abuse cases some parameters as far as what they can look for; please check this out and give me any input. We’ve asked the Vermont Equine Council for comments, also.

HEMP

The Hemp Bill landed in Senate Finance this week and there may be some tweaks to the cost of doing business. The proposal presented by Cary Giguere from the Agency was as follows:

  •   A person growing or processing hemp for seed oil production, grain crop, fiber or textile will pay a fee of $100.00 per year.
  • A person growing less than 0.5 acres of hemp for personal use will pay a fee of $25.00 per year.
  • A person shall not grow hemp in the State unless registered with the Secretary (of Agriculture).
  • A person growing and/or processing hemp commercially for floral material production, or viable seed, or cannabinoids including but not limited to, Cannabidiotic Acid, Cannabidiol Tetrahydrocannabivarin, will pay a fee based on whichever is greater, acreage grown or weight processed as listed below:

  • Less than 0.5 acres or less than 500 lbs                                  $100.00
  • 0.5 to 9.9 acres or less than 10,000 lbs                                   $500.00
  • 10 to 50 acres or less than 50,000 lbs                                     $1000.00
  • Greater than 50 acres or 50,000 lbs                                        $3000.00
  • Exclusively Indoor commercial operations including viable seed production $2000.00

This language had to stop in Appropriations, also. The fees will be used to hire staff at the Agency of Agriculture to handle registration, inspections and certifications.

MAPLE OPEN HOUSE WEEKEND – THIS WEEKEND!

Please check out your local sugarhouse and enjoy the wonderful sights and smells of boiling sap down into golden syrup! And also check and see whether the sugar maker is doing any sap gathering between 2000 and 2500 feet; this may still be a point of contention in House Natural as they work their way through the Act 250 re-write!

2+2 RECEPTION AT THE STATEHOUSE

On Wednesday, March 27, the 2+2 Committee will host a Meet and Greet in the Cedar Creek Room beginning at 4:00 pm. Activities include introducing alumni, meeting the new class of students and general updates about the program. Vermont Farm Bureau is a proud sponsor of this event.

ORANGE COUNTY FARM BUREAU LEGISLATIVE LUNCHEON

Members of Orange County Farm Bureau are invited to a noon luncheon at Poulin’s Sugar House, 450 VT Rte. 12A in Randolph to meet with local legislators and share a meal. Questions? Call 369-9896 or justin@gmavt.net .

The schedule for next week will be interesting, as today was the day all the money bills (appropriations, capital and transportation) had to be voted out of committees and onto the floor to make crossover. We’ll keep you posted as to all the activities as they come up.

In the meantime, pray for a REAL spring!! I’m sitting here typing this in Cabot at 1:45 where we’ve already had 10 inches of snow and roads are terrible. Hope you are all safe and warm!!

From the team – Joe, Lyn, Humon and Jackie