Who’s It Going to Be?

A new year is fast approaching, as well as a new government cabinet both on a federal and local level. It seems many are looking ahead, anxious for a change from the past 8 years in more ways than one. I am one of those people on several levels but I’m closely paying attention to agriculture. Does anyone else find it interesting that there’s yet to be a pick for U.S. Secretary of Agriculture? From what I’ve read, it always tends to be a late December pick but this seems to be one of the latest. I’m hoping that doesn’t mean it’s on the back burner and all the other more important picks came first. According to this article from Politico, our President-elect seems to be running through many names. My only hope is he remembers rural America elected him because of the promises he made to farmers out west regarding regulations and support for ethanol. Let me also mention that I hope he doesn’t fill the post to make himself look better (i.e. picking a female because he only has 4 in cabinet so far or picking a Democrat to be bipartisan or for another “R” seat in Congress).

That brings me to the state level. I have no inside information. However, I do find the recently announced transition teams set up by Governor-elect Carney interesting. I assume the agriculture secretary will be chosen from the “Economic Development & Healthy Environment” committee and only one name from the ag industry sits on that committee, Chris Perdue from Perdue Agribusiness. Is it wrong to want a real life farmer on the panel that selects our next Secretary of Agriculture? Doesn’t our #1 industry deserve this?

However, I do find it promising that agriculture is the fifth pillar in Carney’s economic plan. He focuses on supporting farmers through the following opportunities:

  1. Improve nutrient management regulations
  2. Reduce permitting barriers
  3. Preserve farmland and
  4. Promote agribusiness

I assume these would be the priorities of the next incoming cabinet official as well as the focus of the transition panel when picking the next secretary. If you have anything to do with farming, read or share the details found here and make sure you mention whether you agree or disagree the next time you see our Governor-elect or his staff. Or better yet, pick up the phone and call him-http://transition.delaware.gov/contact/

P.S.-The only public insight I’ve found so far from the transition team is from this Cape Gazette article highlighting Todd Lawson’s involvement. Todd actually has an agricultural background and grew up in Sussex County. Too bad he isn’t on the committee selecting our Ag secretary…..

Wait and See in January 2016

So much for no new ag legislation this session. This may have been the intent of Delaware Secretary of Ag, Ed Kee, but it didn’t happen. I would consider no new ag legislation or additional funding for ag programs a success and Rep. Dave Wilson (R) seemed to be working in this direction. However, his attempt stalled. Meanwhile, an animal activist bill popped up out of nowhere. A ton of bills were left on each chamber’s  ready list, tabled, or stalled. I suppose we’ll have to “wait and see” as the 148th session continues in January 2016. Here’s a recap of Jan-June 2015, complete with links if you want to learn more:

