Delaware’s Grassroots Ag Champion

Every cause longs for a well-spoken, trusted advocate and they aren’t easy to find. There’s no doubt about it, Delaware agriculture has a champion in Rep. Dave Wilson. Only second to his constituents, Delaware agriculture is Rep. Wilson’s #1 priority. His commitment to securing farm land preservation state funds is critical to securing the future of Delaware farmers; not to mention its relation to preserving open space for all Delaware citizens. He pushed through House Bill 124 this past legislative session to fight for realty transfer tax dollars that were originally earmarked for ag land preservation. Needless to say, Delaware’s ag land preservation fund has only received a small fracture of these funds. Keep in mind, this bill would change our state Constitution, which requires 2/3 passing vote by each house in two consecutive general assemblies. This is a tough feat, for any cause. Rep. Wilson even told me that a prominent agricultural leader discouraged him from pursuing it because of budget constraints. But Rep. Wilson pursued it anyway. Why? Because that’s exactly what champions do! They aren’t afraid to be the underdog and in the process, they bring positive media attention and education about land preservation to those who have no clue that agriculture is Delaware’s #1 economic industry. The bill did not pass the first leg but it was close! He garnered 20 yes votes from his colleagues and he promises to try again.

More recently, his primary opponent brought attention to Rep. Wilson’s own participation in the ag preservation program (all public information on the DDA website). While I understand and appreciate the transparency, I believe most of the agricultural community know the history. You see, if Rep. Wilson wanted to get in when the “getting was good”, he would’ve taken advantage of the program in its earlier inception years when the average collective discount was well below 50%. If you really care to dig more on this issue, then let’s just mention the two former sitting legislators who DID take advantage early on: Rep. Wallace Caulk (Round 1, 1996, 27% collective discount, total over $770,000) and Rep. George Carey (1997, 33% collective discount, total over a million dollars). And guess what? Neither are public champions for the program nor currently advocate for funding such as Rep. Wilson.

Let me try explaining another way. Farmers who participate in this program, sell their development rights back to the state at a fracture of what they’re worth. It can never be sold for development or non-agricultural use.  You may only see large dollar sign totals but again, this is a fracture of what the land is appraised. For the state, it provides open space preservation for the future and ensures funding to our #1 economic industry. For farmers, it is a funding source that gives them some value for their property without selling out and can ensure their future relatives remain in farming practice. Let’s face it, they’re basically doing the state a favor by promising to never develop their land for minimal cost.

In other words, Rep. Wilson has nothing more to gain. All of his land is being preserved, which tells me he believes and trusts in the program enough to participate and wants to garner more funds for his fellow farming colleagues. Most probably know he was a farmer, horse breeder, and auctioneer first and our only active farmer in Delaware’s legislative body. Even better than an advocate is an advocate who has been on the ground, actively involved in the work, known as “grassroots”. There is NO other current Delaware legislator that can say his or her priority is Delaware agriculture. Based on this, I believe Delaware agriculture has a “grassroots” champion in Rep. Dave Wilson. We need to keep him in our legislature to preserve ag lands and our future in farming!

For more information, click here. To get involved in Rep. Wilson’s campaign, click here.

Animal Welfare Bill Strikes Dairy Industry

And so it begins………..the attack on our #1 industry of agriculture by animal welfare activists.

HB 189 was proposed quickly and quietly and assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. It’s an act to amend Title 11 of the Delaware Code relating to dairy cattle tail docking. A quick synopsis of the bill establishes Dairy Cattle Tail Docking as a Class A misdemeanor.

What the heck is a Class A misdemeanor? According to NOLO, a class A misdemeanor in Delaware is the most serious type of misdemeanor in Delaware, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $2,300. Seems extreme and many public comments balked at the punishment. This would probably put farmers in the same category as the thief’s who steal the copper from their irrigation systems.

