Governor McDonnell Signs Agriculture and Forestry Development Legislation

Gov. Bob McDonnell

 Governor Bob McDonnell signed agriculture and forestry development legislation passed during the recently concluded 2012 session of the General Assemblyat  Cave View Farm in Weyers Cave yesterday.  McDonnell was joined by members of the General Assembly, representatives from the agriculture and forestry industries as well as local economic development associations and chambers of commerce.

During the event he signed legislation establishing the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund which will function similar to the Governor’s Opportunity Fund. He also signed legislation adding the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry and the Secretary of Technology as voting members of the board of directors of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority to increase coordination among economic development entities.

“All this great news emphasizes the importance of agriculture and forestry to Virginia; they are the state’s two largest industries. Together, they have a combined economic impact of $79 billion annually and provide more than 500,000 jobs across the state. But, we can do more to help spur more economic activity in agriculture and forestry. That is one reason we’ve created the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund. This new economic development tool will help incentivize the creation or expansion of businesses that utilize Virginia agricultural and forestry products, thus providing more opportunities particularly in rural areas of the Commonwealth,” McDonnell said. “Recognizing the industries’ importance to Virginia’s overall economic well-being, we also asked the General Assembly to approve legislation that adds the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, along with the Secretary of Technology, to the board of directors of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership so that we can further capitalize on agribusiness and technology potential in Virginia – two important and growing industries in the Commonwealth. All of the legislation being signed today will further strengthen our agriculture and forestry industries, create greater coordination and promotion of the industries by Virginia, and help our growers and producers thrive in the Commonwealth. And all of that means more jobs for our citizens.”

Cave View Farm is a 2,000 acre dairy and crop farm, with 1,100 cows and the highest silo in Virginia, which stands 148 feet high. In 2010, Cave View Farm received the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s “Shenandoah Basin Clean Water Award.” Governor McDonnell first visited the farm as a candidate for governor in August 2009.

“Three years ago we came to this farm to discuss our vision for how to grow Virginia’s agricultural and forestry industries to help create more good paying jobs for our citizens. Today, we can point to the results of that work. Virginia agriculture exports reached an all-time high in 2011, as we exported a record $2.35 billion worth of products,” McDonnell said. “Working with the General Assembly, we’ve significantly increased international marketing funds to help us capitalize on the tremendous growth opportunities in countries like China and India and other key regions in the global marketplace. These efforts are helping our producers and agribusinesses achieve new successes. Since 2010, we’ve helped to facilitate deals that have added more than $150 million in new agricultural exports from Virginia, including major new shipments of soybeans and wine to China; livestock to Russia and Canada; and wine, seafood, and specialty foods to the European Union.”

Bills Signed Today

HB766 (Landes)/ SB128 (Stanley) – Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) Fund
•Creates the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund

•The bill establishes an economic development grant and loan program targeted specifically at agricultural and forestry operations.

•Despite agriculture and forestry being the two largest industries in the Commonwealth, this legislation is the first to create an economic development incentive targeted specifically at these industries.

•AFID is structured much like the Governor’s Opportunity Fund, but is specifically designed to accommodate the unique aspects of agriculture and forestry projects.

•AFID will provide grants for projects that utilize Virginia grown products in value-added or processing facilities.

•These agriculture and forestry value-added or processing facilities can have tremendous impacts on the regions in which they locate.

•Areas where these facilities typically locate are rural with higher unemployment

•Agriculture is already a core economic driver in the area, so facilities of this kind can build on the region’s existing strength.

•These facilities have a greater economic ripple effect as a result of growers in the region having a new market in which to sell products.

•Farm revenue increases as a result of these facilities

•Jobs are created on the farm and in the facility

•Greater opportunities to increase farm profitability lead to more farmland preserved

•The entire region sees an economic benefit from revenue generated on the farms and at the facility

HB292 (Scott, Ed)/ SB405 (Hanger) – Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority; increases membership of board of directors

•Adds the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry (SAF) and the Secretary of Technology (SOT) as voting members of the board of directors of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership Authority

 •Legislation continues the Governor’s strategy to fully integrate agriculture and forestry, the two largest industries in Virginia, into the broader economic development and job creation efforts of Virginia.

