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Legislative Update for Week Ending February 19, 2021

 Bills of Interest

S.52 An act relating to increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025. This bill is in the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs. 

S.67 An act relating to repair of agricultural equipment -This bill is the Senate version of the Ag Right to Repair language in H.58. The bill was sent to the Commerce and Economic Development Committee. The Senate Agriculture Committee is asking the bill to be remanded to them. 

S.83 An act relating to the Dairy Stabilization Program – This bill proposes to impose a $0.05 tax on every retail package of dairy products sold by a distributor to a retailer. The bill would also establish the Dairy Industry Stabilization Program to provide financial assistance to dairy farmers in the State. The financial assistance would be provided in the form of a premium over the federal order price that the State shall pay each registered dairy farmer in the State per hundredweight of milk sold in the State. This bill is in the Senate Agriculture Committee. 

H.241 An act relating to establishing an ecosystems services tax – This bill proposes to establish an ecosystems services tax credit for activities on working agricultural land and managed forestlands that sequester carbon or improve water quality. This bill is in the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee. 

H.258 An act relating to increasing the minimum wage to $15 -This bill proposes to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by 2025. This language is in the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee. 

H.292 An act relating to a regenerative economy – This bill proposes to require the 13 State to develop a plan for a regenerative economy by 2024. This bill proposes to require the State to develop a plan for a regenerative economy by 202 and includes language pertinent to agriculture. It is not yet assigned to a committee.

LT. GOVERNOR MOLLY GRAY MEETS WITH FARM BUREAU 

Vermont Farm Bureau leaders met with Lt. Governor Molly Gray on Tuesday. VTFB President Joe Tisbert led a discussion on our guiding principles, advocacy for all Vermont farmers and legislative priorities. He was joined in the meeting by Executive Director Steve Reviczky, 1st Vice President Mary White and Legislative Director Jackie Folsom. Lt. Governor Gray shared her views on a number of agriculture’s challenges and opportunities and welcomed future meetings with Farm Bureau. She was delighted to speak with Mary about cows (“Jerseys or Holsteins?”) and learn more about Farm Bureau our programs. We were invited to contact her office with any concerns or suggestions and participate in her zoom discussions pertaining to farming and forestry. We are appreciative of Bridget Morris of the Morris Group for setting up the meeting and thank Lt. Governor Gray sharing her time with us.

AG COMMITTEES HEAR FROM FARM TO PLATE 

Last Thursday, members of both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees attended a three-hour presentation from Jake Claro, Farm to Plate Project Manager and others on the 10-year Vermont Agriculture & Food System Strategic Plan. The report and plan lay out a vision, 15 goals, 34 priority strategies and 276 recommendations to advance Vermont agriculture and food systems. The report provides insights through fifty-four product, market and issue briefs that examined bottlenecks, gaps and opportunities specific as well as recommended strategies to advance each. Priorities identified in the report include 1) providing at least $1.5 million in annual funding to the Working Lands Enterprise Fund to accelerate innovation and sustainability in Vermont food system businesses, 2) establishing funding mechanisms to address specific food system investment gaps for women and Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) owned businesses, 3) improve funding opportunities and create equitable access for BIPOC organizations and BIPOC-owned businesses, 4) rebuild Vermont’s restaurant industry to provide local purchasing incentives to support the expansion of farm-to-table relationships, 5) support stabilization and revitalization of the dairy industry (through marketing programs focused on quality, expanding opportunities to differentiate the milk supply through production of higher attribute milk and increased capital investment for dairy processing, storage and co-packing of value added products) 6) increase availability of local meat and improve capacity of slaughter and processing facilities; and twenty-eight other identified wide-ranging priorities. To view the full plan and priorities, please visit www.vtfarmtoplate.com/plan.

MORE ON BEAR DAMAGE AND CROPS 

Counsel Kelly McGill’s research discovered that Fish & Wildlife has rulemaking authority to decide the value of the damage and this can be appealed to court. Currently, rules state that damage must be reported within 72 hours of same, which may not be easily discoverable as bears generally prefer the interior of corn fields. Ms. McGill noted that when a proper claim is filed with F&W, a voucher is sent to the State Treasurer’s office and payment is made at that time. It is unclear whether the funds come out of the F&W budget or from the General Fund.The Treasurer’s office will be asked to clarify the source of funds used for this purpose as the Committee continues consideration of the issue.

HOUSE AG WORKS ON BUDGET REQUESTS 

Committee members worked through the budget proposed by VAAFM and further requests from VAAFM and the VT Sustainable Jobs Fund on behalf of WLEB and VHCB. There is a request for an additional one-time funding of $3 million for Working Lands and a request to support the Governor’s proposal of $20 million in funding for VHCB. In addition, there is a request for an increase in one-time funding of $20 million for VHCB to be used primarily for affordable housing initiatives of which up to $5 million may be used for conservation projects and Farm and Forest Viability Program activities that support the rural economy.VTFB has been working with the Farm Labor Housing Coalition and has asked Chair Partridge to include language that part of the affordable housing funds be directed towards grants and/or loans for farmers to update/upgrade employee housing, especially since COVID-19 restrictions require additional space for physical separation. So far, there has been no traction on this request. We also asked to change the may to shall with regard to the $5 million proposed for conservation and viability programs.

H.89 AGRITOURISM LIMITED LIABILITY BILL 

Adam Necrason from the Trial Lawyers Association attended a House Agriculture and noted that the language in H.89 was very balanced and his organization had no objections to the bill. He said it provided clarity and reassurance for farm owners engaged in agritourism.Mr. Necrason had already spoken to Rep. Grad, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, in support of H.89 and Chair Partridge noted the bill would probably not need to stop in that committee for review.One amendment to remove the word “agricultural fairs” from the bill was passed and the bill was voted out of committee on an 8-0 vote. Members will try and get it on the notice calendar and ready for second reading by Friday. 

H.88 AND THE TAX DEPARTMENT 

Jill Remick from Property Valuation and Review testified on H.88, which would require filing certifications for agricultural land enrolled in current use every three years instead of annually. She testified this was too long and would not solve the problem of landowners neglecting to file. Out of 8,000 certifications mailed out, only about 100 are consistently not returned and the department does make several attempts to notify those individuals. She also noted that there is a current use online portal available to landowners.Final discussion of this bill removed Section 2 which requested a study and report of an online portal and also removed the language referencing the 3-year filing. The following language remained: “The Commissioner may waive the eligibility requirement under the subsection provided the Commissioner obtains through other means satisfactory information that the enrolled agricultural land continues or enrolled agricultural buildings continue to meet the requirements for enrollment.” Ms. Remick testified this would give them some flexibility to review late certifications by other means (maps, GIS photos, etc.) and not have to simply remove land from the program. There seemed to be agreement within the committee members to this arrangement and the bill will be drafted reflecting the new language.Ms. Remick also commented on the testimony two weeks ago, that a farmer was fined by the Tax Department for allowing their animals to pasture in woodlands. She stated she had no knowledge of this incident and would inquire with the department. She noted that FP&R does not encourage or allow pasturing animals in woodlands and if farmers continue this practice their woodlands should be enrolled as agricultural land and not as forest land.  

H.218 RAW MILK CHANGES 

Rep. Surprenant, the bill’s lead sponsor, discussed her proposal stating it provides accessibility for raw milk to other consumers, supports “food equity” and encourages more farmers to register as Tier 2 producers. There were some questions about chain of custody and how to ensure raw milk stays cold during transport and why the location of the CSA or farmstand had to be within 30 miles of the producing farm. The explanation was that this was suggested by Rural VT to coincide with the previous definition of what “local” meant (that definition was changed last year). It was noted that there is currently no definition for either CSA or farmstand in statute. The Committee’s counsel opined on the matter of Act 250 permits in the event that the sale of raw milk of others tips the scale on a CSA or farmstand in terms of selling less than 50% of product principally produced on the farm. No testimony has been taken on this bill. If you are interested in testifying, please let us know by calling Jackie at 802-426-3579 or emailing her at crkdbrks@aol.com.

APPOINTMENTS – DAIRY TASK FORCE AND CLIMATE COUNCIL SUBCOMMITTEES 

Senators Starr and Brock were appointed by the Committee on Committees to be the Senate representatives on the Dairy Task Force. No other appointments have been made public to date. The Agriculture Subcommittee for the Climate Council, chaired by Abbie Corse, was meeting on Wednesday to vet the nominations for seats on the group. No appointments have been announced as yet. There were over two hundred nominations for the four different subcommittees. 

