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.

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.

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.