Douglas against moving funds for milk processing plant

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(Host) The Douglas administration is opposing a plan to transfer half a million dollars from agricultural pollution programs to help build a new milk processing plant in Springfield. Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr says the pollution program is critical to help clean up streams and rivers across the state.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Included in the capital construction bill that passed the Senate this week is a provision that allocates up to $500,000 to help the state obtain an equity share in a plan to rebuild a former milk processing plant in Springfield. A group of dairy farmers has indicated an interest in bringing the facility back into operation and to market a “Vermont” brand milk product from the plant.

Agriculture commissioner Steve Kerr says he’d like to see the plant restored but he says there’s a major problem with this proposal. In order to pay for this program, the Senate Institutions Committee reduced spending for an agricultural pollution program from a million dollars to half a million dollars. The program provides farmers with funds to build new manure storage facilities. Kerr says it’s a big mistake to cut money from this program:

(Kerr) “We have decent water quality but it could be better, particularly in the Lake Champlain basin. It takes money to manage manure. It’s as simple as that and if we’re going to take a half million dollars away from that project, we’re going to have to stand up and say obviously we’re not going to be as aggressive about meeting our water quality targets, and we’re not going to provide farmers the assistance they need.”

(Kinzel) The Dairy Farmers of Vermont, a group representing roughly 300 farmers across the state, is strongly supporting the appropriation to renovate the old milk processing plant. Group spokesperson Peter Sterling says allowing farmers to operate their own processing facility should be the number one agricultural priority for lawmakers:

(Sterling) “If we don’t do something right now to help Vermont farmers we’re not going to have a farm industry in Vermont. It’s going to be gone and you’re not going to have to worry too much about non-point pollution from agricultural fields. You ask any farmer around the state of Vermont what’s the number one thing they need to do to stay in business it is make more money on their product and this is going to help them do that.”

(Kinzel) The issue will now be reviewed by a House-Senate conference committee. The head of the House Institutions committee, Brandon Represetnative Bob Wood says he’s not going to support new funds for the milk processing plant if it means taking money away from the agriculture pollution program.

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

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