Full list: Agriculture in the News

NECN: Vermont The latest news from around the state Hemp Oil Enters Vt. Marijuana Legalization Discussions

By Jack Thurston
1/27/2016
Full Article

In response to parents who have asked the judiciary committee of the Vermont Senate to help them access certain cannabis-based therapies for their children, committee chair Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington County, said language aimed at easing access to the supplements is now being drafted. The language would be added to marijuana legalization proposals already under consideration at the Statehouse, Sears said.

“We’re looking at all aspects,” Sears said of legislation affecting cannabis and marijuana regulation in Vermont. “We’re trying to do everything we can to provide for a well-regulated, but at the same time, compassionate medical marijuana program in Vermont.”

Shelly Waterman, a Burlington mother, said her nearly 14-year-old daughter Hannah appears to be benefiting from the use of a cannabis oil called Charlotte’s Web.

Hannah, who has Rett syndrome, a degenerative neurological disorder, and also a severe seizure disorder called Lennox-Gastaut, takes small doses of the supplement two times a day. The oil is thought to calm certain brain activity without the psychoactive effects of marijuana, Waterman explained.

Hannah’s mom said after the cannabis therapy, the teen is nearly 40 days seizure-free, after experiencing a long string of frightening seizures fairly commonly.

“It’s absolutely life-changing,” Waterman said of Charlotte’s Web, noting she was speaking only for her family’s personal experience with the hemp oil, and that she consulted extensively with Hannah’s physicians regarding its use.

However, Waterman has to have Charlotte’s Web shipped from Colorado, because she said it is not manufactured or sold in Vermont’s licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. Waterman said she wishes Vermont lawmakers could give her family and others easier access to the oil in Vermont.

“This is an important piece of the bigger picture,” Waterman said of how therapeutic hemp oil considerations may fit into ongoing discussions at the Vermont Statehouse about recreational marijuana legalization. “Legalization will help Vermont grow an infrastructure in the medicinal community to be able to provide more therapeutic strains for people who have various ailments.”

The primary purpose of the marijuana legislation steps under consideration is to regulate the sale of small amounts of marijuana through licensed retailers and lounges to people at least 21-years-old.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, has said he would only sign such a measure into law if taxes imposed are low enough to reduce black market sales, if revenues are put toward expanding addiction prevention efforts, if enforcement is strengthened, and if edible forms of marijuana are not allowed at first.

Sears said Wednesday that judiciary committee members penciled in a date for the proposed rules to take effect: January 1, 2018. Waiting until then would enable communities, law enforcement, and prevention groups to prepare for the changes, Sears said.

As lawmakers debate the pros and cons of the marijuana legalization proposals, public health advocates are urging them to be mindful of potential side-effects.

Thursday, the Vermont Medical Society, the Vermont Academy of Family Physicians, the Vermont Psychiatric Association, the Vermont Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter, and the American College of Physicians Vermont Chapter are scheduled to express their strong public health concerns to Vermont lawmakers.

Those concerns include risks of vehicle crashes, impacts on academics, and the worsening of future mental health problems, according to a media release announcing the Thursday morning press conference.

The Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Friday morning on whether or not to advance marijuana legislation, Sears said.


USNews: GMO Labeling Law Worries Food Groups

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press
2/4/16
Full Article

WASHINGTON (AP) — The food industry is pressuring Congress to act before the state of Vermont requires food labels for genetically modified ingredients.

At issue is how food companies will deal with Vermont’s law. They could make separate food packages just for the state, label all their items with genetically modified ingredients or withdraw from the small Vermont market. The law kicks in by July, but the companies have to start making those decisions now.

The food industry wants Congress to pre-empt Vermont’s law and bar mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods before it goes into effect. They argue that GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are safe and a patchwork of state laws isn’t practical. Labeling advocates have been fighting state-by-state to enact the labeling, with the eventual goal of a national standard.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack brought the parties together twice this month to see if they could work out a compromise. But agreement won’t be easy, as the industry staunchly opposes mandatory labels. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are divided, too, but agree that a compromise needs to be worked out before this summer.

A look at the debate as the food industry and Congress wrestle with labeling of engineered foods:

WHAT’S A GMO, ANYWAY?