  • HB (House Bill) 124 is Rep. Dave Wilson’s (R) masterpiece. He’s trying to find a permanent funding solution for the Ag Land Preservation Program by writing $10 million from the Realty Transfer Tax Fund into our Constitution. The bill sailed through the House Ag Committee but it parked itself on the House Ready List. Meaning it’s ready to be heard on the House floor. It will have to pass by a 2/3 vote and it has to pass both chambers in two consecutive sessions since it’s a constitutional amendment. We’ll see what happens in January 2016. I should also mention $3 million was appropriated to the Aglands Preservation Program at the last-minute, thanks to the one time nationwide bank settlement with Bank of America and Citigroup.  
  • SB (Senate Bill) 124 breezed through the Senate Chamber on June 23 with a vote of 21-YES, 0-NO. The bill seeks to add a voting member to the Aglands Preservation Board. The only requirement is this person must be actively engaged in farming or some other form of agribusiness. He or she can live in any county. But Sen. Ennis (D), the primary sponsor of the bill, stated it was a spot for an African-American farmer. I don’t see that written in the bill. The bill has been to assigned to the House Ag Committee. We’ll see what happens in January 2016.
  • HB 189 was the attempt by the HSUS lobbyist to end dairy cattle tail docking in Delaware. Any farmer in violation would be slapped with a Class A misdemeanor. The bill was tabled. The Department of Ag promised to meet with HSUS to give more detail on how many Delaware farmers actually engage in this practice. Lets hope we don’t see anything happen in 2016! 
  • SB 69 is not exactly an ag bill but it may come as a surprise to some rural families and kids. Any person under 18 years old, operating an ATV, must wear a protective helmet on his or her head with the chin straps properly fastened. Any person under 18 years old cannot be a passenger on an ATV unless the passenger is wearing a protective helmet with the chin straps properly fastened. Not sure who will enforce it or how rural families will be educated on this new law? The DE Farm Bureau was involved and put forth an amendment.
  • HCR (House Concurrent Resolution) 30 was proposed by Rep. Jeff Spiegelman (R) from Smyrna. His intent was to establish a Port of Wilmington Exports Task Force to provide recommendations in regards to expanding the operations at the Port of Wilmington to include agricultural product exports. The bill was tabled. It seemed to possibly ruffle the feathers of the Port, as if it was an insult that they weren’t already doing enough. Rep. Spiegelman requested the bill be tabled so he could do more background work on the bill. It seems like he’s trying to find more niche markets and open up more channels for Delaware farmers. I don’t see how this can go wrong. Lets hope to hear more in January 2016. Here’s a video clip where he explains more.

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.

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

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!

Joint Agriculture Committee Update-Part I

After my post this week on HB 282, I realized there’s nowhere to find Delaware Ag Committee minutes unless you actually attend the meetings. What farmer or agvocate has time to do that, especially in the spring, when planting is top priority? And none of our media outlets cover these meetings regularly. I don’t always have time to go either, but I’m usually attending some other committee, so occasionally I can slip in. Therefore, I’d like to share the minutes of two previous Ag Committee meetings in March. These convened as “Joint Agriculture Committee” meetings, meaning the individual House and Senate Committee members came together as one. I’ll give you a short summary in a two-part series.

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At the March 21 meeting, Secretary Kee seemed to lead the agenda (not the Chairs) and announced three pieces of legislation his department would like to implement in the near future:

  1. Replace one of the poultry representatives on the nutrient management commission with an equine industry representative (HB 282, which passed the House yesterday).
  2. Increase in the pesticide registration fee that manufacturers pay to the Dept. of Ag. (HB 321, just introduced Tuesday).
  3. Increase the fine for those who misuse pharmaceuticals in the thoroughbred industry. A second component to this would be an increase in license fees.

An update on the Young Farmers Program (YFP) was given. There are currently 10 young farmers with a total of 903 acres of land in the program. The State will loan up to $2.7 million at zero interest for them to buy their first farm. The farm will then remain in the Ag Lands Preservation Program (ALPP). In regards to this topic, the Secretary also mentioned the fact that the State has proposed to provide less funding to the ALPP, from $7 million to $1.5 million and to the YFP, from $3 million to $500,000.

In the poultry field, Secretary Kee gave an update on the Harim group, who bought Allen Family Foods. They have been operating profitably from week to week and may add another shift, which could provide more in state jobs. The Secretary then requested help to support the University of DE’s Lasher Lab in Georgetown, which is crucial to our state’s poultry industry because of its role in testing disease in Delmarva poultry flocks. They need $500,000 to continue their work. Several poultry representatives provided public comment to re-emphasize the needed support.

Legislators present were Chair Bunting (Senate) and Chair Atkins (House); Representatives Quinn Johnson, Harvey Kenton, Rebecca Walker, and Dave Wilson; Senators Bruce Ennis, Bob Venables, and Gary Simpson.

Who wasn’t there, but belongs on the committee? Representatives Bill Carson, Jack Peterman, Bobby Outten, Michael Mulrooney, and Senator Joe Booth.

Always interesting to see who attends and who doesn’t. Stay tuned for Part II soon……