The bill was in the House Judiciary committee today. I attended and listened. Here’s my notes:

Representatives in attendance:

  • Rep. Mitchell, Chair, (D)
  • Rep. Potter (D)
  • Rep. Wilson (R), publicly opposed the bill, especially with steep punishment and questioned why we were focusing on this with only 6 session day left. He also asked who will police it and what if a farmer buys a cow from another state with the tail already docked? Thank you, Rep. Wilson!
  • Rep. Outten (R)
  • Rep. Spiegelman (R)
  • Rep. Paradee (D)
  • Rep. Bennett (D), primary sponsor of the bill, introduced the bill and stated that cow’s need their tails to swat insects/flies and to communicate with it’s herd.
  • for a full list of committee members, click here.

Public Attendance & Comment:

  • DE Votes for Animals (in support)
  • A private citizen and advocate for animal welfare (in support)
  • Kitty Holtz, DFB President
  • Pam Bakerian, DFB Executive Director, opposed this bill on behalf of the DE Farm Bureau and all dairy farmers. She felt the bill was proposed very quickly and left little time for the agricultural advocates to prepare. She asked for more than a 24 hour notice and allow dairy farmers to speak for themselves. She requested the bill be tabled.
  • Ed Kee, DE Secretary of Ag, respectfully opposed this bill on behalf of his agency including state veterinarians. He requested the chance to sit down and talk to all parties involved here and to look at the numbers (number of dairy farms in the state and how many actually perform this practice). He said the number is low. He also felt the punishment was severe.
  • Kim Gomes, Lobbyist, commented that she represents HSUS and brought the issue to Rep. Bennett. Seeing the discussion taking place today, she asked the sponsor to table the bill and welcomed the invitation to continue the conversation.

My thoughts? Even though my family does not perform tail docking on their dairy cattle, we oppose this bill. This is not the last you will see of this bill or many like it because animal welfare does not just pertain to small pet animals anymore. By attaching the punishable crime, it required this bill to go through the Judiciary Committee instead of the Agriculture Committee. Perhaps they hoped agricultural advocates wouldn’t catch wind? Highly unlikely with a farmer like Rep. Dave Wilson on the Judiciary Committee and an active Farm Bureau who showed up in committee to oppose. I also question the legwork done to propose this bill with only 6 working session days left, a ton of bills sitting on the ready list, and so many other issues important to Delawareans such as budget, tax, and transportation funding woes. I am 99.9% sure the Department of Ag would’ve been willing to sit down and talk to them about specifics on this issue BEFORE proposing a bill. If they wanted to get the ag industry’s attention or see how well Delaware agvocates are paying attention, I would say mission accomplished. I am worried, especially for the poultry industry as this bill could easily bring attention to the welfare of other large farm animals.

The bill was tabled, for now……..all representatives in attendance voted in favor of tabling it. The primary sponsor is not a member of the committee.

We need Delaware farmers and agvocates who are willing to drop everything and come to Legislative Hall to testify against these type of bills. If that’s not possible, even a phone call to your local legislator helps! Leave a message with the aide because they keep track for the elected official.

Rep. Wilson Attempts to Secure Funding for DE Farmland Preservation

When the DE Agricultural Lands Preservation Act was passed in 2005, the intent was for the program to be fully funded $10 million from the realty transfer tax revenue. Because of other budget constraints in recent years, funding has been significantly less. Rep. Dave Wilson (R) seeks to make the full funding of $10 million constitutional law by proposing HB 124. Passing a constitutional amendment is no easy task. The bill requires a 2/3 vote in each house and must pass 2 consecutive sessions. If passed, HB 124 would not take effect until 2017. On Wednesday, May 13, HB 124 passed through the House Ag Committee.

The synopsis of the bill:

The Delaware Farmland Preservation Fund was created under the Delaware Agricultural Lands Preservation Act in order to conserve, protect, and encourage improvement of agricultural lands within the State. The Legislature has previously expressed its desire that $10 million in receipts from the State Realty Transfer Tax be allocated annually to this fund in order to accomplish its goals. This Act is the first leg of a constitutional amendment that will make this allocation binding on all future administrations and General Assemblies, thus allowing this essential program to continue protecting one of our State’s most important resources.