Genetically modified seeds are engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the country’s corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. Corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soybean oil.

GMOs – From a Farmer’s Perspective

The food industry says about 75 percent to 80 percent of foods contain genetically modified ingredients..

DUG IN

The food industry has been battling the labeling advocates for several years, spending millions to fight ballot initiatives and bills in state legislatures that would require labeling of genetically modified foods. They have also challenged Vermont’s law in court.

Industry-backed legislation that passed the House last year would have blocked any such state laws. But that bill has stalled in the Senate.

The Food and Drug Administration has said GMOs on the market now are safe, and the federal government does not support mandatory labels. But supporters of labeling counter that consumers have a right to know what’s in their foods, and say Congress shouldn’t be trying to pre-empt states.

So far, Vermont is the only state set to require labeling. Maine and Connecticut have passed similar laws, but those measures don’t take effect unless neighboring states follow suit.

NEW TALKS

Hours of talks with Vilsack haven’t produced compromise. The former Iowa governor hasn’t taken sides on the issue, but he has previously suggested some sort of digital labeling that consumers could access with their smart phones or in-store scanners.

Don’t Stop States From Passing GMO Labeling Laws

The food industry has had similar ideas, introducing voluntary digital labels last year that could provide consumers with detailed information about products. Information could also be accessed by an online search.

Labeling advocates have frowned on digital labels, saying they discriminate against people who don’t have smart phones, computers or the know-how to use them.

“Consumers shouldn’t have to have a high-tech smartphone and a 10-gigabyte data plan to know what’s in their food,” said Scott Faber, head of the national Just Label It Campaign, after Vilsack spoke publicly about the idea early last year.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., says he wants to take up a bill soon, before Vermont’s law goes into effect. The panel’s top Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota have been working to find bipartisan compromise.

COMPANIES GO ON THEIR OWN

As Congress has stalled on the issue, some companies are already prepared to deal with the Vermont law.

Campbell Soup said earlier this month it now supports mandatory national labeling for products containing genetically modified ingredients, and that it will stop backing efforts opposing the disclosures.

The company said about three-quarters of its products contain GMOs, and released a mock-up of the label it would use to comply if Vermont’s law goes into effect. It says “Partially produced with genetic engineering” in small print at the bottom.

Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison has been outspoken about the need for big food makers to adapt to changing tastes.


VAAFM News Release: Secretary of Agriculture Issues Revised Decision Regarding Farm Best Management Practices In Missisquoi Bay Basin

Helps to Implement Vermont’s New Water Quality Law, Ends Conservation Law Foundation Lawsuit
2/4/2016

Contact:
Jim Leland
Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets
802-828-3478
Jim.Leland@vermont.gov

Today, Vermont’s Secretary of Agriculture, Chuck Ross, issued his revised decision regarding the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) petition to require mandatory Best Management Practices (BMPs) for farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin.  The Revised Secretary’s Decision makes a threshold determination that BMPs are necessary in the basin to achieve compliance with Vermont’s water quality goals.  The revised decision is available today on the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets (VAAFM) website http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/news-events/clf-petition

“Since my initial decision, Vermont has adopted landmark water quality legislation, Act 64, the Vermont Clean Water Act,” said Ross.  “The Agency, coordinating with CLF, has responded to this directive from our lawmakers, and my Revised Decision contains a framework under which the Agency of Agriculture and Vermont farmers will continue to work together to improve agricultural water quality in the Missisquoi Bay Basin.”

“I believe the farm assessment and BMP implementation timelines we negotiated in good faith with CLF align well with the implementation plans required by the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Act 64,” Ross added. “I would also like to thank CLF for their forthright collaboration throughout this process as we worked to develop a settlement which will be workable for farmers as well as meet Vermont’s water quality goals.”

The Secretary, in his revised decision, has determined that BMPs are generally necessary on farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin watershed to achieve compliance with state water quality goals.  BMPs are site specific conservation practices beyond those required by the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) regulations.

