4.26.2019 – Pollinator Protection and Rural Development

This is the time during the Legislative Session when House committees are working on bills that were sent to us by the Senate and we are monitoring what is happening to our bills that are in the Senate. One of those bills is H.205, our Pollinator Protection Bill. It passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee and was sent to the Senate Finance Committee. This make sense because, just as it had to visit the House Ways and Means Committee because it raises the fee for registered products, the same is true on the Senate side.

As a result of our ongoing discussion about pollinators, I have become aware of some heartening stories in the news concerning bees. It was good news to hear that the bees in the Notre Dame Cathedral survived the recent fire. There are three bee hives on the roof above the sacristy and the concern was whether they had been able to survive the heat. Those of us who keep bees know that smoke is not an issue, in fact, it tends to calm bees while we work in the hives. However, bees’ wax melts at 145 degrees Fahrenheit so the fear was that the heat had been too great and the wax in the frames had melted. The fact that the bees were still flying was a small consolation given the disaster that the fire represented.

The City of Paris has made an effort to increase the pollinator population in the city and Notre Dame is apparently not the only place that keeps bees. The Musée D’Orsay, which houses many Monet and Van Gogh paintings, and the Luxembourg Gardens are two other places that have beehives. Some sell the honey in their gift shops. Notre Dame apparently gives their honey to the poor as reported in an article in the New York Times last year.

Another story that emerged was the result of something sent to me by a friend. O’Hare Airport in Chicago has hosted up to 75 colonies representing over a million honeybees. The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) started the project in 2011 making it the first apiary at a major airport. An interesting aspect is that it is, according to a CDA website, “made possible through a job training partnership with the City’s Department of Family Support Services (DFSS) and the North Lawndale Employment Network (NLEN)”.

“In its very first year of operation, the apiary produced 1,200 pounds of honey! The Certified Naturally Grown honey is processed and distributed as part of the Sweet Beginnings beelove™ product label. In addition to local, all natural honey, Sweet Beginnings also produces and sells honey-based skin care products such as moisturizers, exfoliators, lotions, shower gels, soaps, and lip balm. The beelove™ products are sold at O’Hare and Midway in Hudson News stores operated by HMS Host and at the O’Hare Farmer’s Market kiosk.”

These two examples beg the question as to what we could be doing to encourage the establishment of colonies in public spaces to promote the success of pollinators and make honey in the bargain.

The House Agriculture and Forestry Committee continues to work on S.58, The Hemp Bill, that will update statutory language and the schedule for hemp fees, which will, for the most part, go up. There will continue to be a $25 fee for those who want to raise plants for their own personal use and not for commercial purposes.

We are also continuing to work on S.160, a bill relating to agricultural and forestry development. It has become what we sometimes refer to as a “Christmas tree”, with a diverse array of proposals “decorating” it. Included are the creation of a strategic plan to stabilize and revitalize the Vermont agricultural industry, a Local Food Purchasing Working Group that will report on ways to make more local food a part of school meals, and a dairy marketing assessment to look at innovative opportunities in the dairy industry.

A Soil Conservation Practice Working Group will convene to study and recommend financial incentives designed to encourage Vermont farmers to implement agricultural practices that go beyond the requirements of the Required Agricultural Practices. We authorize the State Treasurer to sponsor and participate in a Vermont Clean Water Affinity Card program whose proceeds would benefit the Clean Water Fund.

The on-farm slaughter regulations are updated, and we allow for multiple owners (rather than just one) of an animal that will be slaughtered by an itinerant slaughterer on the farm. Slaughterhouse record keeping is updated so the Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (AAFM) can have access to those records rather than having to file a records request with the federal government. AAFM will submit a report on the use radio frequency identification for livestock,

On the forestry side, a Vermont Forest Carbon Sequestration Working Group will study how to create a statewide program to facilitate the enrollment of Vermont forestlands in carbon sequestration markets and issue a report to the Legislature on or before January 15, 2020. We ask the Commissioner of Forests, Parks, and Recreation to develop a logging operations accident prevention and safety training curriculum with the hopes of being able to lower Workers’ Compensation rates for Vermont’s loggers. Included is an opportunity to award grants to the Vermont Logger Education to Advance Professionalism Program. We also repeal the sunset on the sales tax exemption for advanced wood boilers.

The feeding of food residuals to poultry has become a thorny issue and we hope to give farmers who commercially use food scraps to feed their chickens more time to come into compliance with applicable rules. A technical update of dairy sanitation rules and a provision that allows the Secretary of AAFM to review the traits of new genetically-engineered seed and potentially prohibit, restrict, condition, or limit the sale, distribution, or use of the seed are also included.

It is a huge bill and represents a lot of opportunity for progress. I can’t guarantee that there won’t be additions to the bill in the next week or two – the “Christmas tree” may continue to be decorated.

I have written several times about my concerns regarding the ability of farmers to implement the practices they need to in order to meet the requirements of the RAPs and clean up the waters of the State, in particular, Lake Champlain, in a timely manner. A new draft has been introduced that is supported by both the Secretary of Natural Resources and Agriculture, Food, and Markets that may be the answer to my concerns. We will be working on that draft for the next week or two.