Legislative Update for Week Ending April 9, 2021
Presentation on The Future of Vermont Technical College
Members of the leadership team have been tasked with finding a solution for VTC’s challenges. They met in a joint session of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees this week to offer their plan. Pat Moulton, President of VTC, was available for questions.
The proposal follows the recommendation of the Farm-to-Plate goals and VT Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets Strategic Plan which focuses more on food systems and less on production agriculture.
- Development of aCenter for Agriculture and Food Entrepreneurship (CAFÉ) which would offer an associate degree, focus on advising students, workforce development and allied services (business, management, technical assistance) with a concentration in Dairy and Animal Science or Food entrepreneurship.
- Rebrand the Degree Programs to an Agriculture and/or Food Entrepreneurship Associates Degree with focus on food systems with a new proposed curriculum and core concentrations
- Maintain the 2+2 program
- Expansion of offerings with short courses, certification programs and hybrid classes (online and onsite)
- Development of internship programs which would offer a Year 1 internship at VTC and a Year 2 internship offsite on local farms – including dairy
- Sell the dairy herd and expand production diversity by focusing on vegetables (potatoes), beef, grazing dairy heifers, bedded hogs, maple, and apple
Currently, there are 22 students enrolled in the Dairy program. VTC needs 135 to break even. The CAFÉ program would need 125 students. President Moulton said the current curriculum would have to be “taught out” prior to making changes and contractors would be hired on an interim basis to sign up farms for the second year of offsite internships, set up a meat cutting lab, redo course offerings, fundraise, and market to prospective students.
Senator Starr was concerned with the fact that the cows would be sold. The availability of local farms, particularly dairy forms, for internship is also a concern. Senator Collamore has concerns about rebranding after Castleton University (previously Castleton College) rebranded with no major results.
Representative O’Brien asked how the six categories (heifers, beef, apple, maple, vegetables, and hogs) were chosen and why not more “trendy” issues such as hemp were considered.
More than 26 programs were considered. The focus was on those that support critical thinking and learning skills, not necessarily enterprises. The short courses or certificate programs could be developed to match trends in agriculture.
Along with numerous other Vermonters, Mary White, 1st Vice President of Farm Bureau, served on this yearlong effort. This will be a continuing discussion. We will keep you updated as we know more.
Senate Natural Resources Looks at
Committee members took testimony. This bill is developing into a conversation about Tier II renewable goals (distributed, in-state generation). It is similar to S.267 from last year, which aimed to cap Hydro Quebec and to prioritize renewables at any cost. This is the last year of the Standard Offer Program for renewable energy. Developers have struggled to overcome some cost or permitting issues, leaving many projects unrealized. Advocates for this bill said this Standard Offer Program was “a good starting point” but there needs to be more action from the Legislature to promote the use of solar. This bill would address the shortfalls in existing programs and expand the potential for net-metering.
- Vermont is not appropriately accounting for carbon in its electricity sector due to the sale of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) and the use of largescale hydro
- The on-site solar cap needs to be eliminated
- Full net-metering, the goal of S.119, needs to be reinstated
- Advancement of long-term energy storage is needed
- Current programs need to be more accessible to the BIPOC and low-income communities.
More discussion on this bill will occur in the coming week.
The Senate Agriculture Committee continued discussion on this language. Testimony was heard from several farmers selling raw milk in support of the bill, and Dr. Andrea Etter from UVM Nutrition and Food Service speaking against it. Also, not in support of the bill is Lee Dowgiewicz, CEO of Cooperative Insurance.
Vermont Farm Bureau policy states: “VTFB should ask the Vermont Legislature to amend current law to require all retail raw milk be tested to the same standard or higher standards as pasteurized milk and the producers be inspected the same as commercial farms.”
VTFB is not against the sale of raw milk. Instead, Farm Bureau is advocating for a level playing field for all producers.
Raw milk is not tested for antibiotics. According to the Agency of Agriculture, no Tier II raw milk producer is certified organic. The law requires raw milk producers to be inspected twice annually by the Agency of Agriculture. They are not required to have FDA inspections. Unless the farms are shipping milk to a processor, they are not subject to the National FARM program audits as are Grade A dairies.
Though raw milk producers have samples tested twice a month for the same items as Grade A dairies, they are not tested for any illness causing pathogens, such as campylobacter. Grade A dairies are not tested for pathogens as they are ultimately killed due to the pasteurization process the milk undergoes.
Discussion on this bill will continue next week. Please contact Senator Bobby Starr (Rstarr@leg.state.vt.us), Senator Brian Collamore (BCollamore@leg.state.vt.us) and Senator Corey Parent (CParent@leg.state.vt.us) with your comments in support of VTFB policy.
