Agriculture Commissioner Critical of Some Farm Groups

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(Host) Vermont’s agriculture commissioner has strongly condemned a coalition of farm and environmental groups for opposing a large egg farm. Commissioner Leon Graves says the groups threaten the future of agriculture in Vermont. But the spokesman for one of the organizations says Graves is biased in favor of corporate agriculture.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The Vermont Egg Farm in Highgate has become a flashpoint in the debate over the future of farming. A Canadian company wants to add another 135,000 birds to the current flock of 100,000 hens. The expansion plans are on hold for now because the farm needs a place to dispose of tons of chicken manure.

A group of farm and environmental groups has joined with the egg farm neighbors to fight the project. They’ve complained about the smell and the flies generated by the thousands of chickens.

Agriculture Commissioner Leon Graves is clearly frustrated with the delay. In a lengthy interview with the St. Albans Messenger, Graves compared the egg farm opponents to "Luddites" – those who opposed the machinery of the industrial revolution. Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Louise Calderwood says Graves is worried that the opposition to the egg farm could undermine agriculture in Vermont.

(Calderwood) "The Department has always supported the right for farmers to use any technologies or methods that have been shown to be effective or safe. And we do not make statements about the sizes of farms or management style of farms. And that is what the commissioner was speaking to with that comment."

(Dillon) Dairy farmer Dexter Randall is the chairman of Rural Vermont, one of the organizations opposing the egg farm. Randall says he’s bothered by Graves’ criticism.

(Randall) "I believe that Rural Vermont and the coalition are trying to look out for family farmers, not destroy family farm agriculture. I do not like that type of statements whatsoever. I believe those statements are totally unfounded by the Department of Agriculture."

(Dillon) Randall says that Graves goes out of his way to help large farms but doesn’t do enough to help smaller operations:

(Randall) "He’s entirely in support of corporate agriculture. Do we want big box farms and big box stores, or do we want family businesses?"

(Dillon) Graves has said the egg farm will get an expansion permit when it comes up with an acceptable plan to dispose of its waste.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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