Only One “C” Remains

In speaking engagements statewide, Senator Tom Carper has often mentioned the three C’s of Delaware. He’s referring to Delaware’s rich history in the economic industries of cars, chemicals, and chickens. It looks as though he will have to edit his speech as only one lone “C” seems to remain strong in Delaware.

Chemicals-Founded in 1802, the three DuPont cousins transformed gunpowder making to chemicals. The manufacturing company went through many transformations over the years but settled on the sciences-centering it’s focus on food, seed, and biofuels. The company seemed to embrace agriculture with its “Pioneer” seed division, crop protection chemicals, and in-feed animal nutrition and biosecurity products. However, 2015 will forever be known as the year DuPont merged with the Michigan based company known as Dow Chemical Co. The new name? “DowDuPont”. Delaware has lost its lone chemical empire and the single name giant. What does this mean for local agriculture? Will farmers buy seed from a Michigan based seed sales rep? How long before this sales rep is based in China? What is the economic impact on our state? No one seems to know or at least no one is talking. State elected leaders were quick to post sad comments on social media as the news broke. Too little, too late. It can’t be the way our Governor wanted to end his last year in office and 2016 is an election year.

Cars-The industry fell apart in 2009 with the exit of the Chrysler plant in Newark, DE. Soon thereafter, the old GM plant turned Fisker fell bankrupt right under the state’s nose; an epic fail at the start of the Markell administration.

Chickens-Only one shining star remains. The lone “C” is chickens and it’s Sussex County’s claim to fame. The poultry industry began in 1923 in Ocean View, DE when Cecile Steele mistakenly was delivered 500 chicks. She only ordered 50 to replace her laying flock. She kept them, raised them, and sold 387 survivors for 62 cents a pound. Here we are 93 years later and Sussex County ranks #1 in U.S. broiler production, producing over 200 million birds each year. There are more than 1,500 poultry farms on Delmarva with more than 4,600 individual houses. The economic impact is huge with a total of over 13,000 jobs and an aggregate output of $3.2. billion. But the industry is not invincible. Farmers and state officials are preparing for the outbreak of avian influenza to hit. A proposed “water tax” keeps popping up in the Delaware General Assembly, which could hurt all farmers not just poultry growers. Nutrient management laws are being shoved down farmers’ throats. Animal welfare activists claim poultry growers are “factory farms” and have tried to gain access to local chicken house facilities to claim abuse. Will elected officials take note and protect a thriving downstate industry? Or will they post on social media the day after the industry is gone? Thank goodness for those working behind the scenes to advocate for poultry farmers such as Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) and the DE Farm Bureau. But is it enough? Senator Carper, you may not have any C’s left.

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.

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.

 

 

The Significance of June 30

June 30. It seems like an insignificant date year after year. For many, it simply means……

  • half of 2014 is already over!
  • summer is officially here!
  • Little League All-Stars are under way!
  • State 4-H camp is over until next year!
  • the DE State Fair is less than 20 days away!
  • the 4th of July holiday is just around the corner!

But in DE state government, it is significant. It’s the end of our state’s legislative session (no exclamation point). This means late nights for many state employees and legislators as they try to wrap another year’s budget and policy making. This will mark the end of the 147th General Assembly. It ran from January 2013 to present. Any bills left in limbo are forever gone. All legislation must be introduced as new in the next session, which will begin in January 2015.

This year’s session was plagued by low revenues, a proposed gas and water tax, e-cigarette laws, and another potential casino bailout. There wasn’t much room for anything else; therefore agriculture took a normal backseat. Here’s a roundup of ag-related legislation from this past session (click on the link for more info):

  • HB 385 w/ HA 1– Industrial Hemp
    • This is Rep. Dave Wilson’s bill to allow DDA and/or any higher education institution in DE to create and operate the pilot programs to study the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp. According to NCSL, 15 other states currently have laws allowing for hemp production. So far it has only passed the House. Time may run out.
  • SB 245 w/ SA 1 – Dangerous Dogs & Animal Fighting
    • I don’t really consider this an agricultural bill but it comes through on my RSS feed. It pertains to the treatment of animals when seized for criminal activity, etc. It passed the Senate and just came out of the House Health & Human Development Committee.
  • SB 201 w/ SA 1 – Humane Killing, Authority of DDA
    • This is an interesting bill but needed, in my opinion. It clarifies the duties of the newly established Office of Animal Welfare within Public Health to oversee “companion animal” programs as well as shelter standards, previously managed by DDA. It also updates DDA’s role to focus on poultry and livestock species. It passed both chambers and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
  • HB 122 w/ HA 1, HA 2, & SA 2 – Amending Registration of Farm Vehicles
    • This bill requires farmers to register their farm vehicle with DMV and display an official “FV” tag, which replaces the former white, plastic Farm Vehicle Use tag. This stemmed from rampant illegal abuse of the white plastic tag. The new tag is only available through DMV. The cost is $10 with a signed affidavit, confirming that they meet requirements for being a farmer. For more specifics see this blog post from the DE Farm Bureau. I need to print this for Farmer Dan and my Grandfather. They love going to DMV (no exclamation point).
  • HB 150 w/HA 1, HA 2 – Raw Milk Bill
    • Sponsored by Rep. Outten (my district), this bill sought to legalize raw milk for public consumption within Delaware state lines even though the FDA  does not support. It was defeated in the House last June (2013). But a May 2014 House of Representatives e-newsletter highlighted this bill again, touting a “far more tightly focused bill” and stated it would be circulated for sponsorship soon. Haven’t heard anything since. There are some audio cuts on the House of Reps website.
  • HB 63 – Freedom to Farm 
    • Sad to see this bill sit on House Ready List for more than a year. Perhaps it got complicated because it was a constitutional amendment? Or no one advocated? I sent an email to the Secretary of Ag and my legislators in support. Maybe something bigger and better is planned for next session?