In May 2014, CLF petitioned the Agency to impose mandatory BMPs on farms in the Missisquoi Bay Basin. In a November 2014 decision, the Secretary denied the petition.  CLF appealed to the Vermont Superior Court in December 2014. On June 16, 2015, Governor Shumlin signed into law Act 64. The new legislation changed considerations that formed the basis for the Secretary’s initial decision. Given the new legislation and CLF’s appeal, the Secretary revised his earlier decision. The proposed revised decision was put out for public comment and the Agency held a public hearing in St. Albans on November 12, 2015 to provide farmers and other affected citizens and stakeholders an opportunity to be heard.  The issuance of the Revised Secretary’s Decision today is one of the final steps in settling the CLF petition and lawsuit.

The Revised Decision provides a framework for outreach, education and assessment of farms in the watershed and a process for farm-specific development and implementation of a Farm Plan to address identified water quality resource concerns, where needed.  Farm assessments may conclude that practices required by the RAPs are sufficient to protect water quality and that BMPs may not be required due to a farm’s specific characteristics or management.

The Secretary’s Revised Decision can be found at http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/news-events/clf-petition  or a copy can be requested by calling the Agency at 802-828-2431.  The Agency is providing a copy of the decision to Missisquoi Bay Basin farms and stakeholders who submitted public comment. The Agency is also posting notice of its decision in area newspapers.


VT Digger: Swarm of arguments greets pesticide ban proposal

Feb. 3, 2016
by
Full Article

Vermont beekeepers and environmental advocates say it’s time to ban a class of pesticides, called neonicotinoids, but farmers say the chemicals are important for a number of crops, such as the roughly 1 million acres of corn Vermonters grow.

The chemicals have been implicated in dramatic bee die-offs over recent decades as their use has increased.

Legislators are considering a bill that would ban neonicotinoid pesticides in Vermont.

Defenders of the pesticide say bee die-offs are the result of many factors. Industry representatives and some legislators say it’s premature to ban a useful product with fewer toxic effects than other similar chemical treatments.

A professor at the University of Vermont College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ extension espouses that view.

“My understanding is that most scientists studying bee decline have pointed out that there’s many factors involved in the decline of, certainly honeybees, and possibly native bees — such as mites, disease, nutritional deficiencies, habitat losses and certainly pesticide exposure,” Sid Bosworth, an agronomy professor at the university, told legislators Friday.

Neonicotinoids are known to cause harm to bees, he said. But it’s important to wait for results from an Environmental Protection Agency study on the chemical before instituting a ban, “in order to make rational decisions based on sound science,” Bosworth said. The EPA plans to release a preliminary risk assessment on imidacloprid, the most popular of the neonicotinoids, by the end of this year.

Some academics and activists say the EPA study will only confirm what’s widely known among researchers already.

“One thing you hear is that the jury’s still out on the relative harm to bees, but a huge amount of research shows that (neonicotinoids) cause lethal and sublethal harm to bees,” said Leif Richardson, a postdoctoral research fellow in the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. Richardson’s area of research concerns bees, crops and the effects of chemicals on bees.

The body of data he refers to includes thousands of studies showing that neonicotinoids harm and kill bees, Richardson said.

Farmers use neonicotinoids because they very effectively kill insects, and there’s no question the chemicals kill bees, Richardson said.

Even in doses that aren’t enough to kill, neonicotinoids disorient bees, cause changes in their foraging habits, depress their reproductive rates, reduce their overall fitness and diminish the populations of their colonies, he said.

Sublethal doses also decrease bees’ resistance to other harms, such as mites and disease, Richardson said.

Laying blame

That weakening effect is a flaw in the reasoning that a number of causes are associated with bee declines, some say.

Ross Conrad, former president of the Vermont Beekeepers Association and owner of the Middlebury-based honey operation Dancing Bee Gardens, said he’s heard the entire line of argument before, from defenders of the tobacco industry.

“Most beekeepers, especially the larger ones, consider (neonicotinoids) an issue,” Conrad said.

Chemical industry representatives invest a great deal of effort convincing the public that numerous causes, including mites and diseases, contribute to widespread bee die-offs, Conrad said.

“That’s a classic Big Tobacco tactic, to dilute the blame and point the finger elsewhere,” he said.

Lawmakers should approach the problem holistically, Carsten said, and recognize the numerous causes of bee declines, instead of focusing on a single contributor to the problem.

