Letter to the editor: Candidates need to do homework

The Sept. 27 Addison Independent offered answers from six candidates running for state senate for Addison County on the topic of Vermont agriculture. The central question asked by the Independent: “specifically what measures would you propose if you’re elected to help Vermont’s dairy farmers?”
The six responses were pretty underwhelming, ranging from essentially giving up because the federal government controls milk pricing to not much else. The best, but incomplete, answers came from the two Democrats, Bray and Hardy, the others need to do some homework.
I’m a lifelong Democrat, but for the past few years there have been too many Democrats in the legislature. We need a better balance of party representation so I have been interested in the two Independents running, Audet and Ralston. But their answers to the ag question are lacking substance.
The candidates should have mentioned and given their support for the many ways Vermont can and has been helping dairy farmers and for that matter all farmers.
Vermont already has in place many programs that must be continued, strengthened, improved upon and better funded. All the candidates answered that, “agriculture is important to Vermont, our economy and way of life.” But that statement is not helpful unless farmers are actually making a living. Making a profit.
Here is an incomplete summary of some Vermont programs that are helpful to farmers, dairy and others that the candidates should be supporting:
•  Current Use that taxes agriculture and forestland and buildings at what their value is for food and timber production.
•  Vermont Economic Development Authority and its Vermont Agriculture Credit Corporation and other programs helping to provide credit for farming, which in today’s world of technology and mechanization require huge capital investment.
•  Dissemination of new information through the Vermont Extension Service, VT Agency of Agriculture, USDA research service, UVM, and private organizations.
•  Numerous grant programs, such as Working Lands Enterprise Fund. Funding innovation and expansion for farms and forest operations. USDA Rural Development with market expansion and capital equipment grants. VT Agency of Ag has several grant programs toward similar ends. Also several grants toward assisting farmers do their share to prevent runoff to help clean up Lake Champlain.
•  Sensible regulation of farming by Vermont and US governments, which helps farmers produce and sell high quality products that meet the high standards of our customers.
•  Interaction and cooperation between state and federal programs that help farmers with conservation measures, help prevent farm runoff, help with credit, information about technology, markets and marketing, and more.
•  Vermont Housing and Conservation Board providing funds for purchasing development rights, helping keep land in agriculture and more affordable, plus the VHCB grant program aimed at innovation on, and expansion of farms.
Farmer education is an essential in today’s highly technical world. Do the candidates support VT Technical College, UVM, vocational high school and adult learning programs, access to high speed internet?
[Do they] support private organizations such as Champlain Valley Farmer Coalition, NOFA, and others that that support farmers and farming?
The only candidate to mention the pressing issue of dairy farm labor was Ruth Hardy. Too few Vermonters are willing to work on farms so it is vital to dairy farm success especially that we support the undocumented workers willing to do the hard work. The state can and has helped out here. There are also private organizations, such as churches and the Open Door Clinic in Addison County that have been very supportive.
It is legitimate to ask why all this government support for agriculture? There are many reasons beyond it’s a Vermont way of life. We need food. Local food is best. We have natural resources — our soils and climate favorable for crops and animals. We have hard working and risk-taking farmers willing to do the heavy lifting. But the profit from farming is, well, not so good. In fact many farm families, in addition to farming, must work off farm to support the family, in essence subsidizing our family food purchases. Ag contributes mightily to the Vermont economy, and the attractiveness of Vermont. We’re all in this together, this Vermont success story. Active understanding and support by the state are vital.
Instead of platitudes specifics from the candidates would be useful.
Paul A. Stone

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