•Having SOT on the VEDP board will bring insights regarding emerging technology markets and provide technical insight into the type of infrastructure necessary to support technology adoption.

•SAF membership on VEDP board indicates to prospective companies that agriculture and forestry interests are important parts of Virginia’s economic development efforts.

•As a VEDP board member, SAF will play an even greater role in shaping the programs and policies which will further investment and job creation in agribusiness and related sectors.

•Technology remains an economic engine in the Commonwealth and SOT’s presence on the VEDP board will provide valuable opportunities to leverage expansion/relocation activities in the IT sector into valuable job opportunities.

Virginia Farm Bureau achieves nine out of 11 budget successes

The General Assembly passed a budget on Wednesday, April 18. The next step is for the Governor to review the budget report and offer any amendments or veto the bill. If he signs the bill with no changes then the bill will become law on July 1, 2012.

Virginia Farm Bureau policy was achieved on nine out of 11 on the budget amendments. This brings our final total of successful issues for the General Assembly to 43 out of 51 policy issues.

Where Farm Bureau Policy Prevailed in the State Budget

Coyote Program: $40,000 was added each year of the biennium to bring the funding to a minimum amount of $120,000.

Reforestation of Timberlands Program; Computer Program Needed to Operate RT Program: $130,000 was added each year of the biennium to increase the amount of state matching fund to a total of $557,570. In addition, the General Assembly provided $120,000 each year of the biennium to replace the dysfunctional computer program used to distribute the funds to landowners. This was necessary to keep a functional RT Program.

Soil and Water Conservation District Operational and Technical Assistance Funding: The General Assembly restored $2.046 million for each year of the biennium for district operations. The General Assembly further requested the Secretary of Natural Resources to convene a stakeholder group to develop recommendations for a long-term adequate, consistent and reliable funding formula for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The General Assembly also prohibited the State Soil and Water Conservation Board or Department of Conservation and Recreation from changing any district boundary lines until after the General Assembly had time to respond and act upon the recommendations of the study.

Virginia Cooperative Extension: Both the House and Senate appropriated an additional $500,000 each of the fiscal years for a total of $1 million for the biennium.

Weights and Measures Program: The General Assembly eliminated the per device fee for weights and measures inspections. They added $250,000 for the first year of the biennium to the program to address the $2 million gap that has existed in the program for the last several years.

Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund: The General Assembly maintained the $1 million in funding for each year of the biennium.

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services International Marketing Opportunities: The General Assembly maintained the $260,000 each year of the biennium to support international marketing opportunities for Virginia agriculture and forestry products.

Beehive Grant Program: The General Assembly appropriated $250,000 to support the legislation creating the Beehive Incentive Grant Program.

Legislation creates opportunities for more health care professionals in rural areas

Update on rural health by Trey Davis, Assistant Director of Governmental Relations

Farmers, like any other business owner, are constantly looking for new ways to maximize their profits while controlling expenses. In rural Virginia, the cost of health care has risen dramatically for farmers, their families, and their employees. Combined with a severe lack of access to hospitals and physicians in rural areas, health care is a growing problem that needs innovative solutions at both the state and federal level.

Allowing more people in rural areas that will diagnose conditions and provide treatment can go a long way towards controlling the “out-of-pocket” cost for farmers. HB 346, sponsored by Delegate John O’ Bannon (R-Richmond), is an opportunity to have more health care professionals in these underserved parts of the Commonwealth. The legislation will allow nurse practitioners to practice as part of “patient care teams” where a physician licensed to practice medicine in the Commonwealth provides management and leadership. It also streamlines requirements for written or electronic practice agreements for nurse practitioners, and provides that physicians practicing as part of a patient care team have the option of requiring nurse practitioners be covered by professional malpractice insurance.

HB346, a compromise between the Medical Society of Virginia (MSV) and the Virginia Council on Nurse Practitioners (VCNP), will increase the number of patients seen in rural areas by enabling physicians to manage more nurse practitioners. It also provides some new language that will allow more flexibility for NPs to treat patients in nursing homes and free clinics. As the bill awaits the Governor’s Signature, I hope farmers will be optimistic about having more medically licensed caregivers nearby. The less you have to travel to find quality care, than the lower your cost. The more nurse practitioners nearby, the greater your accessibility.

