FOR THE WEEK ENDING FEBRUARY 8, 2019

SAVE THE DATE – MARCH 20, 2019
  Just a reminder our next Meet and Greet at the Statehouse is Wednesday, March 20, 2019! We will try and reserve Room 10 downstairs to gather with the combined House and Senate Agriculture Committees. There will be specific bills by then we can weigh in on – please plan on attending!
SOME SPECIFIC PROPOSALS
  The House Agriculture Committee walked through several bills introduced:
·          H.79 – would allow organizations assisting Farm 2 School Programs to apply for the grants – currently, only schools can apply
·          H.81 – would codify the definition of milk as coming from mammals; this is being met with resistance by the VT Retail Grocers Assn, who maintain it will hurt inter-state commerce much like the GMO labeling would have
·          H.82 – would exempt from sales tax any equipment and/or accessories used in timber harvesting
WETLANDS ISSUES
  Legislative Counsel Mike O’Grady walked the House Ag Committee through a draft on wetlands and revealed a serious disagreement between his interpretation of permitting and the interpretation by the Agency of Agriculture. In the draft, there is reference to “construction of a new farm structure” that would require a permit. The Committee is concerned there may be a difference of opinion between the Ag Agency and ANR. Does the need for clean water and following the RAPS on farms trump the necessity of a permit in a wetland? And should concrete used in RAPS structures be exempted from any future impervious surfaces fees for clean water funding? There will be more discussion on this in the next week.

LIVESTOCK CARE STANDARDS ADVISORY COUNCIL UPDATE
  This group met with both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees this week to update members on the activities in 2018. Dr. Kristin Haas and Diane Bothfeld, Agency of Agriculture, also led a discussion on the ASPCA proposal to incorporate funding for humane handling of animals audits into the Working Lands Enterprise Board grant. LCSAC member Brian Kemp was unable to attend but sent his concerns about the proposal, stating his farm was already compliant with Animal Welfare Audits required through the restaurants and stores he sells to. The challenge is the slaughterhouses he works with are not compliant, and they are hesitant because of the cost. The Committees were reminded all slaughterhouses in the state are following Temple Grandin’s humane handling of animals guidelines. This bill has not been introduced yet, but the concept was discussed in Senate Agriculture.
  It was noted that humane slaughter is not monitored for on-farm slaughter.
SHELTER REQUIREMENTS FOR LIVESTOCK
  In the last biennium, Rep. Ainsworth sponsored a bill to promote specific requirements for pens/cages/areas for livestock. Rep. Bartholomew noted he would be re-introducing this language to make sure there are clear guidelines for investigative purposes when complaints are made about animal care.
PROPOSAL FOR WINDSOR PRISON – HEMP PROCESSING
  David Mueller, former owner/operator of the water buffalo cheese farm, presented a proposal to House Agriculture and Commerce and Senate Ag Committees this week about using the Windsor Prison for a processing plant for hemp. His company is called PhytoFarma and they want to help small farms to form a cooperative for testing, processing, growing and possibly marketing. He has private investors for the capital. This would only be for seeds and oil, not for fiber. Currently there is no market for fiber.
  Questions included: 
·          Vermont just made an investment in a new lab at VTC; can this testing be done there?
·          What is the energy consumption for extracting the oil? ($1,000-$1500 per day)
·          How many jobs would this develop? (30-50 within 5 years, although most would be part-time due to seasonal nature of harvest)
·          What is the business timeline? (The harvest window for hemp is August – pre-frost; they would require a planned harvest – otherwise, just like slaughterhouses, there would be a ‘crunch” time)
 There was also much concern about the economic benefits promoted, as the company claimed a farmer growing 20 acres of hemp could clear $100,000. It was also mentioned one state in the mid-west was already growing 35,000 acres of hemp and members feared this would quickly become a commodity like milk or corn.

FARM TO SCHOOL PRESENTATION
  Schools active in the Farm to School Program turned out in force to present updates to House and Senate Ag in a combined hearing. The program received $231,000 from the State in 2018, and schools are concerned because the governor’s budget indicates a cut to the program.
  Testimony was heard from principals, hot lunch chefs and many students of schools in the program. The goal of Farm to School is to have 75% of Vermont schools in the program by 2025, with 50% of the food purchased locally.

SALVATION FARMS PROPOSAL
  Teresa Snow from Salvation Farms came in to ask for one-time funding in the amount of $500,000 to develop a program to move out of Winooski and (possibly) into Rutland. She would also like $250,000 for operational budgets to include salaries for two people.

ACT 250 DRAFT PROPOSAL
  Many witnesses are being invited to testify in House Natural Resources as the Committee works its way through the 81-page draft. 
  Laura DiPietro and Diane Bothfeld, Agency of Agriculture, visited with the committee to offer an overview of RAPs and how they worked with farmers and NRCS to work through building in flood plains and river corridors. One of the members asked if nutrient management plans had anything to do with water quality. Hopefully the Agency will come back and do a basic explanation of NMPs.
  Billy Coster, planner from ANR, testified they had concerns about what would trigger an Act 250 permit on a parcel if building was not in the river corridors; would the entire parcel be under the permit? And which criteria would apply – all, or just the ones relevant to river corridors? He also noted that moving the lowest level of development from 2500 feet to 2000 feet would add 513,000 acres into the process; above 2500’ there is only 195,000 acres. He is concerned how ANR would deal with the addition of that many acres that could require permits. He also wonders if requiring a permit for forestry above 2000’ would discourage logging and steer the landowner into developing the property, since that would also require a permit and at least the landowner could get his money out of the property.
  The Agency does NOT support the definition and inclusion of the Critical Resource Area, which drew a critical response from one of the committee members but thanks from others for speaking out with concerns.
  Representative McCullough is interested in lowering the development height to 1500’; there didn’t seem to be any immediate support, but the suggestion is out there. (He feels this would protect headwaters). 
  Former Secretary of Natural Resources Deb Markowitz visited with the Committee and strongly asked them to address jurisdiction – possibly based on maps (that may or may not be current). 
  Chair Amy Sheldon, House Natural Resources (and also co-chair of Act 250 Commission) visited last week with House Ag to give an over-view of the draft being discussed on Act 250. Chair Partridge would like to hear an update within the next week or two.
  As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, please give me a call at 802-426-3579 or crkdbrks@aol.com
  There are supposedly 800 bills waiting to be drafted by the Legislative Counsel and
presented to the Committees; we’ll keep you updated as they come up.

From the team –
  Joe, AnnaJo, Humon and Jackie