Legistlative Update for Week Ending February 26th
Week Ending February 26, 2021
Changes to Current Use under H.88 would provide the Tax Commissioner the ability to waive eligibility requirements on a late certification if other information provided is satisfactory to continued enrollment. Per rule 35(a) the bill was referred to Committee on Ways and Means to consider the bill as it relates to the revenue of the state. See last week’s UTGD for more detail.
Changes to Current Use Program via unnumbered draft 1.2
The House Natural Resources Committee proposes to authorize enrollment of conserved natural forestland in the use value appraisal program as a new type of managed forestland. Legislative Counsel Michael O’Grady walked through the language, cautioning members that this was more a worksheet and not a fully developed draft. He is concerned with the current definition of “development” suggesting that may have to be revisited if discussion on this language continues. This proposal may be the result of the discussion in this committee surrounding “forever wilds” land.
One of the requirements would be for VT Forests, Parks, & Recreation Commissioner to set up management standards for conserved natural forestland. The Department “shall” approve a conserved natural forestland management plan if it “is consistent with adopted management standards and would permanently prohibit subdivision of the land and prohibit the construction of any building, road, or other structure, or any mining excavation, or landfill activity and ensure that natural resources on the land will remain substantially unaltered, except for timber harvest, cutting or other land management necessary to prevent the spread of fires or disease.”
If you would like a copy of the language, please contact Jackie Folsom via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The House Ag and Forestry Committee voted unanimously to end discussion on this bill and not support the language. VT Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Commissioner, Louis Porter, was not inclined to sign off on a payment to pay for crop damage by bears as the funds would come out of the F&W Department’s budget. He would prefer to use other methods to try and resolve the issues and has asked game wardens to identify and reach out to farms most at risk of bear damage. Members of the committee spoke against setting up a payment program and advised farmers to purchase crop insurance. VTFB would like comments from farmers if you would like us to keep the discussion going.
The Committee on Agriculture and Forestry voted to leave this bill “on the wall” and have no further discussion on it during this session. The concerns around this bill are enforcement of voluntary labeling, VAAFM staffing capacity and whether VAAFM already had the ability to offer a label for shell eggs.
House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry heard testimony from several witnesses this week. VT Agency of Agriculture Dairy Section Chief, E.B Flory has concerns around the chain of custody of the product, enforcement challenges and how the contact list would be maintained. She noted a current outbreak of campylobacter from raw milk consumption in New Hampshire and Maine resulting in 30 individuals becoming ill, 2 requiring hospitalization.
Dr. Natalie Kwit, State Public Health Veterinarian, VT Dept. of Health noted that she does not support “any changes that would loosen the regulations surrounding the sale of raw milk to the public” due to the significant public health risks associated with consumption.
Dr. Kent Henderson, Northwest Veterinary Associates, Inc. (retired) and VVMA Government Relations Committee member, requested that further discussion be tabled for this legislative session and until the pandemic subsides. Prior to further discussion of reducing requirements or expanding sales, he requested more extensive investigation be completed and testimony be heard.
- B. Flory responded to the concerns by some of being heavily regulated. She reminded folks that Grade A dairies are more regulated than raw milk dairies as milk from those dairies is tested at every pick-up.
Legislative Counsel noted there is liability risk for everyone in the supply chain. It was suggested the committee hear from an insurance agent on the availability of and cost for liability insurance. The chair said they will bring this up for further discussion when they return from Town Meeting break.
Act 116 Adequate Shelter Bill
The Livestock Advisory Council met this morning to listen to advocates for changes to Act 116. The Council split evenly on a vote as to whether to support the changes or not. Dr. Kent Henderson testified in House Ag this afternoon as to the vote and requested the Committee members resolve the issue. There is no consensus on the proposed changes. Legislative Counsel was asked to come up with an “elegant solution” to help solve the perceived problem for grazers. It was noted that the Secretary of VAAFM is always consulted before an enforcement action is taken by anyone. Chair Partridge asked to continue the discussion upon return from Town Meeting break.
Composting and Soil Amendments Language –Draft 21-0881
As of mid-week, there was still some slight language disagreements between DEC and VAAFM on jurisdiction over composting that was used off farm. No final bill has been passed out of Senate Ag, though they are close to signing off on this. S.265 from the 2020 session remained the base for the composting language since it was left hanging when COVID hit. The new language on soil amendments has been hammered out over the past several weeks. Remaining issues need to be resolved between DEC and VAAFM. Once this occurs, it is anticipated it will be voted out of committee and onto the Senate floor.
This bill proposes to amend the Vermont Water Quality Standards to clarify that the standards apply to wetlands and discharges to wetlands. Many thanks for Rep. Harvey Smith who sent questions about its effect on farmland to Matt Chapman at ANR. Mr. Chapman felt that new language being offered would clarify questions from farmers and reassure them on how they would use their authority on issues of agricultural activities in wetlands. Currently it does not appear agriculture will be impacted by this language.
Housekeeping Bill Additions and Discussions
Two language additions were discussed and approved by House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry. One clarifies the definition of livestock dealer. Current language may affect farmers who are moving cattle between farms to separate heifers, dry cows, etc.
New language proposes that “the Secretary may require a person to obtain a license as a livestock dealer under this section when the Secretary determines that a person is buying, selling, or transporting livestock or taking other action in a manner intended to circumvent the requirements of this section.”