A similar sentiment came from the chair of the House Committee on Agriculture and Forest Products, whose panel is exploring forming a committee to study the effects of neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids are perhaps part of the problem, said Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, but so are a number of other factors, including loss of habitat and diminished forage opportunities.

For instance, Partridge said, farmers used to cut hay twice in a season, and between cuts the hay would flower, allowing bees and other pollinators to forage. Today, farmers cut hay four or five times in a season, and since this schedule doesn’t permit hay to flower, pollinators suffer, she said.

Partridge said a ban is out of the question.

Legislators need to “evaluate all the issues affecting bees” before making any such decisions, she said.

What alternatives?

Legislators must also consider what alternatives to neonicotinoids exist, because farmers will need to resort to something else if Vermont bans the chemical, Partridge said. That “something” could be older types of pesticides that were much more harmful to mammals, she said.

Bosworth told legislators that the older pesticides, called organophosphates, were applied manually and damaged all sorts of fauna that encountered the airborne poison, including the laborers who applied them.

Neonicotinoids, by contrast, come in the form of pretreated seeds, which draw the poison into the growing plants without dispersing it through the air, he said.

They do emit poisonous dust when they’re planted, and the plants themselves remain poisonous to invertebrates throughout their lives, but pretreated seeds contain that poison to a far greater degree than did previous treatments, he said.

Neonicotinoids are the only pesticide approved for pretreating seeds, Carsten said. They’re used to kill pests such as wire worms, seedcorn maggots, white grubs and black cutworms, all of which live in the soil, eat germinating seeds and are hard to spot and difficult to predict, she said. That makes a prophylactic pesticide such as neonicotinoids especially useful, she said.

But their prophylactic application may be unnecessary, legislators heard Friday.

Although 98 percent of corn sold in the United States is pretreated with neonicotinoids, studies have shown the treatment is unnecessary around 80 percent of the time, Peter Jenkins, an attorney for the Center for Food Safety, told lawmakers Friday in the Senate Agriculture Committee.

“It’s kind of like taking antibiotics every day to make sure you don’t get an infection: It doesn’t make sense,” Jenkins said later.

Crop yields haven’t suffered where these chemicals have been restricted, Jenkins said. That includes the European Union, where 27 countries have instituted a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids, he said.

In fact, he said, the EPA conducted an analysis on soybean production and found that, on the whole, the pesticides’ use on that crop in the United States wasn’t producing any economic benefit to farmers.
Seeking seeds

Given the ubiquity of pretreated seeds today, Vermont farmers could suffer if they were required to find untreated seeds, several legislators said.

Partridge said a ban would be problematic for farmers for that reason. Sen. David Zuckerman, P/D-Chittenden, the vice chair of the Agriculture Committee, said he’s wary of a ban for the same reason.

Carsten said untreated seeds are considered a specialty item in the seed industry. Other seed company representatives said told legislators their companies don’t even stock untreated seeds except in their lines of organic products.

Untreated seeds won’t necessarily cost more, but they’ll need to be ordered earlier in the year to ensure availability, Carsten told the Agriculture Committee.

Zuckerman said that could hurt farmers, who would need to plan and pony up the money in advance.

But current practices with neonicotinoids simply shift the cost elsewhere, said Conrad, the honey purveyor.

Beekeepers are experiencing ever-increasing rates of loss among their colonies, he said. Decades ago, bee losses of 3 percent to 5 percent a year were common, he said. In the 1990s, it became normal for beekeepers to lose 10 percent to 20 percent of a hive each year. Since 2006, around the time pretreated seeds became common, beekeepers frequently experience losses on the order of 30 percent to 40 percent, he said.

“The bottom line is, beekeepers are basically subsidizing the chemical industry, because we’re taking the hit for the substances they’re using,” he said.


New York Times: Cover Crops, a Farming Revolution With Deep Roots in the Past


VT Digger: In reversal, state tightens rules on farmers to protect lake

Feb. 3, 2016
B
y Mike Polhamus
Full Article

Small farmers will face additional scrutiny of their operations based on new rules released Wednesday for protecting the Missisquoi Bay’s watershed.