A few other semi-related ag bills:

  • HS 1 for HB 60 w/ HA 1, HA 2, HA 3 – Direct Shipment of Wine to DE Consumers (for those in the grape business)
  • SCR 64 – Establishing the DE Waterways Management and Financing Advisory Committee (for DE Watermen)

Keep in mind, the session isn’t over yet. Interesting things can happen in the wee hours of June 30 (no exclamation point).

 

Raw Milk Bill Dead & Farm Truck Tag Changes

This past Tuesday HB 150DE’s Raw Milk Bill was introduced on the House floor in the DE General Assembly. Besides the Dept of Ag opposing, a prominent DE dairy farmer was invited to testify why he opposes the bill. Mr. Walt Hopkins stated that he was afraid more regulation would come to the industry if raw, unpasteurized milk was legal to sell directly to consumers. He said the industry already has enough inspection and didn’t need more. Another legislator asked the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Outten, if the constituent who approached him to sponsor the bill was a farmer. The answer was no. The same legislator also asked him if the passage of this bill could potentially harm children in Delaware who drink milk. The answer was yes. And that was the end of DE’s attempt to join 30 other states and legalize raw milk sales. Not sure why he didn’t ask many of the dairy farmers in his district to support the bill (such as the Busker’s, Knutsen’s or Vogl’s). Final roll call: 26-no, 14-yes. Here’s the results from my poll:

Would you purchase and/or consume raw milk from a DE farmer if legalized?

Answer Votes Percent
Yes, I would purchase and/or consume raw milk from a DE farmer. 24 60%
No, I would not purchase or consume raw milk period. 14 35%
Unsure. I need to research more. 2 5%

, SB 62 was brought to a final vote and passed. This bill would allow farmers to register their trucks, semitrailers, and trailers with an “FT” tag at the reduced registration fee. The bill is pretty straightforward and short in language. It also clarifies that FT Tags may be used for personal use other than non-farming commercial use, understanding that all FT tagged vehicles are required to have auto insurance. The bill passed both chambers and awaits the Governor’s signature. ****PLEASE NOTE: Originally I got this bill confused with HB 122, which sets out to replace the “farm vehicle” tags.  This bill is sitting on the Senate ready list. I doubt it will make the agenda this time around but the bill will carry over into next session.

In case you’re curious, here’s a link to DE State Code on current farm vehicle registration and a DMV document on Motor Vehicle Laws affecting DE Farmers.

Delaware’s Raw Milk Bill

In yesterday’s House Agriculture Committee meeting, HB 150-AN ACT TO AMEND TITLE 3 OF THE DELAWARE CODE RELATING TO RAW MILK was introduced. Here’s the language from the DE General Assembly bill tracking:

This Bill legalizes the sale of unpasteurized, raw milk directly to a final consumer. The State of Delaware adopted, by Regulation, the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance 2009 Revision, as amended, (the “2009 PMO”) in May 2011. Section 9 of the 2009 PMO prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk and milk products to the final consumer. This Bill creates an exception to this prohibition that would allow the sale of unpasteurized milk and milk products by only those persons holding a validly issued “raw milk permit.”
Currently, thirty states allow consumers to purchase raw milk. Of those 30, 12 allow consumers to purchase raw milk at retail stores. This bill, however, similar to the situation in many other states, would limit raw milk sales to the farm or property where the raw milk is produced.
This Bill further tasks the Department of Health and Social Services, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, with establishing a raw milk permit program, as well as such rules, regulations, and standards as are necessary to further the objectives and provisions of this Bill and ensure the safety of the general public.