VAAFM PRESENTSAG INNOVATION BOARD PROPOSAL 

Kanika Ghandi and Cary Giguere from VAAFM were before the House Agriculture and Forestry Committee to discuss the Agency’s proposal to change the current Vermont Pesticide Council into a board more aligned with their current focus. The Council is now comprised of representatives from many governmental agencies as well as one from UVM and one person from the general public. Originally established under Governor Kunin, this Council was to develop a more comprehensive view of pesticide use across state government and determine what was best for the environment. In 1999, the Legislature asked that this group change focus and begin to benchmark pesticide use in Vermont and to weigh in on policy. The VAAFM proposal envisions the new Board being more policy oriented, viewing pesticide use holistically. The make-up of the new board would be the Secretary of VAAFM, an organic farmer, a member of the UVM Center for Sustainability, the Director of Water Quality, the Commissioner of the Health Department, the Secretary of ANR, a soil biologist, a dairy farmer, a fruit and vegetable farmer, a grass based non-dairy farmer, a member of the general public, a member of a land conservation group and a member of an environmental advocacy group.There is still no language drafted for this proposal and the House Ag Committee was reluctant to discuss this further without something specific to view. VAAFM indicated they were working on a draft and would try to have it ready for next week’s agenda. 

FOR YOUR INFORMATION 

“Crossover” this year is supposedly March 12 for non-money bills and March 19 for money bills. In plain language, this means for all bills to pass this year they must be voted out of all relevant committees and on the floor by March 12, other than the budget, the Education Fund bill, the capital bill and the transportation bill. The last four noted require money and are given more time for vetting in their respective committees. Keep in mind, bills do not “die” if they are not voted on in 2021. Because this is the first year of the biennium, any language that does not get out of committee before adjournment in May will still be in play come January.

ORLEANS COUNTY FARM BUREAU ZOOM MEETING ON MARCH 1st Scott Birch, President of Orleans County Farm Bureau, invites members and legislators from Orleans County to meet via zoom on March 1 from noon until 1:30 pm. This virtual gathering is in place of the County Farm Bureau’s annual legislative pancake breakfast. Sadly, the breakfast cannot be held this year due to COVID-19.  Orleans County members should look Zoom invitation sent by email. If you are interested in participating in the virtual gathering and need the Zoom invitation, please email Peggy at the Vermont Farm Bureau office (peggyvtfb@gmavt.net) or call her at 802-434-5646.

From your Advocacy Team -Bridget, Gerry, Joe, Michael, and Jackie    

Vermont Farm Bureau continues to update our Covid-19 Resource page. Take a look. Share.https://www.vtfb.org/covid-19.php

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Legislative Update Week Ending February 05, 2021

This publication is for the benefit and education of Vermont Farm Bureau members. Please do not forward or copy this for any purpose other than to promote the farm bureau. Thank you.  
Week Ending February 05, 2021
Click for More on House Bills Click for More on Senate Bills

Bills of Interest
IntroducedS.44   An act relating to a Vermont Green New Deal – Five million dollars for weatherization, renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, and the electric vehicle project funded through an income tax increase of 1.6% for those earning between $200,00 and $500,00 and .15% for those earning more than $500,00. 
S.61 An act relating to the definition of agricultural land for the purposes of use value appraisals – The bill would allow a solar array on 1/10 acre or less on land enrolled in Current Use. 
H.120 An act relating to updates to Act 250 – The 45-page bill is similar to last year’s proposal with numerous and complex provisions including, but not limited to, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, ecosystem protection, purpose, permitting powers, exemptions, and authority. 
H.167 An act relating to establishment of the Environmental Stewardship Board – Creates oversite of ANR, to provide input on pollution and solid waste reduction and advise ANR on laws and regulations. The Governor would appoint board members and provide a budget. Membership includes those Fish & Wildlife, VHCB, and other groups concerned with climate, water protection, toxic and pollution reduction. Agriculture was not provided a specified seat on the proposed board. 
H.172 An act relating to trapping and hunting – Dogs would not be allowed to hunt for black bears. Only a licensed nuisance wildlife control officer would be permitted to trap an animal. 
H.186 An act relating to the sale of shell eggs – VAAFM would develop a voluntary label for eggs sold in Vermont produced by domesticated egg-producing chickens in compliance with Vermont’s animal cruelty laws.

Senate Resolution on Executive Order Concerning the NRB  
The Senate passed a resolution, 22-8, disapproving the Governor’s Executive Order 02-21 that reorganizes the Natural Resources Board and the Act 250 district commissions. The Senate voted despite concern voiced in the Senate Democratic Caucus about the possibility that a court case may find in favor of the Administration. The administration believes that both House and Senate are required to vote against an executive order to “kill” it. The Legislature believes only one chamber is required to disapprove.

House Ag Hears Comments on Shelter Bill 
Farmers and advocates offered language to the Committee update the Adequate Shelter bill passed last year. There was some misunderstanding between the intent of the bill and the perception of witnesses. Participants expressed the view that the law impinges upon the rights of farmers who graze livestock by requiring them to offer a building as shelter in each paddock or pasture. Despite assurances from Chair Partridge, farmers visiting with members (beef, diversified farm, and sheep) demanded changes to the law.  Some testifying expressed the belief that there should be no exemption for dairy animals, even though the National FARM program was brought up by the Chair. Several farmers noted they were part of the Animal Welfare Approved certification program but were not going to continue in it, since they did not like the regulations related to buying young stock. Concern was expressed that farmers were getting “turned in” anonymously to law enforcement on complaints from neighbors and folks driving by fields who felt the animals were being abused or neglected. It was noted there is a great need for education, particularly about animal body conditioning and an animal’s ability to withstand weather better than humans. That led to a great discussion with the Livestock Cares Advisory Council the next day.

Livestock Council Members Weigh-In  
Dr. Kristin Haas and VAAFM Senior Advisor Diane Bothfeld met with a joint House and Senate Ag Committee hearing. The Council is developing a pamphlet on animal well-being concerns to be used by Animal Control Officers for handling complaints from non-farm citizens. This pamphlet would focus on body conditioning, used by Humane Society staff, and ACOs. Senator Pollina questioned Dr. Haas and the dairy exemption in Adequate Livestock Shelter language. Dr. Kent Henderson provided excellent background on the required FARM certification on dairies. Diane Bothfeld noted the FARM program (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management) has teeth, is enforceable and is required of anyone shipping into the milk market. She said that one farmer in Vermont lost their milk market when they did not adhere to FARM requirements and the farm ultimately went out of business. Senator Starr also questioned the committee on a comment made by a grazing expert during the House hearing, who said farms are losing their Current Use status and getting fines from the Tax Department because they were allowing their animals to pasture in woodlands. (It was unclear whether the land in question was enrolled in the Ag or the Forestry program). Someone from the Tax Department will be in to testify and clarify this situation. .  If you have had any issues with the animal shelter law or complaints concerning animal welfare complaints, please let Jackie know by emailing her at crkdbrks@aol.com.

Senate Ag Continues Dairy Pricing Discussion   
Legislative Counsel Michael O’Grady was back in the Ag Committees to list to comments about what the next steps may be for dairy pricing action. Senator Starr wanted to check with US Senator Leahy’s office on the possibility of working out a Vermont-centric FMMO. Senator Pollina wondered if the farmers were ready to try again to form a union and control their own milk supply. Senator Parent wanted to investigate further why farmers were complaining about lack of technical assistance for risk management and bookkeeping. Senator Pearson wanted language as requested from VAAFM about updating RAPs. Former Secretary of Agriculture Roger Allbee will be asked to comment on the dairy pricing report next week, along with Dan Smith, an attorney with extensive knowledge of milk marketing orders and the Northeast Dairy Compact.

Housekeeping Bill Shows Up as Draft in House Ag   VAAFM offered language seeking various fixes and modification to existing statute. This proposal would: 
*     Repeal the sunset provision for personal and itinerant on-farm slaughter 
*     Clarify the definition of livestock dealer 
*     Amend the eligibility requirements for the Veterinarians Educational Loan Repayment Program
*     Extend the Payment for Ecosystem Services and Soil Health Working Groups for one more year 
*     Change the wording in Certification of Custom Applicators of Manure or Nutrients to Manure or Agricultural Waste
*     Clarify the type of person or business agricultural records that are exempt from public inspection and 
*     Amend the hemp program to align it with evolving federal law. 