Chuck Ross, the secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, issued a revised decision requiring farmers to follow what are known as best management practices.

Agency officials say the rules will force farmers in the Missisquoi Bay watershed to better manage manure to prevent runoff that has been tied to phosphorus pollution and toxic blue-green algae blooms in Lake Champlain.

Ross’ new decision follows years of legal action initiated by the Conservation Law Foundation.

In a previous decision, the secretary refused to impose best management practices on Missisquoi Bay farms. At the time, the agency didn’t have the personnel to help farms implement the new standards.

A new water quality law passed last year, Act 64, gave the agency enough resources to monitor and inspect farms.

The imposition of best management practices won’t put an onerous financial burden on farmers, according to Jim Leland, the director of agriculture resource management at the agency. That’s because the new rules could save money, and costs incurred by farmers will be subsidized, Leland said.

“Most things we’re talking about will be practical and cost-effective to implement,” Leland said. “It’s more about management than about installing a Cadillac system.”

The decision requires farmers to adopt new standards for manure storage and management, silage storage, and cover cropping, Leland said.

Many of these practices will save farmers money in the long run, Leland said, and upfront investments will be covered by cost-sharing programs already in place.

“If farmers engage with the process of figuring out what to do … they might find it’s not as expensive or all-encompassing as they think that it is,” he said.

Chris Kilian, director of the Conservation Law Foundation in Vermont, said the decision from the Agency of Agriculture gives the conventional dairy industry 10 years to stop polluting Lake Champlain.

“Agriculture cannot be defined as sustainable if it is destroying Lake Champlain and threatening people’s health, so we need to find a different model,” Kilian said.

Water quality advocates hailed the decision as an important step but said more urgent action is required.

“We’re pleased to see the secretary recognizes the condition of the Missisquoi River watershed,” said James Ehlers, executive director of Lake Champlain International. “But more aggressive measures are necessary to protect the public’s interest in healthy water.”

“We would expect that the agency will abide by the timeline, because further delay is not acceptable,” Ehlers said. “We think that 10 years is very generous, given the current plight of property owners, and the recreational and other interests of the public that are being negatively impacted by industrial agriculture practices.”

Much of the burden falls on small farmers, although what precisely defines a small farm has yet to be determined, Leland said. The new rules are part of a suite of regulations in a separate agency effort that changes what are called accepted agricultural practices to required agricultural practices.

Both changes — those involving required practices and those requiring best management practices — mainly concern farms with between five and 199 cows. The roughly 170 medium- and large-sized farms in the state already follow both sets of practices, Leland said.

These practices will control the runoff of the nutrient phosphorus, which is a component of manure and other fertilizers, from farmland into Vermont’s waters. Excess phosphorus in Lake Champlain has caused an outbreak of toxic blue-green algae, to a degree that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is writing rules that will impose further restrictions on pollution from Vermont’s landscape.

The new decision on best management practices will require Vermont’s Agriculture Agency to inspect for conformity within the next six years all farms that ship milk, and within the next 10 years all farms with livestock, Leland said.

These regulatory changes resulted from last year’s water quality protection law, Act 64. It mandated agricultural practices meant to protect water quality. That act also led Ross to revise the earlier decision against requiring best management practices in Missisquoi Bay’s watershed, Leland said.

The new decision stands as a litmus test for farmers and for the agency to demonstrate that it can operate in a way that doesn’t pollute Lake Champlain, Kilian said.


VPR Cafe: Vermont Farmers Collaborate To Make Yogurt


Jan 23, 2016
Full Article & Audio

Nate and Jessie Rogers had a cow problem. The owners of Rogers Farmstead in Berlin brought the cows onto their farm to help keep the land healthy, but they didn’t know what to do with all the milk.

The couple decided to start making yogurt, however to make enough yogurt to sell on a retail level they needed more space. That’s when a fellow farmer, Marisa Mauro, gave them a hand.

Mauro bought Bragg Farm in Fayston and started Ploughgate Creamery. She began making butter and building the infrastructure for the farm. Since she had extra space, Mauro agreed to let the Rogeres make their yogurt at Ploughgate Creamery.