The main sponsor is Rep. Outten (R), the longtime legislator from Harrington. I’m pretty sure it’s his first bill. I wasn’t able to attend but I wish I could have to hear comments. From what I understand, DE Dept. of Ag and the DE Farm Bureau do not support this bill because of the FDA’s position that raw milk is unsafe. Currently the federal government does not allow interstate raw milk sales and has left the decision of local sales up to individual states. The way HB 150 is written now, it would not allow direct retail sales. In other words, only the farm or property where raw milk is produced could sell it to the final consumer. I’m not sure how much this will benefit DE dairy farmers if they don’t already have a roadside farm stand or market.

I’ve heard my grandmother say she drank milk straight from the cow her entire childhood. She also told me she always thought cereal was supposed to be hot because they used milk straight from the cow’s udder for breakfast. Groups like “A Campaign for Real Milk” and “Raw Milk USA” cite many benefits of raw milk which are diminished after it’s pasteurized. I’ve also heard of some specialty food shops wanting raw milk product. Opponents, such as the FDA and CDC, say raw milk can cause serious illness by transmitting harmful bacteria. So my question to you is……….would you purchase/consume raw milk bottled in Delaware?

Who Spoke Up for DE Ag?

On Monday, August 13, I attended the public hearing at DE Dept. of Ag (DDA) regarding Executive Order 36. In my previous post, “Speak up on DE Ag Regulations“, I explained this order and announced the 3 hearing dates regarding agriculture in each county. At the Kent County meeting there were 3 public guests. According to Ed Kee, 5 public guests attended the Sussex hearing. The New Castle meeting was last week but I have not heard how it went.

There are several reasons I wanted to attend. The first is because I wanted to see how many others were interested in DE regulations related to agriculture. The second is because I’ve had the opportunity to study public policy and work in state government and I’ve learned that once regulations are put in place, they are very hard to remove. Sure, they can be amended but they are not always evaluated once put in place. So, I’m interested to see how this process works. And the third reason is, I was interested to see if any of the hot topics related to agriculture came up. What are the hot topics? In my opinion, they are Nutrient Management, Animal Welfare, and Food Safety/Food Supply.

Ed Kee, the DE Secretary of Ag, moderated the hearing and had several of his section heads present to address current regs. He opened by reading specifics of the order and stating the Governor’s wishes. He asked that we be specific when addressing regulations; not just to say all regulations are bad. Each agency within the executive branch must conduct a public comment period up until October 1. At the conclusion, agencies will evaluate comments and conduct their own review. In June 2013, the Governor’s office will submit changes made to the General Assembly.

The Secretary then introduced each of his staff members present. Who were the 3 attendees? Pam Bakerian-Executive Director of the DE Farm Bureau, Al Paoli-Director of the Small Business Development Center at DSU, and myself. He asked each of us to introduce ourselves and when doing so we had to sit in a specific chair so our voice could be recorded. Pam went first and complimented DDA for their long-standing committment to farmers. Al was up next and spoke to his small business experience and how we can work to gether to help farmers. He also stated how surprised he was that there weren’t more people in attendance. Ed commented that if it was for topics specifically, such as nutrient management, there probably would be. He said he also expects more attendance at DNREC and DOT’s hearings.

So then it was my turn. I introduced myself, explained my background in ag, and my current involvement-which is basically on the weekends, assisting my parents with picking, farmers markets, and marketing. This led into my comments regarding the increase of farmers markets and how well they have complimented my parent’s retail business. I also explained that it takes many people to make a farmers market successful-market managers, vendors, customers, downtown associations and many more. A change in just one of these can alter the success of a market. We recently experienced a change in management of the Downtown Milford Farmers Market as a newly formed committee took over the reigns. A request went out to vendors early in the season that all vendors must have a certain monetary level of liability insurance, which many vendors cannot afford. As a result, vendor participation decreased significantly. From what I heard, blame was put on DDA. However, the committee changed the requirement soon thereafter. I asked Secretary Kee, “Is this a regulation of DDA?” His response was “No, that it’s up to each individual farmer market”. Good to know. Then he had a question for me. He stated that he has received calls about vendors at markets stating or displaying organic produce when they are not actually certified organic. He asked, “Should DDA regulate this?”. My response? “No.” Even though it is a problem, it is something each market can monitor, just as they do with the insurance issue. How can they monitor it? By requesting a copy of vendor’s certification for organic production, making their own list of organic vendors, and making it public. DDA could help by listing certified organic producers on their public website; not necessarily regulating every market in the state. I also strongly believe each individual market knows what is best for their customers and vendors. Anyone else have ideas? Please let me know (cvanderwende@hotmail.com) or contact the Secretary himself!

If you would like to address current regulations, whether for agriculture or any other state agency, you still have until October 1 to submit a form online or printed. Now’s your chance!