VFBF Governmental Relations
On Wednesday, March 5, Governor McAuliffe signed SB51 (Stuart) into law. The provisions of SB51 will go into effect July 1, 2014. HB268 (Orrock) has been passed by the House of Delegates and Senate and we expect it to be signed soon as well.
SB51 is truly a compromise, bi-partisan bill, and we are excited for the potential it has in growing the industry. The legislation is a result of discussions from the On- Farm Activities Working Group (OFAWG) convened in 2013 by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) and the Secretariat of Agriculture and Forestry. The OFAWG was comprised of private citizens, local government representatives and agricultural stakeholder groups with the mission of identifying problems and potential solutions to address the conflicts that have risen between local governments and farmers relating to zoning regulations. Following the final meeting of the OFAWG, a consensus was reached among the majority of the participants to present the compromise bill (SB51) in the 2014 General Assembly.
SB51 strikes the appropriate balance between the needs of agricultural entrepreneurs and local government control. The legislation very closely mirrors the protections given to farm wineries in §15.2-2288.3, and provides the rest of the agriculture industry the same standards of local protection that wineries have enjoyed since §15.2-2288.3 was enacted in 2006. It specifically encourages farmers to do the following at their farm:
–sell their agricultural products or related items incidental to the operation, and sell food products in compliance with State law; and,
–host agritourism activities as already defined in §3.2-6400, including pick-your-own and farmers markets, and other activities that are usual and customary at Virginia farms.
Localities will still be able to ask for permits and regulate these activities if there is a “substantial impact” on the health, safety, or general welfare of the public. This same standard of review has been applied by localities as they enact local ordinances to address farm wineries, and as such, creates consistency in local government oversight for other portions of the agriculture industry.
Further, localities will still be able to ask for permits that are required by State law, such as erosion and sediment control, health department inspections, etc., and to utilize local taxing authority as established by Title 58.1. These specific provisions were added at the request of Virginia’s localities during negotiations on SB51 .
All of the activities listed in SB51 must occur at a legitimate “agricultural operation” which is a property “devoted to the bona fide production of crops, or animals, or fowl including the production of fruits and vegetables of all kinds; meat, dairy, and poultry products; nuts, tobacco, nursery, and floral products; and the production and harvest of products from silviculture activity” as defined in §3-2.300. This will ensure the main purpose of the property remains devoted to the production of agricultural commodities, ensuring that agricultural properties will be able to be used in a diverse manner to bring additional value-added benefit to the agricultural operation.
SB51 was heavily amended throughout the General Assembly to address the various concerns of stakeholders and represents a compromise amongst many groups that do not always agree. Because of these changes, the bill received overwhelming bipartisan support and passed the Senate on a vote of 33-6 and the House of Delegates on a vote of 75-19.
Thanks to all of you for your support and the contacts you made in supporting this bill. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.