This kind of partnership is fairly common across Vermont, said Melissa Pasanen, a contributor to the Savorvore Section of the Burlington Free Press.


VT Digger: Vermont at five year mark implementing Farm to Plate food system plan

News Release — Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund
Jan. 20, 2016

2015 Farm to Plate Annual Report reviews progress and challenges facing Vermont’s food system from economic, social and environmental perspectives

Montpelier, VT – Increases in local food consumption, jobs, and overall economic activity in the farm and food sector over the past five years are highlighted in the 2015 Farm to Plate Annual Report, released today by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund. 2016 marks the halfway point of the release of the Farm to Plate Strategic Plan and the Farm to Plate Network is entering its 5th year implementing Vermont’s food system plan. A presentation to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees this morning was immediately followed by a press conference at the Statehouse.

“We could not be more pleased with the 5,300 new jobs that have been created and the overall positive impact Farm to Plate is having on the state’s economy, which has grown to over $10 billion in annual sales. When we passed the Farm to Plate Investment Program legislation in 2009 which called for increasing economic development and jobs in the farm and food sector and improving access to healthy local food for all Vermonters, we had no idea how much change might be possible. Because of the impressive and far reaching efforts of the Farm to Plate Network, this initiative has far exceeded our expectations. We’ve learned so much about how the food system works, how many types of jobs it encompasses, and how many opportunities there are for young people. Farm to Plate has also helped our Committee pass more informed policy and smarter investments in our food system,” says Representative Carolyn Partridge (Windham) and House Agriculture & Forest Products Committee Chair.

The 2015 Farm to Plate Annual Report highlights both statewide and regional progress made to reach the Farm to Plate goals over the past five years as well as what is needed to reach the goals set forth in the Vermont’s food system plan by 2020. Regional highlights from each Vermont County are included in the annual report.

ECONOMIC TRENDS:

At no other time in Vermont’s history has food system activity been more coordinated and more of an economic driver in Vermont. Farm to Plate has firmly established that food system development is fundamental to Vermont’s economy. Vermont generates the highest sales from agricultural production ($776 million) in New England and Vermont maple syrup, cheese, ice cream, and beer are in high demand nationally. Vermont has witnessed sustained growth in food system sales, jobs, and businesses, and increases in value added food manufacturing, financing opportunities, and supply chain connections.

Food system gross sales are up 32% from $7.6 billion (2007) to $10 billion (2012) [in 2014 dollars].
Net value added food manufacturing increased 58% ($359 million) from 2004 – 2013 and now totals nearly $1 billion (half of which are dairy related products).
5,387 new food system jobs were added in Vermont from 2009 – 2014; jobs in the food system now total 63,398.

SOCIAL TRENDS:

Consumer preferences have decisively moved away from artificial ingredients and highly processed food in favor of healthy, local food—and many Vermont businesses are taking advantage of this trend. At the same time, the effects of the Great Recession persist: 10.2% of Vermont households were food insecure at the start of the recession compared to 12.6% today—about 33,000 households.

Local food purchases have increased by $189 million between 2010 and 2014 (from 5% to 6.9% of total food purchases in the state); Vermonters spend $3 billion on food annually.
The percentage of overweight (37.2%) and obese (24.7%) adult Vermonters has increased over the past 20 years—in 1995 33% were overweight and 14.6% were obese.

ENVIRONMENTAL TRENDS:

Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law (Act 148), the Water Quality Law (Act 64), and the Renewable Energy Law (Act 56) require paradigm shifts in nutrient management, water quality practices, and renewable energy generation that change the way resources are managed and business is conducted. Many food system organizations in the Farm to Plate Network are already engaged in this groundbreaking work in a cooperative fashion (e.g., through the Farm to Plate Food Cycle Coalition, Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) staff working to connect with food rescue efforts being expanded by the Vermont Food Bank).

Food diversion and food rescue (surplus food) due to the implementation of Act 148 has increased above ANR estimates. According to the Vermont Foodbank, the number of food rescue pounds picked up increased by 30% over the past year.
The number of impaired river and stream miles due to agriculture has decreased by 23.6% between 2008 and 2014.
Farm and food system businesses are major sources of renewable electricity generation in Vermont with a total installed capacity of 41.6 MW across 184 sites around the state (33.4% coming from solar, 27.3% from landfill methane, 24.9% from wind, and 14.14% from anaerobic digesters like the one at VT Tech).

