Legislative Update for Week Ending March 26, 2021
USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers
USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack met with American Farm Bureau, state presidents and others on Wednesday, March 24th to preview the next round of funding for farmers and ranchers. The four areas of focus:
- Investing $6 Billion to expand help and assistance to more producers. The money come from a combination of the Consolidated Appropriations Act and other remaining dedicated coronavirus funding. The development of new and/or modification of existing programs will include assistance for specialty crops, organic certification, timber harvesting or hauling, personal protective equipment for food & farm workers, improving the resilience of the food supply chain, beginning farmers, local, urban, organic farms, and many others.
- Investing $500 million of new funding to existing programs. Some of the programs that will benefit are, the Specialty Crop Block Grant, the Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach program, the Local Agricultural Marketing Program, and the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program to incentivize the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers, to name a few.
- Carrying out Formula Payments under CFAP1, CFAP2, CFAP AA. Eligible producers will not need to reapply as the payments will be based on previously approved CFAP 1 applications, however there are increases in payments for cattle producers, additional payments of $20/acre for producers of eligible crops including alfalfa, corn and hemp, and other provisions for row crops.
- Reopening CFAP 2 sign-ups to improve access and outreach to underserved producers. A minimum of $2.5 million has establish partnerships and direct outreach efforts to improve outreach for CFAP 2 remaining funds.
For more on any of these new provisions visit farmers.gov/cfap.
Vermont Citizens Advisory Committee on Lake Champlain’s Future
Members of Senate Agriculture, Senate Natural Resources and Energy and Senate Appropriations Committees hosted board members and staff from the Advisory Committee to present their annual report. The Advisory Committee asked that the State “follow through on its commitment to address the Lake’s pollution problems with increased funding, and investment, including implementation of the Lake Champlain Restoration Plan (Phosphorus TMDL). They also proposed six priorities:
- Investment in Natural and Developed Infrastructure – Significant State funds must be allocated to provide technical assistance to communities to better address urban and rural infrastructure water quality improvements
- Investment in Public Access and Recreation Economy – The State must increase and improve public access for non-motorized recreation on Lake Champlain, in southern Vermont and on rivers and ponds throughout the Lake Champlain Basin.
- Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Needs Support – The State must increase support, grant resources and staffing for aquatic invasive species prevention and control programs and build upon decades of invasive species education and management, including increasing financial support for mandatory boat and trailer inspections and decontamination at high use public launch facilities.
- Investment in Agricultural Transition to Sustainability – The Legislature and VT Agency of Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets must provide dairy farmers with better access to alternative models of agriculture, make available the required innovative technical expertise for transition, and promote federal and state financial assistance to reduce the burdens of existing debts on outmoded facilities.
- Consolidation of Water Quality Enforcement – The Memorandum of Understanding providing authority for the VAAFM to enforce water quality regulations must be terminated and all enforcement should reside within the VT Department of Environmental Conservation until an alternative is legislatively approved.
- Next Generation Toxic Pollution – the State must initiate robust improvements in collecting and analyzing herbicide and pesticide use information with rigorous quality assurance and control, and transparent public reporting. The State must also fund increased screening of next generation contaminants to enable Vermont to recognize and respond to emerging pollutant issues before they become greater and more expensive problems.
H.434 An act relating to establishing the Agricultural Innovation Board
The language creating the Agriculture Innovation Board and repealing the Vermont Pesticide Advisory Council was addressed in the Senate Agriculture Committee this week by ANR Secretary Julie Moore. She is concerned with moving the focus from technical issues to policy advice and the loss of two ANR seats (Fish & Wildlife and Forest, Parks & Recreation). She again requested a delay on this change until the Vermont Climate Council develops their report. Senator Starr asked Secretary Moore to return with language and a proposed timeline that would work for both the Agency of Agriculture and the Agency of Natural Resources. More discussion on H.434 is scheduled for early next week.
S.102 An act relating to the regulation of agricultural inputs for farming
The composting and soil amendments bill was passed after being read for a third time, with the amendment offered by the Committee on Senate Natural Resources and Energy. The amendment sets up a prohibition of siting a composting facility in a downtown, village center, new town center, neighborhood development area or growth center unless the municipality has allowed composting under their zoning regulations. Rules will be designed to reduce odor, noise, vectors, and other nuisance conditions on farms and to protect the public health and environment equal to or better than the rules under ANR Solid Waste Management. A status report will be required annually on or before January 15 on rulemaking, complaints, enforcement, and importation of food residuals by the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets. The bill will now head to the House for discussion. The Committee on Agriculture and Forestry previously reviewed the language with Legislative Counsel.
H.218 An act relating to the sale of unpasteurized raw milk
The Senate Committee on Agriculture has started testimony on the expansion of raw milk sales to CSA’s and farm stands, passed by the House last week. Dr. Kent Henderson and Dr. Julie Smith shared information with the members about testing, public health risks and names of potential witnesses. The Committee will hear from members of the Vermont Department of Health on Friday, March 26th.
House Natural Resources Housekeeping Bill Draft #21-0956
Representative Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, contacted VTFB with concerns over the possibility of other bills being added to this draft. Currently, the language focuses on solid waste (hauler permit requirement), billbacks for the Department of Fish & Wildlife to assess applicants for an Act 250 permit incurred when the Department has to process and review an application including changes to notifications of dam removals, changes to notifications (wetlands determinations under Type 4 Procedures in Act 250), and notices of Act 250 hearings. Rep. Smith indicated the following bills may be added to this draft before it is voted out of committee:
- H.136– An act relating to Abenaki trapping licenses
- H.167– An act relating to establishment of the Environmental Stewardship Board
- H.172– An act relating to trapping and hunting
- H.316– An act relating to control over hunting dogs
- H.371– An act relating to hunting with a muzzle loader
- H.411– An act relating to the retrieval and disposal of wild animals
- H.418– An act relating to reduced hunting and fishing licenses for Vermont veterans
If you have any concerns with any of these bills, please email Jackie at email@example.com.
H.200 An act relating to regulating short-term rentals
This bill is currently in the Committee for General, Housing and Military Affairs and has not taken any action. One VTFB member sent in an email with a concern about what it would do to farms who have cabins, yurts or on-farm bed and breakfasts. If anyone would like comment email Jackie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This bill would require “short-term rental operators participating in the tourism economy are subject to the same supports and restrictions governing other lodging establishments.” It would affect all rentals offered to the public for fewer than 30 consecutive days and rented more than 14 days in a calendar year. A registration fee of $130 will be required to the Department of Health. Owners will be required to provide the following: 1) compliance with fire, life safety and zoning laws, 2) that rooms are free of insects, rodents, and other pests, 3) that water from a nonpublic supply system meets Vermont’s water rules, 4) sewage is disposed of through an approved facility and 5) that all occupancy taxes are paid in a timely manner.
There are no confirmed appointments to the Governor’s Council on the Future of Vermont Agriculture. Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts is working with Governor Scotts’ administration to make final decisions on appointments.
Legislators are trying to understand when the most recent federal COVID-19 funding will be sent to Vermont and what parameters will be attached to spending that money. Senate and House Appropriations Committees have been working on spending bills. There will be a conference committee to determine where and how the funds are to be distributed. More information will be available next week.
Enjoy the beautiful spring weather. Thank you for supporting Vermont Farm Bureau.