On-Farm Activities Compromise Legislation Passes Senate

Trey Davis
Assistant Director
VFBF Governmental Relations
Yesterday, SB51 (Stuart), compromise legislation developed by the On-Farm Activities Working Group, passed the Senate the floor with a 32-7 vote! Farm Bureau would like to thank Sen. Richard Stuart for his leadership and Sen. Chap Petersen for his support.

SB51 (Stuart) allows you to continue to do the following at your farm:

-sell agricultural products and related items incidental to your operation including food products that comply with state law

-hold activities on your farm including pick-your-own operations, agritourism, hayrides, etc.

Localities will still have the ability to craft ordinances relating to agritourism but cannot prohibit these activities unless there is a direct impact on the health, safety, or general welfare of the public.

In the 2013 General Assembly, legislation was defeated that would have expanded the Right-to-Farm Act to include a broad range of on-farm activities.  Farm Bureau expressed concerns of adding the proposed language (HB1430) to this specific Code section as it is intended to protect production agriculture from being deemed a nuisance by localities.  As a result of these discussions, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) convened the On-Farm Activities Working Group (OFAWG) in 2013 comprised of private citizens, local government representatives and agricultural stakeholder groups, including Virginia Farm Bureau.

Following the final meeting of the OFAWG, a consensus was reached among the majority of the participants to present a compromise bill in the 2014 General Assembly.  This compromise legislation adds a new part to the appropriate local government Code section (§15.2) allowing agritourism activities at an agricultural operation to be permitted unless there is a substantial impact on the health, safety or welfare of the public.  The legislation further allows the sale of agricultural or silvicultural products and the preparation and sale of food products, as long as those food products currently comply with state law.

Sen. Chap Petersen, a co-sponsor of the bill, expressed his support for SB51 in his blog “OxRoadSouth” yesterday before the Senate vote. His post is below:

One of the recurring issues in Richmond over the past two years has been the right of localities to restrict (or not) farm-related businesses.  This issue has consumed the Ag Committee and caused some pretty sharp divides. 

Here is the context: 

In Virginia, we have millions of acres dedicated to agriculture.  A small percentage of this acreage is located on family-owned farms.  More and more, these farms have become boutique operations, which sell their wares in order to be profitable.  The best example is farm-based wineries which have become a cottage industry (literally) in Loudoun and Fauquier Counties.Of course, there is an another trend which conflicts with the growth in farm businesses.  That is the migration of wealthy people to these picturesque valleys.  To many, these wineries and other farm businesses are a nuisance.  With that in mind, some counties have created zoning ordinances to restrict farm-based businesses. 

I’m a co-sponsor of SB 51 which simply states that localities must make a finding of “substantial impact” on health and welfare before it moves to restrict a business which is based on agricultural products. 

(Note:  Woodstock music festival would not qualify as a farm product industry.  Well, actually it might.  Okay, never mind). 

I think this is only fair.  An owner of agriculturally zoned land has rights.  Already, she must jump through a number of regulatory hoops in order to sell her own products.  (If selling food, it’s the VDH; if selling alcohol, it’s the ABC).  For example, the ABC license already requires a public hearing and that license can limit hours and mode of operation. 

Allowing localities to put a Special Use Permit process automatically on top of the existing regulatory structure will kill farm businesses, which is an outcome that some might support.  But I don’t and so I’m supporting SB 51.It passed the Ag Committee on a 10-5 vote last week and will be on the floor today. 

(Update at 1:45 pm) 

Bill has passed the Senate on a 32-7 vote. 

– See more at: http://oxroadsouth.com/2014/02/farming-and-sb-51/#sthash.FGxutHFv.dpuf

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