GETTING TO 2020:

Economically speaking, food system activities going forward need to focus more closely on improving farm viability, expanding non-dairy food production, strengthening Vermont’s remaining dairy economy, and increasing the balance and diversity of food system companies (e.g., 2% of farms accounted for 37% of sales in 2012; Keurig Green Mountain alone accounts for a major percent of food manufacturing sales).

Socially, supporting the continued evolution of the charitable food system and increasing local food availability where the majority of people shop are critical for Vermont to meet Farm to Plate goals. Connecting the food and health care systems are also needed in order to address health trends (e.g., obesity) that are moving in the wrong direction.

From an environmental perspective in the coming years, protecting and incentivizing the sustainability of natural systems will be key—especially around healthy soils and clean water—as Vermonters prepare for, mitigate against, and adapt to the challenges presented by climate change.

“The next five years will focus even more attention on increasing overall agricultural production and encouraging proactive succession planning so that Vermont’s next generation of farmers can keep land in production. We’ll also be working to expand the number and types of markets selling local food such as hospitals, colleges, and grocery stores. And we’ll be launching a grassroots consumer marketing campaign to encourage Vermonters to purchase more locally made products, helping to keep our food dollars local,” said Erica Campbell, the Farm to Plate Network Director. “It will also be important to focus our attention on strengthening the alignment, coordination, and relationships between Network organizations within different Vermont regions and also across county lines. While we’ve already accomplished a lot in five years, there’s still more to be done.”

BACKGROUND:

Farm to Plate is Vermont’s food system plan to meet the goals of the legislation passed in 2009 calling for increased economic development and jobs in the farm and food sector and improved access to healthy local food for all Vermonters. The Farm to Plate food system plan was released five years ago and the Farm to Plate Network (diverse group of over 350 stakeholders from the private sector, non-profit organizations, institutions, and government agencies) is entering its fifth year implementing the plan. The Farm to Plate Network is coordinated by the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, a non-profit organization located in Montpelier.

The Farm to Plate Strategic Plan, all work connected to the Farm to Plate Network, and the complete data analysis and visualization of how Vermont is doing reaching the 25 goals of Vermont’s food system plan are located at www.vtfarmtoplate.com. The website also hosts a statewide newsfeed of Vermont farm and food news and the Vermont Food Atlas – a searchable database of over 7,000 farm and food sector people, places, and resources in Vermont’s farm and food sector. Follow on Twitter @VTFarm2Plate.


Agri-Pulse: Sanders, five Dem colleagues question GMA on SmartLabel initiative

By Stephen Davies
1/22/16
Full Article

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2016 – Six senators have asked the Grocery Manufacturers Association to explain how shoppers without smartphones will be able to use the so-called SmartLabel initiative GMA has proposed to get information about the food they’re buying.

Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy from Connecticut, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Jon Tester of Montana, along with Independent Bernie Sanders, the Vermonter who’s running for president as a Democrat, sent a letter on Thursday with the request to GMA President and CEO Pamela Bailey. They asked for a response by Feb. 17.

GMA said it’s working on a response.

The letter comes as groups representing different views on GMO labeling are talking about a compromise in meetings hosted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has backed something similar to the SmartLabel. The progress of the negotiations, if they can be called that, has thus far been as secretive as is possible in Washington, D.C.

In their letter, the senators said many consumers won’t be able to use the plan (which would be voluntary on the part of manufacturers) either because they don’t have smartphones or because their smartphones aren’t properly equipped to scan the barcode or QR code.

“According to the Pew Research Center, only 68 percent of American adults own a smartphone – many of which do not necessarily subscribe to mobile broadband,” the senators said. “How will GMA ensure that consumers who don’t have smartphones – typically lower income, less educated, or elderly individuals – are able to access important food labeling information while they are shopping in the grocery store aisles? How will GMA make these shoppers aware of the SmartLabel initiative? How will you measure the efficacy or consumer use of this initiative and will such reporting be made publicly available?”