Senate Ag Discusses Priorities for Session  
The Senate Ag Committee is awaiting language from VAAFM’s Cary Giguere regarding the registration of soil amendments, which Cary would like added to the composting bill. The Committee did not come to consensus about whether the language should be added or leave it to stand alone. There was also discussion about dealing with recycling agricultural plastics. There is an ask of $20 million for folks running the Universal School Meals Program and another $1for promoting local purchasing.   Mr. O’Grady noted he was researching a Pennsylvania program that gives farmers tax credits for projects they have done to mitigate water issues into Chesapeake Bay. He was asked to get more information (readily available on agriculture.pa.gov called the REAP program and quite interesting) and noted Representative Harvey Smith was working on a bill involving this concept. There was much interest in this proposal since payment for ecosystems services is another priority for the Committee. Senator Parent again noted his concern that farmers needed more risk management and technical assistance programs, and it was suggested some language could be added to the Housekeeping bill when it crosses over.  Senator Pollina noted he has been contacted by several farmers who would like a further discussion on language in the Adequate Livestock Shelter bill passed last year.

H.58 Right to Repair Heard in House Ag  
Nathan Proctor from the National PIRG group visited with members for about an hour and mentioned AFBF at least 3 times as a strong supporter of this language. Jackie spoke with Senator Pearson who plans to introduce a similar version on the Senate side but have not seen it yet. President Tisbert sent to Jackie the AFBF policy and she will testify next week. VTFB supports the language though there is no mention of agriculture. H.58 is ag-specific. There was no support for this by the manufacturing lobby when it was focused on them last biennium. 

H.67 Bears and Agricultural Crops  
Bob and Beth Kennett, Liberty Hill Farm and Jennie Amerikiaee and Rick Shurtliff, Maple Valley Farm and VTFB testified in front of House Ag regarding bear damage to corn. The Kennetts noted bear sightings have increased incredibly in the last 25 years. They lost 10 out of 130 acres of corn last year to bear damage. Beth noted farmers spend a lot of money feeding the wildlife (bears, deer, beaver, coyotes, and turkeys) while losing crops needed for cows. Jennie and Rick shared that in 2018 they had 65% of their corn crop damaged and in 2020 they lost 48%; the replacement cost for last year’s feed was $21,000. They had photos of their corn crop from last year. Bears go inside the fields and lay waste by eating or rolling in the corn and destroying the crop. VTFB supports policies to protect agriculture from predators that cause economic harm, threaten crops and domestic animals. The Committee concluded it will ask Louis Porter, Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife to testify. H.67 requires 50% repayment of lost feed caused by bears. Currently there is a fund within F&W, that covers deer damage. If you have had any damage by bears or deer and have calculated your loss or have photos, please let Jackie know by emailing her at crkdbrks@aol.com.

Hearing on Dairy Pricing Study By DFR 
Beth Kennett and VTFB will be testifying on Friday, February 5, on the language limiting agritourism liability which never made it through the legislative process last year due to the challenges of COVID-19 challenges. Beth and Mary White have been working on this for several years. Last year’s agricultural fairs were in the defining language of agritourism. The Fairs Association is not generally supportive of being included as an agritourism site believing fairs do not fit the definition. 

From your Advocacy Team -Bridget, Gerry, Joe, Michael, and Jackie   

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Legislative Update: Week Ending January 29, 2021