Voting in favor:

  • Rep. Bennett (D)
  • Rep. Kenton (R)
  • Rep. Carson (D)
  • Rep. Wilson (R)
  • Rep. Collins (R)
  • Rep. Paradee (D)
  • Rep. Spiegelman (R)

Not in favor:

  • Rep. Q. Johnson (D)
  • Rep. Mulrooney (D)

All public comment generously supported the bill and farmers! Many legislators also spoke highly of the ag and poultry industry in DE.If you support this bill and want to see farm land preserved please contact your local legislator! Public testimony came from:

Also on the agenda was HCR 30, creating a task force related to the Port of Wilmington. It was tabled so the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Spiegelman (R) could edit the language. Although not in either ag committee, SB 69 passed through the Senate Public Safety Committee. This bill seeks to require helmet use for anyone 18 years old or younger operating a 2 wheel or 3 wheel ATV (all terrain vehicles). Keep in mind, ATV does not refer to a farm vehicle being used for farming. This is specifically stated within the legislation.

Here’s a video clip from Comcast Newsmakers of Rep. Dave Wilson explaining the bill:

Click HERE for a news and audio clip of Ed Kee, DE Secretary of Agriculture explaining the program.

No New Ag Legislation

The House and Senate Agricultural Committee’s came together last Wednesday, March 25 for the first committee meeting this year. Rep. Carson called the meeting to order but the Secretary of Ag led the conversation. No new ag legislation will be introduced this year. The meeting was short and straight to the point. To emphasize the impact of past legislation, Mr. Kee passed out a handout listing agriculture legislation since 2010. See the handout below.

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In attendance:

SENATE Agriculture Committee:

  • Sen. Pettyjohn-(R) Georgetown
  • Sen. Richardson- (R) Laurel

HOUSE Agriculture Committee:

  • Rep. Carson-(D) Smyrna-CHAIR
  • Rep. Q. Johnson-(D) Middletown-VICE CHAIR
  • Rep. Paradee-(D) Dover
  • Rep. Lynn-(D) Dover
  • Rep. Outten-(R) Harrington
  • Rep. Kenton-(R) Milford
  • Rep. Peterman-(R) Milford
  • Rep. Wilson-(R) Bridgeville
  • Rep. Collins-(R) Millsboro

Others:

  • Ed Kee, State of Delaware, Secretary of Ag
  • Bill Satterfield, Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI)
  • Pam Bakerian, DE Farm Bureau, Executive Director
  • Andy Berger, Retired Dairy Farmer

Missing Members from the Committee’s:

  • Sen. Ennis-(D) Smyrna-CHAIR
  • Sen. Hall-Long-(D) Middletown
  • Sen. McBride-(D) Hawk’s Nest
  • Rep. Mulrooney-(D) Pennwood
  • Rep. Bennett-(D) Dover

First Ag Committee Meeting this Wednesday

The first Agriculture Committee meeting of the 148th General Assembly is scheduled for this Wednesday, March 25, 2015 at 1:00 pm. The meeting will take place in the House Majority Hearing Room at Legislative Hall. Anyone can attend! These meetings are always open to the public. Just bring a picture ID with you to get into Legislative Hall. The agenda simply states:

Briefing from Delaware Department of Agriculture Secretary Ed Kee …

By the way, the website for the Delaware State Legislature has been updated! Wow, it’s about time! Take a look when you have a minute. It seems to be laid out well and even provides staff contact info for the Controller General’s Office and Division of Research. Pretty sure that’s a first.

http://legis.delaware.gov/

dga

New Ag Committee Assignments

I recently blogged about the ag experience of our current legislators and the importance of agriculture committee chairmanship. This past Monday, the 148th General Assembly committee assignments and chairs were announced. If you would like to see a solution to an ag-related policy problem, these are the legislators you need to talk to! The members for each chamber are as follows:

SENATE Agriculture Committee:

