The American Forest Foundation (AFF) and IvyCo, a financial technology startup, are launching an innovative collaboration to fight climate change by bringing together family forest owners and individual consumers through the Family Forest Carbon Program (FFCP). This Program was co-created by AFF and The Nature Conservancy to bring together rural family forest owners and companies to address climate change. Together, IvyCo and the FFCP are working to address challenges in scaling the voluntary carbon markets to increase the potential of family forests as a critical natural climate solution.
IvyCo creates products to empower individuals to fight climate change with their everyday purchases. By connecting to an individual’s bank accounts through secure Open Banking technology, IvyCo analyzes spending patterns to help users understand their largest areas of climate impact. More than just educating about carbon intensive spending, IvyCo lets users round up their spare change to fund decarbonization efforts, including the FFCP. These micro-transaction round ups lead to a significant impact over time—every $11 raised for the FFCP leads to improved management of an acre of family-owned forests.
Have you ever been stumped on what to get the forest enthusiast in your life for their birthday or for an important milestone or celebration in their life? Do you feel like your employee recognition programs at work fail to have a lasting impact or inspire you to think to think about how you contribute to something larger than yourself? When someone you care about passes away, have you hoped you could send an immediate E-card to their loved ones and ensure that something tangible and meaningful was being done to remember them? Over the past year, the American Forest Foundation has begun working on solutions to these challenges – both from working with individual donors and in partnering with an increasing number of companies to help meet their sustainability and workplace recognition needs.
RECOGNIZE THE MOST IMPORTANT PEOPLE IN YOUR LIFE WITH A GIFT OF CONSERVATION
Currently, you can make a tribute or memorial gift in honor of someone you care about through the AFF website and a letter will be sent to the person informing them that a gift has been made in their honor. However, by early fall, you will be able to not only make an online gift, you will also be able to choose the option of purchasing an e-card as well as other opportunities where you can recognize the most important people in your life with a gift that will ensure the sustainability of America’s family-owned forests!
Recently we dove into the complex, yet critically important concept of additionality to a forest carbon project.
Ensuring additionality is essential to providing a credible and transparent climate benefit from our program.
Additionality asks, “Is the carbon generated from a forest carbon project because of the project or would it have happened absent the particular project or intervention?” If it would have happened, regardless of the project, then the carbon is not additional – it is coincidental. If, on the other hand, the carbon generated would not have happened but for the existence of the program, then the impact is indeed additional.
However, in a dynamic, complex system like forests, additionality is more than a yes or no question. What forest carbon projects must be able to do is to calculate how much of the carbon benefit is additional.
As a forest landowner, Kedren Dillard and her family have spent decades working on improving and maintaining the land that has been in their family for generations. This deep connection between the land and her family has created an emotional connection that fuels the passion that Kedren and her family have to do right by the land.
On that journey, they have had to overcome challenges to keep their forests as forests. One such challenge being heirs’ property-a property that is passed to family members by inheritance, usually without a will, or without an estate planning strategy resulting in a lack of clear ownership of the land. It has been estimated that nearly 80% of Black-owned farmland was lost between 1969 and 2001.
Rhinelander, Wis., April 28, 2021– A research team from the USDA Forest Service and the University of Missouri has developed a new contaminant prioritization tool that has the potential to increase the effectiveness of environmental approaches to landfill clean-up.
Phytoremediation – an environmental approach in which trees and other plants are used to control leachate and treat polluted water and soil – hinges on matching the capability of different tree species with the types of contaminants present in soil and water. Identifying the worst contaminants within the dynamic conditions of a landfill has been challenging.
When a German word enters the parlance of our times, it tends to be memorable. Think of “fahrvergnügen,” which means the pleasure of driving, or “schadenfreude,” the satisfaction we sometimes derive from another person’s misfortune.
For Al Robertson, the German word that has stuck with him the most is “Dauerwald,” meaning permanent or perpetual, and as a certified Tree Farmer in the American Tree Farm System (ATFS), he lives that concept every day. Dauerwald refers to continuous-cover forestry (CCF), the practice of sustainably managing forests by selectively harvesting individual trees.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 (email@example.com) or call her at 802-434-5646.
From your Advocacy Team -Bridget, Gerry, Joe, Michael, and Jackie
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
From your Advocacy Team -Bridget, Gerry, Joe, Michael, and Jackie
Enjoy the beautiful winter weather! Thanks for supporting Vermont Farm Bureau.
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.