Below you’ll find the next issue of Under the Golden Dome provided by Jackie Folsom from Vermont Farm Bureau. This will be a weekly distribution for our VWA members, typically sent out on Monday. Please note that the e-newsletter includes agriculture, forestry, and business updates as our friends at the Farm Bureau serve a very wide audience. If you have any questions for us or Jackie, please send them along. Also be on the lookout for an announcement on a new webinar to help demystify the legislative process and navigate the legislative website. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Best to all in 2021. Kathleen
This publication is for the benefit and education of Vermont Farm Bureau members. Please do not forward or copy this for any purpose other than to promote the farm bureau. Thank you.  
Week Ending January 29, 2021
Bills of Interest Introduced Due to the legislative webpage being down and inaccessible, Bills of interest will be updated in next week’s Under the Golden Dome.
Clean Water Board Reports Funding Increase  The Clean Water board called an emergency meeting on January 25th to report an extra $1.4 million in revenue in FY21 along with an anticipated excess revenue of $2.1 million for FY22. This is reportedly the result of an increase in the property transfer tax. While some of the money was re-allocated to the Agency of Agriculture for water quality programs for farmers, other funds were directed to technical support for 3-acre stormwater programs. The balance was moved to FY23. The Board meeting was called because the budget required adjusting prior to the Governor’s fiscal speech on Tuesday.  
Commissioner Snyder in Senate Agriculture Leadership from the Department of Forests, Park and Recreation updated members in Senate Ag last week. It was reported that thirty-two individuals and/or companies received CARES Act funding grants totaling $4.1 million in 2020. The average payout was $50,000. The average number of employees per company was seven. It was also noted that a climate forester was hired to work on carbon issues.Commissioner Snyder has requested $1.2 million from the General Fund to cover refunds from camping cancellations last summer after the parks were closed because of COVID. Senator Starr felt the money should have come from federal CARES Act funds, however, state officials believed this was not an approved CARES Act expenditure.
Act 250 Request from VAAFM  The Agency of Ag is expected to release language on January 29th that will alter accessory on-farm businesses under Act 250. This was not position advanced by the administration when it was offered during the Act 250 reorganizational hearing last year. Since then, the Governor has opted to support the concept and sponsors of the proposal are lining up.The preliminary concept is to “exempt accessory on-farm businesses (i.e., farm dinners, educational farm camps, “see it made” activities, hiking, biking, cross country skiing, etc.) where the total area of improvements does not exceed a half- acre in size.” (Note this was sample language and may not be the same when the bill is fully drafted).   On a conference call earlier this week, there was discussion on whether VAAFM should have input in decisions by towns and how issues such as horse trails or cross-country skiing relate to the farming activity. There was concern about whether this half-acre would be eligible for current use if it were currently designated as such. 
Governor’s Budget and Agriculture  The General Assembly welcomed Governor Scott in a virtual session, Tuesday January 26th, as he presented his $6.83 billion 2022 budget proposal. It contains no new taxes or fees, and no cuts to essential services. Retirement obligations are fully funded in the proposed budget. Three and a half million dollars are proposed to be distributed to the Working Lands Enterprise Fund for distribution to farmers, foresters and related industries. The Governor noted “we have to work harder to find solutions to their problems.” Ten million dollars are proposed to be used to promote and support outdoor recreation with an additional $1 million slated to support the promotion of Vermont tourism. A $20 million investment in broadband improvements was highlighted by Governor Scott. Broadband improvement is a priority of Vermont Farm Bureau. The proposed budget also includes $20.1 million to VHCB for housing. Read the full budget address
H.58 Right to Repair for Ag Introduced  Rep. Emily Kornheiser visited with House Ag on Wednesday to walk through H.58, her offering for Right to Repair focused on agriculture. She introduced similar language last year with no mention of agriculture. The measure did not pass and was opposed by several manufacturing groups. She was asked how many other states actually had this legislation and did not have that number at hand. She also stated that “National Farm Bureau has this as a national priority” which is not true; AFBF does support Right to Repair for Agriculture but it is one of several hundred policies in their book and not listed in AFBF’s Strategic Plan as a “must do” nationally.   While AFBF supports “Right to Repair” for agriculture, Vermont Farm Bureau does not have specific policy language in this regard. Therefore, we will rely on AFBF’s policy to guide us in this regard.   Committee members are concerned with proprietary software, copyrights, and possible warranties being voided from repairs being performed outside an authorized service center. If you have any thoughts or experiences with repairing farm equipment and going through dealers, please email Jackie at crkdbrks@aol.com
Working Lands Enterprise Hearing Witnesses spoke at a meeting of House Agriculture, Senate Agriculture, and the House Commerce and Community Development Committee to share the impact of the WLEB funds in Vermont. Several farmers, including Judith Irving (Fat Toad Farm), Ben Nottermann (Snug Valley Farm), and Ken Gagnon (Gagnon Lumber) testified as to the importance of the grants they had received and how many other farms/companies they interact with that have also received WELB dollars. All supported Governor Scott’s proposed $3.5 million increase for WLEB.   
Monthly Dairy Call with Milk Promotion On Sunday, March 21st, the Miller Farm, a 5th generation 3-family partnership run organic dairy farm from Vernon, VT will host a virtual Breakfast on the Farm. With the event being recorded, it will offer the House and Senate Ag Committees an opportunity to view the video during a meeting. Beth Kennett from Liberty Hill Farm will be recording a cooking segment using dairy products. The Vermont Fresh Network is promoting Hot Chocolate Week from February 1 through the 5th. Robert Foster will submit information to the legislature focused on cover crops.
H.89 Agritourism Limited Liability Bill  House Ag held a walk-through of this language with the lead sponsor, Rep. Yanchatka and Law Clerk Kelly McGill (sitting in for Michael O’Grady from Legislative Counsel). Thirty-three states have a law pertaining to limited liability for certain agritourism activities, including Connecticut and Maine.   This is a revisit from language introduced last year, which did not make it out of Judiciary. Some have expressed concern regarding the terms “negligence” and “gross negligence.” This bill adds the definition of agricultural fairs and would include them in the definition of agritourism. The Fairs and Field Days Association is looking at this language and will testify soon.   The Department of Financial Regulation, which has jurisdiction over insurance companies, has reviewed the language. They feel the proposal would provide clarity and would not create issues in the insurance marketplace.  A section of the bill requires the posting of a warning sign and mentions a signed contract for anyone participating in activities. This may be an issue for some sites.  Anyone wishing to testify on H.89 should email Jackie as soon as possible at crkdbrks@aol.com or call her at 802-426-3579. They will be working on this within the next week or two.
Hearing on Dairy Pricing Study By DFR A Dairy Pricing Study by the Department of Financial Review was recently released. As a result, an extensive list of witnesses signed up to speak to House and Senate Ag Committees. The Department did a yeoman’s job in trying to understand dairy pricing, which is commonly held to be a complex system. The report concludes that “none of the options we explored provides a straightforward or easy solution” to the milk pricing dilemma in Vermont. They recommended that “efforts to revise FMMO pricing methodology and the national level dairy growth management strategies backed by the Vermont supply management working group and Dairy Together appear to be worthy of additional analysis but would require action at the federal level.” VTFB’s 1st Vice President and Chair of the VTFB Dairy Committee, Mary White, testified before the committees.  It should be noted that former USDA Secretary Perdue did not support national supply management. It is too soon to determine what incoming USDA Secretary Vilsack’s position will be in this regard. VTFB reiterated our dairy policies: a national (all-in) supply management program, support for modernization of the FMMO system, and concerns with Efficiency Vermont programs to assist dairy farmers with issues on the farm. Senator Starr offered to request Efficiency Vermont representatives come before his committee to explore what is available and possible improvements.  Rep. Henry Pearl asked “what are we trying to do? Is the issue saving Vermont dairy farms or increasing the milk price?” There did not seem to be one specific response to this, but it is a great question since the answers could lead to different solutions. Many farmers spoke about transitions, environmental issues, science-based regulations, and continuing administration challenges in their business. Leon Berthiaume, DFA/St. Albans, noted the majority of investment in processing in Vermont has been made by the dairy co-operatives, meaning farmers. This investment is not always recognized.Time was scheduled for Friday morning in Senate Agriculture for further discussion. There is a possibility of legislative language being introduced as a result of this study. 
Current Use Advisory Board Meets,Sets FY 21 Rates Diane Bothfeld, VAAFM, explained the formula and how the Agricultural land rates were set for the coming year. The board unanimously passed the Current Use rate of $405.00. The Forest Rate was approved at $152.21, with $114.51 for land greater than a mile off the road.  Board Member Harold Howrigan expressed concern about the sustainability of the program since the costs are increasing every year. Legislative issues surrounding CUV includes a comment from Commissioner Snyder that there may be language proposed to remove “forever wild easements” from eligibility in the program, as well as limiting posting of land enrolled. Also noted was a bill concerning the certification of land enrolled (changing from annually to every three years and only online) as well as the language of H.9 which would allow a solar array on enrolled land provided the aggregate total land mass did not exceed .1 acre. The Board heard an update about the digitizing records. When COVID-19 hit, foresters were told to work from home but all the maps and planning paperwork were in the offices. The Department received CARES Act funding that allowed them to digitize 6,000 plans/maps in Franklin, Grand Isle, Orleans, Washington, and Windham counties. They are working on the remaining counties.Statistics shared included: 23% of enrolled parcels are owned by out-of-staters (19,258 total parcels); 1,810 farm buildings are enrolled at a cost of $305,068,797 (lowest payment is $500, highest is $5.518 million); there has been a 25% increase in transfer applications in 2020 and a total of $17.12 million was sent to the towns per the hold harmless provision to make their tax rolls whole from property enrolled in Current Use. A plan to update the Current Use statute, based on changes over the past 20 years, was placed on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic but the previously appointed subcommittee (which includes VTFB’s Bruce Shields) will be reactivated and start meeting to work on a proposal, probably for 2022. 
House Natural Looking at H.15 and H.3 H.15 would discontinue use of chlorpyrifos, glyphosate and atrazine. H.3 would revisit the land application of sludge and septage. These bills were introduced to House Natural Resources and are open for discussion.  Did you miss the Vermont Farm Show this year?Thanks to everyone who continues to support Vermont Farm Bureau. If you would like to talk about any of the items in this report or offer to testify on issues or legislation, please contact Jackie at 802-426-3579 or crkdbrks@aol.com
From your Advocacy Team -Bridget, Gerry, Joe, Michael, and Jackie         
Enjoy the beautiful winter weather! Thanks for supporting Vermont Farm Bureau. 
Vermont Farm Bureau continues to update our Covid-19 Resource page Take a look. Share.https://www.vtfb.org/covid-19.php
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Vermont Tree Farm Program Congratulates the 2020 Vermont Tree Farmer(s) of the Year The Starrs: It’s a Family Affair!

Left to Right: Willie Nelson, Jack Starr Sr., and Senator
Bernie Sanders together at a Save-the-Family Farm Aid
convention

by Ryan Kilborn
Ila Starr (husband Jack Sr. deceased) and her children Jack Jr, Virgil,
William, Gary, Betty, Jim (deceased 2018) & widow Jennifer Gaffney, their children Seth Starr, Leah Starr, and Anna Oshea.

The Starr family began their long heritage in the town of Troy in 1944 when Jack Starr Sr’s father purchased what is now known as the Town
Farm, which is still in the family’s holding 76 years later. Jack Sr. was an
advocate for the Save-the-Family Farm Aid program. He traveled across the country speaking on behalf of this program, and he worked with state senators and well-known musicians in fundraising events. This dedication and sense of conservation to the land was passed on to his children who have acquired, as a family, 500+ acres of forest and agricultural land in North Troy, protecting nearly 1.5 miles of frontage along the Missisquoi River.

Today, this acreage is owned by Ila Starr (wife of Jack Starr Sr., now
deceased) and the siblings Jack Starr Jr., Virgil Starr, William Starr, Gary Starr, Betty Griggs, and the children of Jim Starr (who passed away in 2018) – Seth Starr, Leah Starr, and Anna Oshea. Jennifer Gaffney, Jim’s widow, also maintains ownership of an additional 84-acre lot in the town of Troy.

Much of this land base is forested but also contains the family farm house, agricultural land, and family camp where multiple generations come together each year for family reunions. Many families would have bent to the temptation of selling river frontage lots in the highly pressured development area that is shadowed by the Jay Peak Resort, but the Starr family’s strong sense of conservation, love of recreation and wildlife, and strong connection to the shores of the Missisquoi River have kept this land base intact. Their family values include passing this land ethic onto the next generation and keeping the land in family ownership. A means of doing this has been through enrolling the land into Vermont’s Current Use program and managing the property over the years for timber, while at the same time promoting wildlife habitat, water quality, and allowing the land to be used by others for hunting, hiking, fishing, and camping.

The property owned by Jim and Jennifer also was part of an NRCS
contract where EQIP funds were used to maintain and create song bird/grouse habitat with a brontosaurus machine. Jim Starr was one of the leading individuals that helped orchestrate the purchase of the North Troy Village Forest, a 116-acre property with 1.5 miles of river frontage on the Missisquoi River and a large, rare natural community of silver maple-ostrich fern flood plain. Once the village purchased the land, they were able to conserve the tract through the Vermont Housing Conservation Board to protect the land and river from future development while creating open space for the public to recreate on.