The other addition was Section 11, Emergency Planning: Food Security. VAAFM presented it was necessary to “update the Agriculture Annex to the State Emergency Operation Plan to improve the capacity of the State to maintain a sufficient food supply during times of emergency or other food insecurity. VAAFM will work with partners to implement the food security recommendations from the Strategic Plan.” VAAFM will consult with food insecure individuals, farmers, retail grocery store owners, food distributors, organizations that serve food insecure individuals, and others in developing the plan. A report will be provided to the House on January 15, 2022.
There remains some question about repealing the sunset for on-farm slaughter. Counsel is to determine what would happen if the repeal were not enacted – would it mean that on-farm slaughter would end? VAAFM’s Dr. Haas noted reporting of on-farm slaughter is done by more farmers than are registered and one farmer actually exceeded the allowed quota for slaughtering hogs. She said it appears there is a need for this due to COVID and the Agency would continue to educate farmers about the current law rather than pursue enforcement actions. House Ag will try to vote this out on Friday to get it on the Floor for discussion prior to crossover.
Agricultural Innovation Board Draft Appears
After much discussion by VAAFM in both House and Senate Ag Committees, Draft 210900, dated 2/9/21, was made public in the House. This language proposes to repeal authorization of the Vermont Pesticide Council and move its focus into the much broader scope of the Ag Innovation Board. This Board would make recommendations for prioritizing and coordinating the implementation of proposals from the Soil Health and Payment for Ecosystem Services Working Group, the Vermont Climate Council, and others. They would recommend practices that reduce the use of and exposure to pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to protect soil biology, human health, and environmental health. They would advise the Governor and General Assembly with respect to legislation concerning the use of agricultural pest control measures and integrated pest management. The proposed board of 15 was included in last week’s UTGD. One of their duties will be to survey farmers from every Vermont county to help better understand the current agricultural landscape, as well as current challenges for farmers in to better inform recommendations to the Legislature. This will need to stop in Appropriations due to the inclusion of public members on the board which might require per diem and mileage payments.
VAAFM and Dairy Innovation Center Reports
Diane Bothfeld, VAAFM, offered her usual updates on Vermont Dairy and hoped to present her report at the Vermont Farm Show rather than via zoom.
She noted that the number of dairy cow farms in 2020 was 636, down from 677 in 2019. Large Farm Operations increased by 2 to 35. Medium Farm Operations decreased by 5 to 100. Small Farm Operations went from 268 to 198. Certified Small Farm Operations lost 38, down to 501. Certified organic farms are down by 18 to 169. Cow numbers are down about 3,000 to 122,167 but production was holding steady at 2.602 billion pounds. The average number of cows on a Vermont farm is 192. Addison and Orleans counties are now below 100 farms.
Seventy-three grants were awarded through last year’s CARES Act (COVID) funds. There were 731 dairy producers who applied and 47% hit the cap within their respective category. Sixty-two processors applied and 53% hit their caps. USDA paid out $40.1 million to Vermont dairies under the first CFAP allotment and $23.9 million in the next allotment. A total of $80 million in state and federal money was sent to Vermont dairies.
Laura Ginsberg presented a one-hour overview of the Dairy Innovation Center at VAAFM. There are several categories within the Center they have focused on:
- Education and Technical Assistance on food safety for Dairy Processors and offering specialty cheese sensory training through UVM Extension
- Research and Development for supply chain alternative and distribution responding to COVID issues for Dairy Processors
- Marketing and Branding grants which would require a 50% match and grants for food safety certification
- A distribution capacity study, brand reception study, a goat and sheep marketing study and expanding on the need for goat farmers partnering with VT Creamery
- A farmworker safety program in cooperation with AgriMark/Cabot
- A learning journey of 30 farmers to Missouri in 2023 to study grazing based dairies.
There is $1.2 million in funding to transition to grazing and $150,000 in grants for agritourism projects.
The Center will be paying for 2 full-time equivalents at UVM for Extension Dairy Specialists for the term of the federal grant. There was a question about whether one of the specialists would be organic and Ms. Ginsberg stated they were trying to be production-type agnostic.
There is no grant funding within this Center for beef projects, even if the animals are dairy beef.
There are also ongoing discussions with other states working with this Center (Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and the New England states) to set up advisory groups that will assist in determining the future focus of the Center.
Bill of Interest Introduced
H.300 An act relating to stormwater management by wood processing facilities. This bill was read and referred to the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
Orleans County Farm Bureau
Monday March 1, Noon: Legislative Zoom Discussion
Orleans County FB President, Scott Birch wants you to know that “All Orleans County Farm Bureau members are invited to join a discussion with our county legislators of important issues and legislative priorities affecting Vermont agriculture and forestry.” He asks that you “Please watch your email for the Zoom invitation or contact Peggy at email@example.com at the Vermont Farm Bureau office or call her at 802-434-5646 to get particulars.” Postcards been mailed to all active members. Your participation is important and appreciated.
No Golden Dome Next Week
The Legislature will be in adjournment for Town Meeting Break, March 1st thru 5th. If you have any questions or concerns, please email Jackie Folsom at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 802-426-3579.
We encourage you to take this time to review bills and perhaps decide to be a witness upon the return of the Legislature. They only have one week to move bills out of committee and onto the floor.
From your Advocacy Team –
Bridget, Gerry, Joe, Michael, and Jackie