Vt. Farm Bureau sets legislative priorities

MONTPELIER — Members of the Vermont Farm Bureau meeting last week in Montpelier to outline their five legislative priorities for the 2011 sessions, said they are looking to a new governor and a refreshed legislature to address the most pressing agricultural issues in the state.
Addison County Farm Bureau President Bill Scott said the local organization will focus on supporting state and national Farm Bureau initiatives over the next year — which include addressing dairy issues, strengthening the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, and addressing immigrant worker issues. Scott said that Gov. Shumlin’s stated high priority for supporting agriculture in the state is promising.
“We’re pretty well aligned with the state,” Scott said. “They seem to have the same agenda that we have.”
Scott said that one of the recent local successes was a December meeting coordinated by the Farm Bureau and the Addison County young farmers group, where at least 50 dairy farmers got the opportunity to meet and ask questions of then-Gov.-elect Shumlin. That meeting, Scott said, helped to bolster confidence in the next two years of agricultural policy.
The state Farm Bureau announced, as its first priority, that it would support legislation that would bolster the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets’ role as the regulatory body for agriculture in the state.
Second, the Vermont Farm Bureau also supports federal milk supply management legislation that would establish incentives against overproduction in the dairy market. Scott said that this differs from the national arm of the Farm Bureau, which does not support supply management — unusual in an organization that tends to align the local policy recommendations with the national. But, he said, the voices of smaller dairy farmers are starting to be heard among the states with larger Farm Bureau arms.
“We’re making inroads with the national Farm Bureau,” said Scott.
As its third priority, the Vermont Farm Bureau also voices support for a year-round guest worker system that would provide a legal way for farms to hire foreign-born workers and protect the rights of those entering the country seeking farm work.
Fourth, the VFB supports Vermont’s Current Use program, which allows landowners actively managing farm and forest land to pay taxes on the land’s agricultural value as opposed to its development value.
“We support a change to have (Current Use) become permanent policy that reflects the goal of keeping those who work on the land on the land,” says the VFB’s statement of priorities.
Lastly, the VFB supports an estate tax exemption of $3,500,000, with the hope of protecting farms and small businesses that might be affected by a change in the limits.
Scott said that while the Addison County arm of the bureau supports the national and state legislative priorities, its local focus will revolve around supporting the dairy economy and agriculture programs in local schools, as well as furthering local development of the initiatives set out by the Farm to Plate plan that will be rolling out in the coming months.
And Scott said the county farm bureau has also been providing input on a plan to clean up pollution in the southern portion of Lake Champlain, and that it will continue to work on area waterway conservation issues.
“We don’t have a huge budget on a county level,” said Scott. “But we sponsor things that we feel are necessary.”
The other local priority this year, said Scott, will be to try to increase member numbers once again. The grassroots-run organization saw a decline in membership during the economic downturn.
And Scott said the bureau’s monthly legislative breakfasts will start up in February. The bureau hopes to partner with the Addison County Chamber of Commerce and draw more attendees to its meetings this year.
“It’s not just an agricultural forum,” said Scott, noting that agriculture is an economic force in the county, extending far beyond those directly involved in farming.
“In this community, we don’t have an industrial base anymore. (Agriculture) is what’s actually supporting our towns and state,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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