The last timbersale occurred in 2016 on the parcel of land owned by all
the siblings. The goal of this sale was to improve conditions for acceptable growing stock, release established regeneration, create aspen browse for wildlife, release apple trees, repair and maintain old stream crossings with skidder bridge panels, and create new trails for recreation. This harvest was administered by a forester, and wood was marketed to local sawmills in
Canada and northern VT.

Ephemeral and intermittent streams that form on the property and feed directly into the Missisquoi River were buffered and properly crossed with skidder bridge panels and pole crossings. Many of the historic crossings were in poor condition with washed-out culverts, causing erosion from high water events. Skidder bridge panels were purchased by the family and installed during the sale and then kept in place for long-term benefits to water quality and recreation. Maintaining forested buffers along the Missisquoi River is a long-term goal of the family ownership.

This river is one of the state’s largest rivers and a primary watershed for Lake Champlain. Opportunities for development along this river are high and in demand, especially with Jay Peak in the backdrop, yet the Starr family has kept the land intact and free of fragmentation.

The Starr family has been able to maintain and increase their land
ownership at a time when land is only becoming more expensive, highly taxed, and feuds between siblings and family members are common due to a changing world that disconnects many people from the land. To date, the family has been able to overcome the pressures of development that could easily provide them with more cash flow than growing trees, and they have embraced the importance of land management while balancing their family’s goals and objectives related to recreation, wildlife habitat, and water quality. They maintain an important sense of place that their family can reliably return to each year for enjoyment.

Although the family has been members of the Vermont Tree Farm Program since only 2014, they have practiced and adhered to the principles of forest stewardship for decades prior, which makes this family an excellent candidate for the Vermont Tree Farmer(s) of the Year. This award does not focus on the management of just one parcel, but instead it recognizes and congratulates the entire family for the values and efforts that they bring to the land and the surrounding community. It also recognizes the effort made by an individual, Jim Starr, who loved to share and promote the beliefs of forest stewardship, conservation, and family/community ownership with everyone.

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Legislative Update for Week Ending January 15, 2021

This publication is for the benefit and education of Vermont Farm Bureau members. Please do not forward or copy this for any purpose other than to promote the farm bureau. Thank you.  
Welcome to the New Year and the New Session Week Ending January 15, 2021
What is Your Feed Situation?  Vermont Farm Bureau and Rural Vermont legislative directors met with the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday to discuss the availability of feed for livestock. Send an email to Jackie Folsom at crkdbrks@aol.com regarding whether you have feed to sell (specifically hay or silage) or you need to purchase hay or silage to get through until spring.
A dialogue has begun on the Vermont Dairy Discussion Board. Heidi Krantz, from the Vermont Horse Council has been working with the Agency of Agriculture on behalf of their members to determine where feed could be purchased. 
VAAFM Newly elected legislative committee members spend the first month of the biennium introducing Agencies and Advocates during committee meetings. VAAFM and Agriculture Committees shared the following: In order to assist traceability for food safety, Dr. Haas has 4,000 RFID tags for livestock FREE FOR THE ASKING – call 828-2421 The Dairy Innovation Center will be sending out press releases every other week about grant availability and other programs as they come online. CARE funds of $18 million (out of $28 million) were distributed to dairy farmers. The remaining balance was combined into Working Lands funds. VAAFM has been awarded a $7 million grant for a direct payment program to farmers who have reduced phosphorous on their land. 10-12 farms will be audited in 2021 with up to 50 more in 2022. It is a 5-year grant. $4.9 million will be paid to farmers. The balance will cover administrative, research, and other necessary costs. The Agency will focus on Act 250 (changes for accessory buildings), Act 248 (changes for siting of energy generation), changes to the makeup and mission of the Vermont Pesticide Advisory Council, residual management of chickens and compost, and continuing education on herbicides and pesticides. VAAFM will unveil its updated strategic plan via a press conference February 8. Representative Tristan Toleno (who served on House Ag for one session) is the active on the House Appropriations committee. He is tasked with working on the Ag budget. The Agency’s budget will be unveiled after the governor’s budget speech on January 24.  
Leadership to Focus on COVID Bills being introduced on both sides of the building do not yet reflect this. Senate offerings, sent to Judiciary, focused on trials and guns. Education is focusing on school funding for the upcoming year. Senate Economic Development focused on extending COVID issues surrounding Workers Compensation and Unemployment Insurance. Some bills that may be of interest: H.26      Restricting PFOAs in consumer productsH.27      Health and safety warning on consumer products containing PFOAsH.58      Right to repair in agricultural equipmentH.67      Authorizes Dept of Fish and Wildlife to reimburse for black bear damage to cropsS.20      Restricting PFOAs in packaging You can read more about them at: https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/all-house/2022 https://legislature.vermont.gov/bill/all-senate/2022 The Right to Repair language did not specifically focus on ag and was not passed in the last biennium. Rep. Kornheise introduced an ag-specific one. Senator Pearson will be introducing a right to repair bill focused on agriculture. Please let me know if you have any thoughts on this issue. Currently, the bill requires manufacturers of electronics-enabled equipment used in agriculture, animal husbandry, and ranching to make available to farmers, ranchers, and independent repair providers on fair and reasonable terms the documentation, parts and tools used to diagnose, maintain, and repair such equipment. Contact Jackie Folsom at 802-426-3579 or crkdbrks@aol.com with any issues you have experienced with repairs on your equipment.  Please let Jackie Folsom know if you use PFOAs in packaging your value-added products. Last year’s focus on PFOAs was more on firefighting equipment but the net is widening.
Senate Natural Resources Members reviewed their individual priorities, which included: all-fuels efficiency programs, solid waste issues, broadband, climate change, ACT250, energy, updating Renewable Portfolio Standards, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions within the transportation sector, and regenerative agriculture.   
Many Thanks to DFA for Food Distribution Stephanie Walsh, Dairy Farmers of America, reported the cooperative distributed $225,000 since March 2020 (serving 15,000,000 meals). Rural food banks were the focus and were nominated by farmer/members for receiving the funds. 
Champlain Valley Farmers Coalition Met with Members Dairy Farmer Marie Audet, President Brian Kemp and Executive Director John Roberts stopped by the House Ag Committee to provide an update. The Connecticut and Franklin County Watershed programs participated in their annual meeting. Marie and John are featured on the next broadside, by Laura Hardie from Milk Promotion, talking about dairy farms and climate change. (This information is provided to all legislators and is a result of a conversation with Farm Bureau and Milk Promotion). 
Lake Champlain Citizens Advisory Council In a Zoom meeting Monday night, Cary Giguere, VAAFM, provided members with an update on pesticide and herbicide uses in Vermont, but particularly by the Lake Champlain watershed. He answered many questions and explained that with the increase in cover cropping by farmers (over 1/3 of all crop acreage in Vermont is currently cover-cropped) to prevent soil erosion and chemical flow into waters of the state, glyphosate is necessary to kill that cover crop and allow corn to grow.   Nat Shambaugh, a retired VAAFM pesticide chemist, refuted and rebutted almost all the information shared by Cary. Nat was unable to share his screen and had a large amount of data that he had to describe. The LCAC members were anxious to see Nat’s information and seemed to give more weight to Nat’s comments.   Typically, this group visits the Statehouse after the Town Meeting break to share their concerns about the lake and their legislative priorities. This year, a small group of their members will provide a long-term focus vs session focus, at the next meeting Senator Ginny Lyons and Representative Carol Ode sit on this committee. If either one is in your district, please contact them and talk about how your farm handles cropping, pesticide/herbicide use and water issues on your land. 
Rural Vermont Representatives from Rural VT and Jackie Folsom visited the House Agriculture committee on Wednesday. Rural VT is working with VAAFM to compile information about registration and reporting for on-farm slaughter. Chair Partridge is reluctant to loosen regulations regarding on-farm slaughter until she knows what the challenge is from farmers. The backup in scheduling animal processing at available slaughterhouses remains an issue, due to consumers growing their own animals in response to the COVID crisis.  Raw milk is a recurring issue with Rural Vermont. They will continue to ask for less restrictions on where it can be sold. The jurisdiction of chickens feeding on compost was not resolved last year. It will come up again, as it has already been mentioned by VAAFM. Some criteria within the Adequate Shelter for Livestock bill that was passed last year is making it difficult for farmers who graze to move their animals from pasture to pasture. Jackie Folsom hopes to have an update in the next issue. The proposed amendment of language in the statute is a concern regarding the exemption for dairy animals which is current law. 
Updates from Vermont Housing & Conservation Board Staff from VHCB visited with both Ag Committees on Thursday. One of the issues that continues to be discussed is the challenge of some in the farming community to complete grant applications during the last CARES funding round. There are concerns with the high number of farmers with inadequate record keeping systems or little (or no) access to broadband with which to work. Senate Ag will work with VHCB and other providers to get the word out on opportunities for farmers to update their records.
After more than 14 years of leadership in Farm and Forest Viability issues at VHCB, Ela Chapin, is stepping down. Good luck, Ela. Thank you for all you have done for our industries.
Vermont Climate Council Meetings Much time was spent discussing how the public would be able to interact and have access to the subcommittees. No resolution was reached. The Council is required to adopt a Vermont Climate Action Plan by December 1, 2021 which must include strategies and programs to: achieve greenhouse gas emissions requirements, to build resilience and prepare Vermont to adapt to current and anticipated effects of climate change, means to measure the State’s progress towards meeting the GHG emissions requirements, and guidance to the Legislature and Secretary of ANR on changes needed to implement the plan. If you are interested in the specific steps and initiative the Council needs to meet, contact Jackie Folsom at crkdbrks@aol.com.
American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention and Meeting VTFB President, Joseph Tisbert, attended the AFBF Annual Convention and Meeting as VTFB’s voting delegate where he was elected to the AFBF board of directors for the Northeast Region.  Originally scheduled for San Diego, the national organization successfully implemented a virtual gathering free to all. Voting delegates approved AFBF policies for 2021. Congratulations Joe! From the team – Joe, Gerry, Bridget, Michael, and Jackie
Enjoy the beautiful winter weather! Thanks for supporting Vermont Farm Bureau. 
Vermont Farm Bureau continues to update our Covid-19 Resource pageTake a look. Share.https://www.vtfb.org/covid-19.php
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“Slow the Spread” Efforts Ongoing in Vermont Despite End to Federal Emerald Ash Borer Quarantine