Current Use Changes
Jill Remick, Director, Property Valuation & Review Vermont Department of Taxes, testified on the two proposed modifications to the Current Use Program. H.88 would allow the Department more leeway in handling annual recertification for agricultural land. S.61 would allow an aggregate of .10 acres or less to host a solar array for net metering to the farm without having to remove that acreage from Current Use.
Senator Starr unsuccessfully advocated removing the annual recertification requirement completely. The Senate Agriculture Committee is considering combining the two bills and adding them to the Housekeeping language (H.420) for discussion.
Natural Resources Housekeeping Draft – #21-0956
After much discussion, the changes to statute, as requested by the Agency of Natural Resources, was voted out of Committee without any additional language. Concerns of several advocacy groups were alleviated when the bear hunting bills were not attached. The major deletions were reference to the Natural Resources Board and the billback for Act 250 work by the Department of Fish & Wildlife. Both topics will be discussed in the Act 250 discussion beginning next week.
Senate Agriculture heard from several witnesses on this proposal. It would repeal the Vermont Pesticide Advisory Council, offer a new board with fewer government officials, and fifteen members of the public to discuss a holistic approach to pesticide and herbicide use as well as offer policy suggestions to the Legislature. VTFB has concerns with the makeup of the board, which includes a representative from the organic community but does not specifically include a conventional dairy farmer seat. Contact Senator Starr (RStarr@leg.state.vt.us) with your concerns.
S.100 An act relating to universal school breakfast and lunch for all public school students and to creating incentives for schools to purchase locally produced foods
The Senate Agriculture Committee worked with childhood hunger advocates for several weeks early in the session to develop language. Given the price tag ($6- $8 million annually) and the mandate (which would make the schools pick up the cost after several years), that language was not supported by schools. The Senate Education Committee chair is working on an amendment which would require only universal breakfast. S.100 has been passed over for discussion on the Senate floor until a compromise is reached.
S.102 An act relating to the regulation of agricultural inputs for farming
The House Agriculture Committee has taken testimony from many witnesses on both sections of this bill and are currently concerned with the amendment on the food residuals piece. This amendment was requested by Senator Bray in Senate Natural Resources, which restricts where a certified small farm could begin a composting operation (not in downtowns, etc.). There have been questions about towns without zoning or town plans as well as the size of the farms and the number of chickens allowed to feed off the compost. Discussion on the language will continue next week.
S.67 An act relating to creating a right to repair agricultural equipment
Representatives from Milton CAT and John Deere testified against S.67 in the Senate Agriculture Committee meeting this week. They were concerned with someone using software to fix or modify farm equipment that could inadvertently result in damaging emission controls or hydraulics. They were also worried that a piece of equipment not repaired by a qualified mechanic could cause liability issues or danger to the next owner. An advocate from a national organization supporting this bill felt the dealers’ concerns were overstated and unrealistic.
Vermont Farm Bureau has no policy on this issue and so relies on American Farm Bureau policy, which supports the language. The Committee continues to search for farmers who have had challenges with repairing their equipment. If you wish to testify, email Jackie Folsom at email@example.com
This language moves the inspection and enforcement authority from towns to the Division of Fire Safety. Inspections are prompted by the occupant or landlord complaints. Towns have asked to be relieved of these duties.
The bill includes a rental registry which charges landlords a $35 fee. This will help the state with data collection on rental units and improve communication to all landlords. It expands the registry to short term rentals (under 30 days). It creates the Vermont Rental Housing Investment Program to be ran by local nonprofits to distribute grants to landlords for home improvements in safety and weatherization.
A “short-term rental” is defined as a furnished house, condominium, or other dwelling room or self-contained dwelling unit rented to the transient, traveling or vacationing public for a period of fewer than 30 consecutive days and for more than 14 days per calendar year.
Several VTFB members, current landlords and agritourism sites alike, have had mixed reactions to this proposal. Testimony will continue next week. If you would like to be a witness on S.79, please email Jackie Folsom at firstname.lastname@example.org. Vermont Farm Bureau currently has no policy on this issue and would be glad to hear from members.
Bear Hunting Laws
H.172 An act relating to trapping and hunting H.316 An act relating to control over hunting dogs
The House Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee continues to discuss H.172, which would ban the use of dogs in hunting black bear, and H.316, which would require visual and verbal contact at all times while hunting with dogs. Sportsmen groups have been testifying and sending emails to all committee members against these bills, while advocates are doing the same. Representative Harvey Smith, R/New Haven, is on this committee and is keeping in touch with VTFB. There is a concern of not allowing dogs to hunt bear, as the bill offering reimbursement to farmers whose corn crops have suffered bear damage was not supported by the House Agriculture Committee. Representatives of the Department of Fish & Wildlife testified that farmers should either put electric fence around their corn crops to keep the bears out or hire hunters with dogs to remove the bears.
Enjoy the beautiful spring weather. Thank you for supporting Vermont Farm Bureau.