Nitka’s notes from the Statehouse, Feb. 21, 2020

Dear Editor,

There is always a lot to learn at the Legislature on the widest range of topics and issues. The Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets did a presentation recently to the Senate Appropriations Committee to support their proposed budget. The agency has become more diverse through the years as some issues have changed and others have moved to the forefront. Agricultural water quality continues to be a major focus of the agency with spending in excess of $6 million while the burgeoning hemp industry is a new responsibility.

Hemp became a legal product by the passage of the federal farm bill in 2018 and Vermont farmers and others are now growing hemp crops. There are approximately 1,000 people registered with the state to grow hemp. The fee to register is based on the acreage grown. There are 9,100 registered acres in the program. It is interesting that 65% of the parcels are five acres or less. The department feels the market “will shake out” and those who survive will be determined by the quality of the plants.

They also report that some farmers have had to destroy their crops because the THC levels were over the level allowed. The department has an attorney, a lab inspector, and a field person assigned to hemp. They also are doing a pilot program in their lab for hemp. There are Vermont draft rules proposed for regulation of CBD oils and other products. It will need to be determined if they mesh with new federal draft rules before finalization.

Other areas of focus are the Food Safety Modernization Act, Animal Health, Dairy, Meat as well as Weights and Measures. This includes scales in stores as well as gas pumps to verify accuracy. They also regulate feed, seed, fertilizer, and pesticides. There is a pilot program to provide cost share with farmers for Radio Frequency ID tags. Currently, there are free metal ear tags, but RFID tags would allow for export of animals internationally, tracking of animal health and production data. The new tags cost up to $3. This program is going on nationally.

The Vermont Fairs and Field Days receive a small stipend in the budget, $110,000 that is used for match money, structural repairs, addressing safety issues, upgrading electric lines, water issues, and, in one case, a manure pit. There are 14 events around the state, which are supported by an unfathomable number of volunteer hours. In 2019, attendance was up by 28,000 persons from 2018. They still are a Vermont tradition.

We recently learned that the last dairy farmer serving in the Legislature, Rodney Graham of Williamstown, would be selling his organic herd. It is reported that financially he felt he could no longer continue without borrowing money to do so and had been struggling prior to making this difficult decision. His farm has been in the family for generations, and this is very sad for him and his family as well as the state.

Last summer, David Ainsworth, the representative from Royalton, who was actively farming, passed away leaving Representative Graham as the only farmer remaining. Years ago, farmers made up a good share of the membership, and it is unfortunate now not to have anyone.

Feel free to contact me at the Statehouse at 802-322-5616, on weekends at 802-228-8432, or anitka@leg.state.vt.us. Letters can be sent to P.O. Box 136, Ludlow, VT 05149-0136.

Sincerely,

Sen. Alice Nitka

Windsor County

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