On January 14th, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) ended the Federal Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) quarantine to place more emphasis on management and biological controls to combat the pest. In Vermont, while we continue to find new areas of infestation, our forests support overwhelmingly healthy populations of ash to protect as long as possible. Bearing that in mind, we urge Vermonters to continue to follow the “Slow the Spread” recommendations, which can be found on VTinvasives.orgInformation regarding the Federal deregulation of EAB

  • Compliance Agreements to Move Ash Wood: Compliance agreements will no longer be needed to move ash wood unless the receiving state quarantine requires them. As of now, in our area, Maine is the only state that has a state EAB quarantine. A compliance agreement is required to move any regulated ash material from any out-of-state location into non-quarantined portions of the State of Maine. These agreements will be handled by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM). Learn more about Maine’s quarantine. If you need an agreement or have questions, contact Judy Rosovsky at 802-279-2212.
  • Firewood Kiln Certification: Kiln certifications will continue to be handled by the VAAFM. Certification is required every two years. If you need a kiln certification or have questions, contact Judy Rosovsky at 802-279-2212.
  • Ash Wood Exports: The removal of the Federal EAB quarantine in the United States will only impact domestic activities. USDA APHIS Plant Protection and Quarantine will continue to issue Phytosanitary Certificates for plants and plant products to meet an importing country’s phytosanitary requirements. Contact the Vermont Export Certification Specialist (ECS) or ECS from the state of export for more information. 

ResourcesWe have updated the following Vermont EAB resources on VTinvasives.org to reflect the federal deregulation of EAB:

The federal deregulation of EAB does not influence state regulations. Transporting wood visibly infested with EAB and importing untreated firewood from outside Vermont is not allowed. Following “Slow the Spread” recommendations is required if wood is visibly infested. Slowing the spread of EAB in Vermont will mean many more years of enjoying ash trees for their beauty, ecological, and commercial attributes. We thank you for your ongoing commitment to this effort.

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The American Ash Tree: What’s Next??? (Or, Can a Few Vermonters Save the World?)

by Alan Robertson

Introduction: This article started out as an attempt to provide information to affected Hemlock stand owners who were losing their trees to the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA). Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your tree stand, the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) was detected in Vermont, and, now, is firmly hunkered down in at least three geographical locations in the state. More unfortunately, that means that EAB will have more opportunities to quickly spread throughout the state. And the Hemlock, realistically, isn’t going away anytime soon in Vermont because HWA is susceptible to cold temperatures and has experienced some severe winter mortality annually in the southern part of the state, so not a “doomsday” situation yet …

With this in mind, we’ve reoriented the article to ash trees to help Vermont forest landowners with some decisions they didn’t even know they’d have or could be involved in.

First, is this the end of the ash tree species as we know it? The short answer is yes; over the next few years the EAB will continue to spread and probably won’t stop until it reaches the northern limits of civilization in Canada. EAB has already found its way south past North Carolina where the damage is compounded due to the recent loss of all their Hemlock. But the bottom line is that most ash in the US, like the American elm, and in the far past, the American chestnut, will die. But is there hope for the future that this tree could again be found throughout the United States? Yes, someday, and that is what this article is all about.

The US has seen several tree species severely compromised over the past century; the list includes, here in the east, the butternut, the American chestnut, the American elm, American beech, and some species native to the deep south. All are being lost due to invasive insects and diseases. The nature of the attacks on these trees is a critical element in their loss. All trees have the ability to adapt to changing conditions through naturally occurring genetic changes (mutations) or genetic variations occurring naturally within the species. And when change comes slowly, like over thousands of years, most trees eventually adapt. But when that change comes quickly, like when a Chinese pallet infested with beetles, or a batch of foreign-grown flowers infested with insects or fungus lands at a dock in the US, the quick introduction of the pest cannot be tolerated by the local plants, and they succumb.

But how can we address this too-rapid change model? By instituting our own methods of helping endangered tree species quickly change and adapt to the invasive threat, or using similar methods to make the life of the invasive insect or fungus as miserable as possible. And just as important, how much effort do we need to spend in the salvation of these tree species, and is it worth the effort to do this?

The answer to this last question is critical to justifying both the immediate effort and the vast time frame and resources we are looking at to restore a tree species which, first, will basically disappear. Just how valuable are the ash, elm, chestnut, and beech? Let us count the ways:

  • Ecologically, all tree species have a niche in the forest. While biologists know a lot about trees, the incredible detail and minutia associated with each tree are still not entirely known or understood; we don’t know what we don’t know, and that makes the loss very scary.
  • Economically, these trees (well, most of them) were incredibly valuable, could be made into a broad variety of valuable products, and were worth a lot of money; so, considerable economic loss …
  • Aesthetically, these trees represent some of the most beautiful trees on the planet. All of them can get REALLY large, tall, and broad. So great were these trees that most, especially the Elm, were planted on virtually every street in the country east of the Mississippi. And finding comparable replacements is getting a lot harder …
  • Culturally, these trees had found their way into the very soul of American society, and references may be found in stories, novels, poems, and histories.

So, the case has hopefully been made for expending the effort it will take to return these trees to our landscape. And it should be noted that the science behind all of the ways to bring these trees back is rapidly becoming less expensive as we learn more about tree genetics. We’re talking about a few million dollars, not billions …

So, how do we bring these trees back? There are several strategies for doing this, but first, how do we bring them back if they are all gone?

Again, this is the crux of this article.

Generally, when looking at making the tree species less susceptible to the threat we are talking about an enhancement of genetic resistance, so that a more impervious tree will pass that resistance to future generations. Improved or enhanced genetic resistance may be done through selectively breeding for resistance, hybrid breeding, or resistance introduced through biotechnological means.