Sen. Ennis-(D) Smyrna-CHAIR

Sen. Hall-Long-(D) Middletown

Sen. McBride-(D) Hawk’s Nest

Sen. Pettyjohn-(R) Georgetown

Sen. Richardson- (R) Laurel

HOUSE Agriculture Committee:

Rep. Carson-(D) Smyrna-CHAIR

Rep. Q. Johnson-(D) Middletown-VICE CHAIR

Rep. Paradee-(D) Dover

Rep. Mulrooney-(D) Pennwood

Rep. Bennett-(D) Dover

Rep. Lynn-(D) Dover

Rep. Outten-(R) Harrington

Rep. Kenton-(R) Milford

Rep. Peterman-(R) Milford

Rep. Wilson-(R) Bridgeville

Rep. Collins-(R) Millsboro

You can see all of the committee assignments here under the “Committees” link. The new session begins next Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015.

New Year, New Session, New Ag Committee Chairs

There are 62 Legislators in the DE General Assembly. Many are former teachers. Some run small businesses. A few have backgrounds in healthcare. Five are former police officers (according to a recent DE State News article). But NONE are full-time FARMERS. As a matter of fact, out of 62, only a handful have any experience in agriculture at all.

On the House side, the closest we get is Representative’s Dave Wilson (a part-time farmer and horse breeder), Harvey Kenton (retired from Milford Fertilizer-now Growmark FS, LLC), and Jack Peterman (retired farmer). All are Republicans and in the minority caucus, which doesn’t hold much weight when it comes to committee chairmanship. Chairs of each committee come from the majority caucus, which is currently the Democrat party for both chambers in Delaware. The former chair of the Ag Committee, John Atkins-D, lost in the last election. The Vice-chair was Quinn Johnson-D, who actually grew up on a truck crop farm in Maryland but is more involved in his family daycare business in Middletown. All of the above served on last year’s Ag committee.

On the Senate side, there’s even less ag experience and its all in the minority caucus. The best I can find is Senator Brian Pettyjohn (grew up on a farm and worked for Mountaire Farms). These are a stretch but somewhat related to ag: Senator’s Ernie Lopez (works for UD Cooperative Extension/4-H) and Gerald Hocker (owns his own family grocery store). Again, all are Republicans. The former Chair was Bruce Ennis-D, who’s a former state policeman.

So why care who chairs our Ag committee? A committee chair can have significant power by setting the committee’s agenda and determining when and whether bills will be considered. Other responsibilities of a committee chair typically include calling the committee together to perform its duties. In the past, the Delaware House and Senate Ag Committees often join together to meet. Last year, both Ag committee’s in either chamber met only a handful of times. It often seems to be at the request of our Secretary of Ag, who seems to drive the agenda in Delaware. Last session’s proposed legislation focused on the declining horse industry in Delaware (another recent article for the DE State News). The committee not meeting often means there isn’t much policy being formulated, which to many farmers is a good sign because it means less regulation and government interference. But I don’t think this will be the case in future years. Just watching Maryland grapple with the proposed “Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT)” is painful. Many other state legislatures’ are considering other bills harmful to the ag industry, such as ag-gag laws and GMO labeling campaigns. This is why I was disappointed that a proposed right-to-farm bill (HB 63) went nowhere last session. We need legislators with ag experience to serve and chair this committee to protect our #1 industry by convening this group regularly, setting an agenda to protect their farming constituents, and working with the only pro-farm lobbying group-the Delaware Farm Bureau. Given the lack of experience, especially on the Democratic side, I’m guessing the new chairs will have little experience in agriculture, which is not good when it comes to protecting our #1 industry. Wouldn’t it help to have a pro-active Ag committee stacked with ag-educated legislators on our side?  It’s often too late to educate policy-makers when a bill is already on the table. Especially when our best advocates sit in the minority caucus.

All committee assignments and chairs, appointed by the House Speaker and President Pro Temp, should be announced soon as the 148th DE General Assembly reconvenes on Jan. 13, 2015. New Ag committee chairs will be named. Stay tuned.