Compost

Composting is an agricultural activity that gives farmers the potential to diversify their farm income while at the same time recapture nutrients, build good soils, and creating a soil-to-soil life cycle for our food system. Rural Vermont’s believes that composting is a “farm activity”, farmers should not be subject to having their compost activity regulated separately from their farming activity, and not subject to permits, state and/or municipal oversight and zoning. Furthermore, as composting is a vital component for developing soil health and nutrient replenishment, Rural Vermont believes that the sale of compost should not be taxed.

 

Compost-related bills in the VT Statehouse, 2013-2014 sessions:

H.0542: An act relating to the taxation of soil amendments.

This bill proposes to exempt the sale of soil amendments, including compost, from the sales and use tax. Vermont does not tax fertilizer or other agricultural products, and as compost has similar properties Rural Vermont believes that it too should not be taxed. A few Vermont compost operations have been cited to pay back taxes on years of compost sales.

 

Compost Campaign History

Act 141 of 2010 (H.614):

On June 1, 2010, Governor Jim Douglas signed into law Act 141 (H.614), the Compost bill. This bill was the result of a study group including Rural Vermont in an attempt to create exemptions under Act 250 so farms could do commercial composting without going through the Act 250 permitting process since most farming activity is exempt from Act 50. In this bill there are six exemptions that farms can fall under to become commercial composters without an Act 250 permit.

  • (I) The compost is produced from no more than 100 cubic yards of material per year; or
  • (II) The compost is principally produced from inputs grown or produced on the farm; or
  • (III) The compost is principally used on the farm where it was produced, or
  • (IV) The compost is produced on a farm primarily used for the raising, feeding, or management of livestock, only from:
    • (aa) manure produced on the farm; and
    • (bb) unlimited clean, dry, high carbon bulking agents from any source; or
  • (V) The compost is produced on a farm primarily used for the raising, feeding, or management of livestock, only from:
    • (aa) manure produced on the farm; and
    • (bb) up to 2,000 cubic yards per year of organic inputs allowed under the agency of natural resources’ acceptable management practices, including food residuals or manure from off the farm, or both; and
    • (cc) unlimited clean, dry, high-carbon bulking agents from any source; or
  • (VI) The compost is produced on a farm primarily used for the cultivation or growing of food, fiber, horticultural, or orchard crops, that complies with the agency of natural resources’ solid waste management rules, only from up to 5,000 cubic yards per year of total organic inputs allowed under the agency of natural resources’ acceptable management practices, including up to 2,000 cubic yards per year of food residuals.

Some additions that were made to the bill include recognizing composting as an agricultural practice in the “findings” section and the addition of a sunset, or expiration date, to the bill. A report will be submitted to the legislature in two years, and the law will sunset in four years. Much to Rural Vermont’s disappointment, the circumvention language was not removed and the amendment to remove the income test was passed over. This of course was not the outcome we were hoping for. However, we do hope that this bill will create some opportunities for farms to develop commercial compost operations. The alternative to having no bill would have meant that any farm with a commercial compost operation would be subject to Act 250.

Act 41 of 2008 (H.145):

In 2008, the Vermont legislature passed a bill that created a Compost Study Committee, which met over the summer and fall and submitted a report with recommendations to the legislature for a new, tiered regulatory system for composting operations in Vermont. Rural Vermont participated in the study committee as a member. The result of this report was the bill H.145, passed into law in 2009.

The bill attempted to do three things:

  • 1. Clarify the role of the Agency of Agriculture for composting that is done on the farm.
  • 2. Create a new, tiered regulatory structure overseen by the Agency of Natural Resources for commercial composters.
  • 3. Clarify when Act 250 should be applied to composting operations.

The study committee had reached consensus on how to accomplish #1 and #2, above, but there was disagreement about when Act 250 should take effect. As a result, that discussion carried through to the legislature. The key was to draw a clear line of when Act 250 applies and when it does not. Part of the reason the study committee was formed is because there were questions about this very issue. Several composting operations have been located on farms. Farming is exempt from Act 250; however, composting is not necessarily considered farming under Act 250, depending on how it is done and whether the compost is sold. Rural Vermont took the lead in advocating for a tiered approach for Act 250, with smaller operations not needing Act 250 permits, and larger operations having to go through the Act 250 process.

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