Quickly summarizing the science, selective breeding means finding some individual tree or trees which seem to have a better resistance to the threat than the rest. Efforts are then made through additional tree breeding generations to emphasize that trait. With American beech we have found a number of American beech that are resistant to the beech scale, the insect that initiates the beech bark disease, and was brought to the western hemisphere on infected European beech many decades ago. So, eventually (hundreds of years) the American beech may breed itself back to health. Elms with enhanced resistance are also beginning to be available. Hybrid breeding means crossing the tree under threat with a close relative that is resistant to the disease or bug. The hybridization is accomplished over a few generations of crossing to bring out the resistance trait in the hybrid, and eventually end up with a resistant tree of the original species. The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF) is doing this right now with a back-cross breeding program involving the American chestnut and the Chinese chestnut with considerable success. Resistance introduced through biotechnological means includes a variety of new genetic technologies, including “CRISPR”, which has been highlighted in articles in Time, National Geographic, and Smithsonian magazine. Biotechnological means include transgenic methods (gene or genetic material that has been transferred by any of a number of genetic engineering techniques from one organism to another that could not otherwise be conventionally bred. The introduction of a transgene [called “transgenesis”] has the potential to change the phenotype of an organism.) and cisgenic methods (gene or genetic material that has been transferred by any of a number of genetic engineering techniques between organisms that could otherwise be conventionally bred. Unlike in transgenesis, genes are only transferred between closely related organisms.). TACF is also using transgenic methods in bringing back the chestnut- a wheat gene has been introduced into the American chestnut to counteract the acids the chestnut blight fungus produces when it attacks the chestnut.

Getting back the question of how to salvage the trees if they are all gone is where we come into the picture. There is a need to keep a reservoir of native tree germplasm far into the future for use in propagating resistant trees. Like people, every tree has a slightly different gene makeup, and trees of the same species in different regions have slightly different genetic makeups too. So trying to grow a southern chestnut in New York probably won’t work as well as working with New York chestnuts in New York. Vermont ash trees are slightly different than those in Michigan. If we are ever to bring ash back we should be working with trees from, and adapted to Vermont.

And, finally, the more genetic variation in the population of trees we try to bring back the better the chances that those variations will help trees of that species survive; we don’t need in-bred trees for doing this work.

The answer to our question then, is we need to maintain a healthy number of ash trees scattered around Vermont (actually throughout its entire range) during the loss of the rest from the EAB. We do this through treating a few trees with chemicals that will give them protection from the Emerald Ash Borer. The second half of this article will explain the process for saving a few trees.

Saving Some Trees
In the first half of this article, we explained why saving a few trees is critical to any future effort to resurrect the species, specifically ash. But there are a lot of factors and decisions in this process to insure the right tree is treated the right way with the right chemicals at the right time by the right people.

Before we get into the decision process we need to be clear on some related issues. First, we are not advocating some major effort to save even a small percentage of the ash in Vermont. The cost would be ridiculously high, the effort would not be practical, and the amount of chemicals would be catastrophic to the environment. This is a very small strategic effort using a lot of science. Second, none of this would have been necessary had our country invested in stringent importation controls and given APHIS the tools needed to stop the problems from entering the country. You need to know that politics have been a major influence on the phytosanitary standards enacted by the government and APHIS has been hamstrung at several levels in their attempts to control the import of wood products and plant material. It is still a problem despite the clear destruction invasives have wrought in the US. Finally, we are talking about using chemicals and we have mentioned that some of the salvation techniques involve GMO’s. These are controversial things to say in Vermont. The efforts we are discussing do try to minimize both the use and methods of chemical application, and the GMO’s TACF has developed for the American chestnut still have to undergo some incredibly stringent federal review by at least three agencies ( USDA, EPA, and the FDA), taking years before they might be allowed out in the real world. The ash, if those techniques are used, would face the same or probably more scrutiny. Keep in mind that the trees under threat face certain extinction, and that it’s too late to expect nature to step in and save the species …

Here is what you need to know if you think you might have some candidate trees:

  • We are talking about ash trees commonly found in Vermont: White ash, Green ash, and Black (or Brown) ash. You need to know what the trees look like and which is which. You also need to know that there are male and female trees for all three and Black ash also exhibit both male and female traits on the same tree. Seek some reference works or advice from a forester if you’re not sure what you have. In the deep forest you will need binoculars and good timing to tell the sex of the trees.
  • The tree should be very healthy. Damaged trees (lightning damage, significant broken- off branches, wounds, missing bark, woodpecker damage, water sprouts at the base of the tree, thin volume of leaves or branches without many leaves) should not be chosen. The EAB is actually attracted to damaged trees because the insect uses chemical signals given off by the tree as well as visual (silhouette) and color cues to find the tree.
  • The tree should be structurally balanced, sound, and for trees in the woods, impressively straight and clear. Size diameters (DBH) should range 2” and up.

If the tree meets all of these standards it should also meet these criteria:

  • It should be located on a good site – reasonably flat, good soils, not wet or swampy
  • The tree, if not in the forest, should have value because of its landscape or aesthetic value
  • The tree property should be at least 5 (preferably ten) miles away from the nearest EAB outbreak. While the insect only moves 2 miles a year the outbreaks in and around Vermont bring home our ignorance of exactly where the insect may be. Treating an infested tree can be a waste of money and effort; past a certain level of infection the tree may not recover if treated. Given the investment in time and energy to preserve the tree consider only very healthy trees- it is better to start treatment before the bug is detected than to wait until the bug is too close. See photos for levels of infestation

If you still have candidate trees after meeting the above standards, please consider how many trees you might be willing to spend money on. The aspects of this include how many and what size trees you have, the cost per tree, how many trees you might be considering for treatment, and how long would you expect to have to do this.

The first task is to complete an inventory of what ash you have. You would not need to capture every tree but for the decision process you do need to know the location, size, type of ash, and condition.

Cost is another issue. While it is possible to treat your own trees, primarily the very small ones, don’t do it yourself! We highly recommend you seek a professional – an arborist – to treat large specimens or if you have a number of trees you are thinking of treating. The cost numbers we have here are from a North Carolina institution that hired an expert to treat 15 trees (trunk injection- the most expensive and reliable method) for a biennial (every two years!) cost of $1600. The sum of the DBH of the trees was 225 inches making the cost roughly $3.50 per inch of tree per year. Doing lesser numbers of trees will cost significantly more per tree especially if an arborist has to travel a distance, and if the tree is at a remote site. VWA is currently canvassing arborists in Vermont to see who will offer ash treatment services.

What are the treatment options?
There is only one method in Vermont that is better than the rest and is recommended because it limits the chemicals used, doesn’t involve neonicotinoids (possibly harming honey bees) and acts more directly on the tree and, eventually, the insect:

Trunk Injections: Probably the most reliable method and the only method to be used on larger trees (over 8” DBH). First, the tree is literally tapped just like a sugar maple, but much lower, no higher than18” from the ground; the drill bit being about 3/8”, the depth extending 5/8” to 2” into the sapwood. The number of injection sites (tap holes) depends on the tree diameter and averages every 4-8” of tree circumference. The equipment includes injection port plugs (see photo) which are left in the tree, the injection equipment and tubing, and the reservoir of diluted chemical. Dosage (amount of diluted insecticide) and the number of ports depend on the tree size and the insect – EAB warrants higher dosages than many insects. The treatment lasts two years. Care should be taken to use sterile equipment to limit any tree infections from the treatment. Chemicals used include Emamectin benzoate (TREE-age), and Azadirachtin (Azasol and TreeAzin). The work should be done in mid to late spring after the trees have leafed out in weather conditions similar to the other treatment methods to insure maximum tree uptake. Because of the technical difficulty, the cost of the equipment, the strength of the insecticides, and the need for experience in doing the work, only experts should attempt the work, specifically a trained arborist. The VWA will have a listing on its website listing ISA certified arborists in Vermont providing these treatment options.

(NOTE: Experts do recognize soil drenches and injections around the tree trunk as an effective protective procedure, primarily around smaller trees, but the chemicals these treatments use are exclusively neonicotinoids which are linked to honey bee colony collapse disorder (CCD) and are not recommended in the state of Vermont; in any case only an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified expert arborist should be using these methods)

Lastly, how many years will the treatments be necessary? No one knows, but at a minimum of 15 years. Like the Elm, once all the other trees are dead the insect will largely disappear and lighter treatments may be possible. By that time there should be further research into developing a resistant tree or finding biotechnological ways to control or eliminate the insect. In any case without some saved healthy ash trees restoring the species will be much more difficult.

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Tree Farmer Profile – Stonehenge in Vermont: Jock Irons

Active VWA members and Tree Farmers come in all shapes and sizes, just like their woods. For this issue, we peek in on VWA member and Tree Farmer Jock Irons.

