Agreement reached on two agriculture bills

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(Host) House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a pair of key agricultural bills. One bill reaffirms Vermont’s right to farm law, and the other establishes new regulations to help medium-sized farms install manure management systems.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There are several signs that the Legislature is within days of adjourning. One is agreement over the state budget, another is the annual spring lunchtime barbecue on the steps of the Statehouse.

Under a hot sun, dozens of lawmakers waited patiently in line as hamburgers, hot dogs and fried chicken were served from a long line of tables at the main entrance of the building. Groups of legislators clustered together on the Statehouse steps to talk about the latest news from inside the building.

One item being discussed was an agreement on two farm bills that had become very controversial over the course of the session. The first bill reaffirms the Legislature’s support for the state’s right to farm law. Supporters of the plan argued that it was needed following a recent Supreme Court decision that some people felt weakened the law.

Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr says the new proposal makes it clear that farms have a right to operate, if they use acceptable agricultural practices, even if homes are built nearby:

(Kerr) “If you move next to a farm you need to be sure you’re doing it with your eyes open and that when you start to experience some of the unavoidable effects of farming that you don’t wonder why these are permitted – because they are permitted. They are typical of what we have to allow to happen if we’re going to have profitable farms, if we want to have farms in this state.”

(Kinzel) Kerr says the bill does allow homeowners to challenge a farm if it proposes to make substantial changes to its operations.

The second part of the legislation establishes new discharge regulations for medium-sized farms in the state – these are farms with between 199 and 700 animals. New Haven Representative Harvey Smith, who is a dairy farmer, says the new rules will be phased in over a number of years:

(Smith) “It’s something that we’ve all known is coming. EPA passed the rules and they’re in existence. They’ve given us some time to help our farm community get into compliance with these. It has to do with direct discharges from farms and so with the state’s help and with some financial assistance to help the farms, if we find places where there’s a direct discharge we’ll be able to help them before it becomes a regulatory burden for them.”

(Kinzel) Lawmakers have included a million dollars in this year’s capital construction bill to help farmers with this program.

Because a number of issues are still unresolved at the Statehouse, the Legislature will be coming back to Montpelier next week in an effort to wrap up the session.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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