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.

A Right to Farm & Ag Certainty

Most of Wednesday’s House Ag Committee meeting was devoted to housekeeping of harness racing regulations. But at the end, two preliminary-but very optimistic-ideas surfaced. Here are the highlights:

  • Rep. John Atkins, Chair, called the meeting to order at 12:05pm and immediately turned the floor over to Secretary Ed Kee. Representative’s in attendance were Peterman, Outten, Kenton, Wilson, Spiegelman, Q. Johnson. Other guests were lobbyists-Scott & Rebecca Kidner and Debbie Hamilton, Hettie Brown-HSUS State Director, Mark Davis-DDA, Austin Short-DDA.
  • The Secretary went straight into draft legislation related to harness racing such as jockey welfare, harness racing fines, and investigations related to illegal substances.
  • Related to Ag Lands Preservation, the Secretary said he is requesting $2 million for the program in the Governor’s budget, which will be presented this week on Jan. 24. See updated info on Ag Lands here.
  • The Secretary announced that DDA, the Nutrient Management Commission, DNREC, USDA, and the Conservation Districts are exploring the use of an “Ag Certainty” program related to those with a nutrient management plan.  Here is the draft review circulated in committee:
DE's Ag Certainty Program Review Draft circulated in House Committee meeting on Jan. 16, 2013

DE’s Ag Certainty Program Review Draft circulated in House Committee meeting on Jan. 16, 2013

It looks to be an incentive program for farmers to implement best management practices (BMP’s), which other states have adopted (Florida, Louisiana, and Michigan). I also found a blog post by Lara Moody, a promoter of nutrient stewardship in D.C., which cites the discussion of Ag Certainty related to the Chesapeake Bay back in Nov. 2011.

“The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices”.

Legislative counsel in DE may also suggest this be a Constitutional amendment, which could be a lengthy process because it must pass both chambers (House & Senate), not once, but two years in a row. As soon as I heard this, my mind went straight to Rich Barczewski’s “Pig Tales” column in the Jan.15th Delmarva Farmer. He mentions right-to-farm laws in his column titled “Agriculture Under Fire”. The article is impossible to find on the web so I’m posting it below. Awesome article.

Pig Tales, "Agriculture Under Fire", by Rich Barczewski, columnist for Jan. 15, 2013 Delmarva Farmer

Pig Tales, “Agriculture Under Fire”, by Rich Barczewski, columnist for Jan. 15, 2013 Delmarva Farmer

It’s your turn! Which do you think should be implemented to help Delaware farmers in 2013? Answer the poll below!