Health care costs and health care accessibility have been at the forefront of the public policy debate ever since the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) by Congress in 2010. While the constitutionality of that law is set to be debated by the Supreme Court next week, the Virginia General Assembly is taking steps to provide greater access in rural areas.

We at Virginia Farm Bureau are thankful that the medical community is looking for legislative solutions that will provide farmers the quality health care they need at a business cost they can afford.

Farm Bureau has 34 successes at General Assembly

Martha Moore
Vice President, Governmental Relations

As the General Assembly concluded without a budget, Farm Bureau policy positions prevailed on 34 out of 40 issues. This number will change once we know the outcome on the state budget.

A big thank you goes out to those of you who made legislative contacts when we asked you as well as those of you who participated in Legislative Day. We can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is for legislators to hear the issues and how they affect agriculture straight from Virginia farmers like you. Your contacts made all the difference this year, and we can attribute our success to you.

If you are a producer member and would like to receive our action alerts, please email Kelly.Pruitt@vafb.com.

Below are some highlights from this year’s session:

Animal Care

• Successful in defeating all legislation that place arbitrary and unscientific animal husbandry practice restrictions on farmers and prevented giving human rights to animals

Game Laws

• Made coyotes and feral hogs nuisance species so that this would allow some permanency beyond regulations for an open season on these nuisance species

• Defeated all bills that would have allowed Sunday hunting

Property Rights

• Passed a resolution placing a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2012 to permanently protect property owners from eminent domain takings for private benefit

• Ensured that landowners are fairly compensated for factors that impact the fair market value as “lost profits” and “lost access”

Please stay tuned on this issue as we are working on developing a statewide campaign on getting the ballot initiative passed. Look for more information on how your county Farm Bureau can help ensure that are successful in a major final piece of achieving our policy position on protecting your property rights from eminent domain abuse.

Virginia Cooperative Extension/ Agriculture Experiment Station

• Passed a commending resolution on the Agriculture Experiment Station’s 125th Anniversary to highlight the programs that have helped support farm profitability

Clearing up ‘Farm Use’ Confusion

Hello! I am Andrew Smith, and I am Senior Assistant Director of Governmental Relations. One of the issues I handle for Virginia Farm Bureau is transportation.

I wanted to take a moment to let you know about a bill that passed this year in the General Assembly that we hope will clear up some confusion that began in 2010 when the legislature was attempting to limit the use of unregister farm vehicles (Farm Use) to the appropriate type of vehicles. In that year the types of vehicles were listed that are allowed to use the exemption with the intent to rule out the use on passenger vehicles.

In doing so, the language caused some confusion, even though when read properly, it was correct. To clarify the issue, the General Assembly passed House Bill 746 which breaks the vehicle types down with numerically as opposed to using commas which currently used in the “farm use” section of Virginia Code. This legislation passed both Chambers unanimously.

The wording that will be official beginning July 1 of this year will read:

“The provisions of this section shall only apply to (i) pickup trucks, (ii) panel trucks, (iii) sport utility vehicles, (iv) vehicles having a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 7,500 pounds, and (v) trailers and semitrailers.”
This language will appear in each of the appropriate Code sections. Even though this doesn’t change the meaning of the law, it is intended to make it easier to read and clear to the average person reading this Code section that benefits many in our industry.

Virginia Farm Bureau News Lead: Amendment would address farmers’ lost access and profits

This story appeared in the March 1 edition of News Leads, the week’s top ag stories sent out by the VFB Communications Department to media across the state:

Farmers whose land is taken using eminent domain should be able to access what’s left of their property and should be compensated for profits lost when a condemning authority has decided to take their land.

That’s one premise of a proposed amendment to Virginia’s constitution that was passed by this year’s General Assembly and will be on the ballot for voters in November.

As part of the language in the resolution, the state legislature has been asked to define lost profits and lost access.

“We feel that defining these terms is a critical step in moving the constitutional amendment forward,” said Trey Davis, assistant director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Anyone can have their property taken for eminent domain, and if they can’t access their (remaining) property or don’t get compensated for lost profits, that’s not fair.”