The lawmakers also raised privacy concerns. Many consumers “are worried about how this initiative will affect their privacy. What promises will manufacturers participating in the SmartLabel initiative make to consumers to assure their privacy and that their information will not be used or sold?”

“Lastly, we are concerned that the SmartLabel initiative faces many technical hurdles that will affect consumer access to critical information that they will not have access to by simply reading a product’s label,” they said. “Different smartphone models vary greatly in their ability to quickly and easily scan QR codes.”

In a Dec. 2 press release, when GMA announced the initiative, the association said, “A number of retailers have said that they can help shoppers without smartphones via their customer service desk in stores. In addition, both online and brick and mortar stores are exploring ways to make SmartLabel more accessible to their customers such as by posting the SmartLabel link on their page to allow access in one click or through customer service desks.”

A few days later, Jim Flannery, GMA’s senior executive vice president for operations and industry collaboration, wrote, “If I have no access to the Internet, I’ll bet the store where I’m shopping does or can access the information.


VAAFM News Release: Farmers and public feedback will shape Agency of Ag’s new draft ‘Required Ag Practices’

Jan. 21, 2016
News Release — Vermont Department of Agriculture, Food and Markets

Contact:
Ryan Patch
Ag Development Coordinator, Ag Resource Management
Ryan.Patch@vermont.gov
802-272-0323

Over the past four months, Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) has embarked on an extensive outreach effort to solicit feedback on the new draft Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs). The response from the farming community and the public-at-large has been significant. Nearly 800 people attended more than 30 meetings across the state to voice their opinions, and 169 Vermonters submitted written comments. The Agency is now in the process of consolidating this feedback and re-drafting the RAPs to reflect the community’s input.

The RAPs are an updated version of the Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs), the laws which regulate farms in order to protect water quality, re-written to a higher level of performance. As part of Act 64—the Clean Water Act—signed into law in July 2015, the Agency of Agriculture was tasked with updating these regulations to further reduce the impact of agriculture on water quality across the state. The Agency sought public input on its first draft of the new regulations, to ensure the draft RAPs reflected the realities of farming and the legislative intent of Act 64.

“The feedback we received over the past few months is now being incorporated into a second draft, which we will present to the legislature and the public in February,” according to Jim Leland, VAAFM’s Director of Ag Resource Management. “From February to March, we will continue to be open for informal public comment at our AGR.RAP@vermont.gov e-mail address. We will file a final draft of the RAPs with the Secretary of State in mid-March, which will kick off the formal rulemaking process.”

The public will then have the opportunity to comment formally and attend public meetings during this process. Act 64 specifies that the RAPs will be finalized by rule before July 1, 2016.

“We are very pleased to have received so much constructive feedback,” said Vermont’s Ag Secretary, Chuck Ross. “This is a clear indication that Vermonters, particularly farmers, care very deeply about water quality and getting this right. When the RAPs are eventually finalized and signed into law, I know they will be stronger and more effective, as a result of all the input we received.”

A wide range of Vermonters contributed feedback, including lakefront camp owners, environmentalists, and farmers. Based on the sign-in sheets, 54% of the attendees at the public meetings were farmers. Respondents shared a wide range of opinions on issues ranging from the definition of “small farms” to the standards associated with manure spreading and stacking, to the proposed requirements for cover cropping on fields subject to flooding.

“We are currently making significant changes to the draft, based on the feedback we’ve received,” said Leland. “For instance, we now know we need to make changes to the small farm definition, and revise the proposed standards around manure application and stacking – among other changes. We look forward to finalizing the second draft, and sharing it next month.”

In addition to sharing the second draft of the RAPs, VAAFM will make available all written public comments received before Jan 1, 2016. The Agency will simultaneously publish an abridged responsiveness summary, outlining major themes of public comments. The anticipated delivery date for the second draft of the RAPs was originally scheduled for mid-January, but due to the vast volume of feedback, the deadline has been extended. The second draft of the RAPs, the responsiveness summary, and the public comments will be available to the public on the Agency’s website in early February.

For more information about the RAPs, and the Agency’s efforts to implement Act 64, visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap

Questions and comment about the RAPs can be directed to AGR.RAP@Vermont.gov