Agriculture department may become cabinet agency

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(Host) Governor-elect Jim Douglas says he’ll ask the Legislature to elevate the commissioner of Agriculture to cabinet level status. Douglas says the move will help stimulate the diversification of the state’s agriculture industry.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) If Governor-elect Jim Douglas gets his way, there will be a new member of the governor’s cabinet by the end of the winter.

Currently, state government revolves around five major agencies: Human Services, Transportation, Natural Resources, Commerce and Administration. Douglas wants to boost the profile of the Agriculture Department by making it the sixth state agency. If this happens, there will be a number of commissioners within the new agency:

(Douglas) “I’m going to propose changing the commissioner’s position to that of secretary. I think it’s very, very important that agriculture join the company of cabinet officers that are very, very important to our state. Agriculture is an important part of our economy and it’s an important part of our ethic as Vermonters, and I think a secretary of Agriculture is an important position.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he isn’t sure exactly how he’ll propose restructuring an Agency of Agriculture but he thinks the plan will allow the new agency to promote a number of projects to help dairy farmers diversify their operations.

(Douglas) “I think we have to work with the farmers to pursue other aspects of their farm – such as agri-energy initiatives, using the waste product from animals as my in-laws do in Middlebury to generate electricity; providing opportunities for stronger promotion of agricultural products; revitalizing the extension system at the University of Vermont, which has been very, very helpful through the decades in transferring best practices and providing technical assistance to farmers. We have to look at other ways in which we can help them because, frankly I don’t see great relief in terms of the Dairy Compact coming back at least for another year or two.”

(Kinzel) Douglas has yet to name a new agriculture commissioner but it’s expected that he’ll make this appointment by the end of the year.

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

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