Earlier this winter, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli cited an example of a dairy farmer whose land was taken by the Virginia Department of Transportation to build a road. VDOT deposited a sum amounting to 20 percent of the value of the farm buildings on that land into an account, but it took two years for the farm owner to get the money.

Without a barn and milking parlor or money to build new ones, the farm family was forced to sell its cows.

“This quick-take demolished their business,” Cuccinelli said.

The family had to wait two years before receiving any compensation, and they received no money for the business lost during those two years.

“With other parts of the state code, the law allows Virginians to seek and be compensated for lost profits, so why is it fair to exclude those affected by eminent domain?” Davis asked.

HJ3 and SJ3, the House and Senate versions of the constitutional amendment, tighten the definition of public use and require just compensation for owners whose property has been taken using eminent domain. Companion legislation, HB1035 sponsored by Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, and SB437 from Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, defines lost profits and lost access to property as required by the amendment.

“The financial penalty incurred by farmers during eminent domain takings is real and provable,” Davis said. “With the enactment of this legislation, farmers will at least have the opportunity to be justly compensated in court. I’m thankful that HB1035 and SB437 have seen bipartisan support and also that we have reached a compromise on language between many of the condemning authorities and property rights advocates.”

Strengthening Virginia Cooperative Extension at Local Level

Virginia Farm Bureau believes very strongly that every locality needs at a minimum of one agriculture agent, one 4-H agent and one administrative staff person. Senators Edwards and Hanger and Delegate Sherwood carried budget amendments to help VCE get one step closer towards meeting this goal. The amendments were partially accepted in the proposed versions of the House and Senate budgets that were released this week. Both the House and Senate included $500,000 in each year of the biennium for additional extension agents. This will be part of the ongoing discussions regarding the budget this will be passed by the General Assembly over the next few weeks.

In July 2011, VCE had 179 agents across Virginia. By January 2012, with the funding provided, Virginia Cooperative Extension is projecting to have over 210 agents across Virginia. While this is a huge improvement, there are still vacant positions across Virginia and every locality fails to have at least one agriculture and 4-H agent and one administrative staff person. While the budget amendment will not completely meet Virginia Farm Bureau members’ wishes, we are pleased that the General Assembly’s intentions are clear that they are still willing to continue to work towards this goal by filling a few critical vacancies in many localities across Virginia.

As the front door to the land-grant university system, VCE uses objective, research-based educational programs to lead to more productive lives, families, communities, farms, and forests while enhancing and preserving the quality of the commonwealth’s natural resources. VCE provides every citizen of the state local access to the wealth of knowledge available through our two land-grant universities, Virginia Tech and Virginia State University. Recognizing that knowledge is power, Extension uses the resources of the land-grant university system to deliver educational programs through a network of 106 local, county, and city offices; six 4-H Educational Centers; and 11 Agricultural Research and Extension Centers. Extension is funded through the cooperative efforts of local, state and federal governments. In addition, over 40,000 citizen volunteers contribute millions of hours every year helping identify and deliver needs-driven educational programs.

Coyotes lose at the General Assembly

It’s bad news for coyotes this year at the General Assembly.

Both versions of the House and Senate budget restored $40,000 to a cooperative state and federal program to help landowners to learn how to control and abate coyote predation on livestock. This brings the program back to a minimal amount needed to continue.

The coyote population has been escalating based on surveys by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. This is evidenced by a 32 percent increase in the reported sheep predation by coyotes and a 69 percent increase in calf predation by coyotes from FY2010 compared to FY2011.

This program was established in 1990. It is a cooperative service agreement between the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services (WS) established to provide necessary technical and operational assistance in identifying, controlling, and abating coyote predation to livestock. During FY2010, WS provided direct control services to 159 livestock farms in 24 western and southside counties in federal fiscal year (FY) 2010. During this period of time, 348 sheep, 35 calves, and 5 goats were reported and verified killed by coyotes in Virginia on these 159 farms. This level represents a 19 percent increase in reported sheep predation and a 6% increase in reported calf predation over the previous fiscal year. This only represents the number of farmers that were able to receive help. Many other farmers have suffered losses without assistance.

A big thank you should be extended to Delegate Poindexter and Senator Ruff and their General Assembly colleagues for tilting the scale back in the landowner’s favor by keeping tools in place to deal with coyotes’ depredation on the livestock industry.