Jock was born and raised in Bennington, where he stayed until he finished college. Then he moved to Alaska, where he stayed until moving back to Vermont in 2014. Jock now lives on the 41-acre property in Woodford with his mom, who is 93. The property originally belonged to friends of Jock’s father’s parents. The friends had no children of their own so they willed the property to whichever Irons boy (of Jock’s father or uncles) stayed in Bennington; Jock’s father, John, was the one who stayed and inherited the original 20 acres. At the same time, the Scott family had just completed a clearcut of their holdings in Woodford and Glastenbury, and they were making plans to transfer the land to the Forest Service to become part of the National Forest System. Before the sale was completed, the Forest Service contacted owners of adjoining lands to tell them to get their boundaries straight before everything was finalized. Jock’s father was also able to purchase an additional 20 acres, which, Jock noted, did not straighten the boundaries (“they’re worse than they were!”) but allowed John to acquire some additional acreage.

Stonehenge in bloom.

Jock discussed the house, nicknamed Stonehenge, and told about how it came into being. When he was still in Alaska, he was snowshoeing with his father, and Jock told John he wanted to build his retirement home on the family property. He described the house as “homegrown”: all of the 2x4s and 2x6s were rough-cut, milled, and dried on the land from spruce on the property. All of the kitchen cabinets are black cherry from the property. All of the stones on the exterior were collected by John for over 40 years, and the siding above the stone is board-and-batten spruce. John and Jock did the framing, and then Jock’s brother, a carpenter, joined the work party to help finish the house.

John had enrolled the property in the Tree Farm program in 1987, but his certification lapsed. Jock was contacted around 2015 or 2016 and asked if he still wanted the property in Tree Farm. Kyle Mason, then Forester for Bennington County (who has since moved to Rutland County) “roped” Jock into participating in the Tree Farm Committee and writing an article about his property for the Tree Farm newsletter.

“I became active in Tree Farm, and by my membership in Tree Farm, I learned about VWA and joined VWA after I joined Tree Farm, which is, apparently, the direction it goes most of the time. Very few VWA members subsequently join Tree Farm.”

The property is enrolled in Vermont’s Current Use program. The original management plan was done by a forester with Jock’s dad in 2012, and John’s original primary goal was harvesting saw timber with a secondary goal of managing wildlife. Since Jock has taken ownership, he has reversed those goals: he is managing for wildlife with timber harvest as a secondary goal.

“I have found, from all the years cutting firewood and tending the forest with my dad, I have developed a great appreciation for beautiful trees that will make beautiful sawlogs. And, so, I manage that way: I manage for straight trees with few limbs and a good species for sale to a mill. However, I don’t intend to actually cut them and make them into sawlogs; they’re sort of an aesthetic in themselves to me.”

Jock has seven stands on the property, four of which are enrolled in UVA. Two of those stands – one in UVA and one not in UVA – have plantation Norway Spruce that were planted during the Great Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Jock’s father pruned them with a handsaw up 35 feet.

Cabin built by John and Jock from spruce thinned from the spruce grove.

Both the stand of Norway Spruce in UVA as well as the adjacent stand of mixed conifer/northern hardwood are overstocked and require thinning because they are nearly inaccessible to a skidder. Jock talked with a couple of loggers, including a horse logger, but none were interested in the project, leaving Jock to tackle the thinning this winter. Jock’s forester has done the marking, so Jock plans to drop the trees and then leave them to rot. He talked about girdling some of the trees and leaving them standing as wildlife trees while felling the others and leaving them to rot on the forest floor, which is better for the forest.

Crop tree release.

Jock’s timber stand improvement (TSI) activities also include a technique called crop tree release, in which the forest landowner identifies the crop tree species of choice and then the individual trees of the tree species that are to be prioritized. Then the forest landowner looks at each individual tree’s canopy and removes neighboring trees that are competing with the priority trees for light. Crop tree release improves the forest by weeding out the less desirable specimens.

Another management activity that is taking Jock’s time is working on invasives. He has identified 17 species of invasives on the property, and Jock says he has most of them under control. A neighbor pointed out buckthorn, which, Jock said, “was the first I knew about invasives.” Jock’s father didn’t know about invasives at all and never talked about it.

Jock is a peer landowner with the Woods, Wildlife, and Warblers program and has visited with three other landowners to talk about their properties. In addition, Jock invited Steve Hagenbuch from Vermont Audubon to his property to do a bird habitat assessment on Jock’s land. Jock said his understory is a little bit lacking, but most of the assessment is predicated on a harvest.

“If you want to manage for wildlife, you’ve got to cut trees. And it’s something that a lot of people don’t understand. And I want to have as much diversity on my land as possible.”

Jock said the issue that is most important to him is invasive control – he said most forest landowners probably do not know they have an invasive problem, and they probably do. He flags a place where he finds invasives so that he can go back each year to check for new plants or a small piece of root that he left in the ground. The three that are not under control are buckthorn, Japanese knotweed, and garlic mustard. He has pulled out plants, treated the areas, and now holds constant watch to catch new seedlings. He has burned garlic mustard plants and cut down buckthorn stems, but he knows they are tenacious.

“Because so much of the Vermont forest is privately owned, that’s the only way that we’re going to get a handle on them. We’ll never eradicate them, but we can at least get a handle on it and slow things down a bit.”

Jock hosted a virtual tour of his forest back in October [insert link]. Inadvertently he had been prepping for it for years, taking walks and accumulating photos of different aspects of his property. He said he had been on a Zoom call with the VWA Board of Directors and Tree Farm Committee members, and people were bemoaning the fact that they could not do walks in the woods. Jock offered up a virtual walk, not really knowing what he was offering and others not knowing what they would be attending, but the group decided to give it a go. He shared a PowerPoint of photos and talked about the history of the property. People were interested in his work on invasives and vernal pools.

When asked about his time as a member of VWA, Jock noted a lot of overlap among Tree Farm, VWA, and VT Coverts. He said there is a good variety of events each year, and he has enjoyed participating in the past and looks forward to being able to participate in the future.

“Every forest in Vermont is different. Even a forest that’s only a mile from here is going to be different. I learn more every time I walk a new property.”

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Woods Whys with Commissioner Mike Snyder 12/4/2020

When you find a great book, do you wish you could chat with the author? Now you can. Every first Thursday of the month* at 7:30 pm, Vermont Forests, Parks, and Recreation Commissioner Michael Snyder will join us for a reading and discussion of one or more of the collected essays in Woods Whys. Whatever your level of experience, from novice to seasoned professional, you’ll find Michael to be not only an exceptionally knowledgeable forester but also an engaging storyteller. Each essay aims to teach people more about trees, forests, and forest management — and, by doing so, to help them become more connected to the woods around them. Bring your own questions for an interactive reading celebrating the magic of forests. Make this your once-a-month virtual evening entertainment for the whole family. Click here to view a recording of the Zoom conference held Thursday December 3.

*Occasional scheduling changes may be required.

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EAB Detections

There have been new detections of EAB in VT that have expanded the infested areas within Bennington, Caledonia, Lamoille, and Washington Counties. These new detections were discovered through seasonal monitoring for the presence of EAB using purple traps and trap trees. Because the EAB flight season has ended, we have concluded our surveying efforts for this year. We are thankful to all the volunteer Forest Pest First Detectors that assisted in these efforts. In total, 114 purple traps and 37 trap trees were surveyed with the help of 44 volunteer Detectors.   The  mapped area in Vermont to which Slow-the-Spread recommendations apply now extends to include the towns listed below in the following Confirmed Infested Area and High Risk Area.

  • New Towns in the Confirmed Infested Area: Bennington, Peacham, Cabot, and Woodbury
  • New Towns in the High Risk Area: Danville, Hardwick, Elmore, and Walden 

Confirmed Infested Areas are within 5 miles of a known infestation. While symptoms may not be obvious, EAB is likely to be present in much of this area. High Risk Areas extend 5 miles from the outer edge of a Confirmed Infested Area. EAB is likely expanding into and present in some of this area.
Forest landowners, homeowners, foresters, logging contractors, municipalities, and utilities in the infested area should evaluate the options available to them to protect ash trees and immediately implement Vermont’s  Slow the Spread recommendations.
If you have questions about managing ash in your woodlot or around your home, or need Use Value Appraisal guidance, check out the resources available at VTinvasives.org.