Legislative Update | March 2018
NOFA-VT has been tracking several bills as they proceed through the legislature this session, including H.663 (the agricultural enterprise bill), H.688 (the pollinator protection bill), and H.661 (the regenerative organic transition assistance bill). With legislators spending time in their districts during Town Meeting week (March 5-9), now is a great time to read up on these bills and share your thoughts with your legislators before they head back to Montpelier to wrap up the session.
H.663: The agricultural enterprise bill. The goal of H.663 is to create statewide consistency in how farms operating or developing an "accessory on-farm business" (e.g. farm tours, tastings, educational events, value-added processing, and more) are regulated by towns/municipalities. H.663 defines what constitutes an "accessory on-farm business" and proposes that municipal land use bylaws may not prohibit such businesses in the same location as a farm regulated under the RAPs.
NOFA-VT is part of a coalition of groups which worked collectively to draft and introduce H.663, and we are continuing to track and support it as it moves through the legislature. If signed into law, our hope is that this bill will make it easier for farms to develop innovative ways of generating additional income to help their farms be more economically viable.
H.663 has passed the full House and is now in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, which is expected to start considering the bill after the Town Meeting Week break March 5-9. If you or someone you know is interested in providing testimony on this bill, please contact Maddie. Read H.663 as it was passed by the House.
H.688: The pollinator protection bill. In its original form, H.688 proposed to restrict the sale and use of neonicotinoid pesticides (a class of pesticides found to be harmful to pollinator populations), increase pesticide registration fees, and require reporting on the use of seeds treated with neonicotinoids, among other provisions.
Following extensive testimony and Committee discussion, the House Ag & Forestry Committee has decided to replace H.688 with a Committee bill which is still in draft form and has no bill number as of February 28, 2018. The new bill would require a person who sells treated article (i.e. neonicotinoid-treated) corn or soybean seed in Vermont to also offer for sale untreated corn or soybean seed. Additionally, the bill requires the Secretary of Agriculture to assess the effect of neonicotinoid treated seeds on pollinator losses in the State, and to develop and implement an educational program to inform users of pesticides in the State of the effects of pesticides on pollinators. Stay tuned for more information as this bill moves through the legislature.
H.661/H.903: Regenerative agriculture bills. H.661, introduced early on in the 2018 session, proposed to create and fund a pilot program to support a small number of farmers to transition to "Regenerative Organic Certification" (ROC) using standards developed by Rodale Institute. However, the ROC standards were then (and are still, as of March 2, 2018) in draft form. While there is a great deal of support (including from NOFA-VT) for expanding the use of farming practices that improve soil health, protect water quality, and mitigate climate change, testimony around H.661 was marked by uncertainty around the proposed standards and inconsistent support for this particular approach. Read H.661 as introduced.
In response, the House Ag & Forestry Committee has introduced H.903, which proposes to put into law the Agency of Agriculture’s already existing “Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program” (VESP). According to the Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, VESP is a voluntary program that "encourages and supports local agricultural producers to achieve environmental and agricultural excellence." The program's stated goal is to "accelerate water-quality improvements through additional voluntary implementation efforts, and to honor farmers who have already embraced a high level of land stewardship." H.903 passed out of the House Ag Committee on February 27, 2018. A full floor vote in the House has been postponed until at least March 14, 2018 but is expected to pass. NOFA-VT will continue tracking this bill for the remainder of the session and will offer testimony when it is taken up in the Senate. Read H.903 as introduced.
Question or comments on these or other ag-related bills? Email Maddie.