Reviczky talks agriculture in Woodstock
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Fri., Nov. 16, 2012
Connecticut Agriculture Commissioner Steven Reviczky and Connecticut Farm Bureau Government Relations Specialist Joan Nichols were in Woodstock on Nov. 14 to speak about the climate for agriculture in Washington and Hartford now that the elections are over. The meeting was sponsored by Woodstock's Agricultural Commission, Conservation Commission, and Open Space Land Acquisition and Farmland Preservation Committee.
“The Farm Bill that's been held up in Congress has a huge impact on Connecticut,” Reviczky said. “There are critical programs that affect us here. We need to get on with the business of agriculture.”
The Farm Bill, or Local Farms, Food and Jobs Bill (S 1773; HB 3286), is a massive federal bill that aims to support local and regional farm and food systems. According to the National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition, the bill “represents billions of dollars in government expenditures that set the farm, food and rural policy goals and priorities for the United States.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-2) is the first congressman from Connecticut in more than 100 years to sit on the House Agriculture Committee. And while the state doesn't have the economies of scale that Midwestern states such as Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa have, agriculture is vitally important. Iowa has tens of millions of pigs in livestock production while Connecticut has thousands. Farms are smaller. Acreage is scattered throughout a town rather than located in one place. Energy costs are higher in New England. But according to the state's Department of Agriculture, the industry brings in $3.5 billion to the state every year and produces approximately 20,000 jobs.
Of special concern to Connecticut are specialty crop block grants, crop insurance, nutrition, safeguarding the food supply, safeguarding agriculture systems, continuing research, educational programs, and preparing the next generation of farmers, Reviczky said. The state is at a disadvantage in terms of having access to federal funds for a variety of reasons. How the bill defines “rural,” population density and proximity to population centers limits the state's access to certain federal dollars.
On the state level, Gov. Dannel Malloy has gathered advisers to help formulate agricultural policy. “We wanted to identify the obstacles and the opportunities that will grow Connecticut farms,” Reviczky said. “We want to take measurable steps to build local and state economies.” To that end, the governor's Agricultural Advisory Council plans to come out with a number of recommendations in January 2013.
Among them are likely to be recommendations on including local products for institutional sales, truck weights and issues relating to marketing, education and aggregation. Dairy farmer Paul Miller of Fairvue Farm in Woodstock would like to see a change in the law that currently limits Connecticut dairy farmers to carry a three-quarter load of milk on a trailer. “We suffer from a truck weight law that really puts us at economic and safety disadvantage,” he said. “We get a tremendous sloshing of milk, which makes the trucks harder to handle. If they run full, they're not dangerous at all. This is something we've been fighting for years. Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York all have extra weight permits that allow them to carry 20,000 more pounds than Connecticut. It's amazing we're stuck with this disadvantage to all our neighbors.”
Reviczky spoke about the need for a thoughtful, well-written plan that charts the course for state agriculture. “A growing number of consumer dollars are being spent on fresh food, but less than 1 percent is spent on locally-grown agriculture in Connecticut,” he said. “We would like to see that figure rise to 5 percent by 2020. It would result in hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Joan Nichols spoke about a number of municipal issues affecting agriculture in the state. She also discussed two agricultural viability grants that CFB is working on. One is to create a state-wide data base that will list tax exemptions, agricultural commissions and right-to-farm ordinances by town. The second is an emergency preparedness plan specifically related to agriculture. They are looking at training needs and possible trainers, and creating a state-wide database of resources that farmers would be willing to make available in the event of an emergency. They are also looking for volunteers to be feet on the ground who can report back to the state if an emergency occurs.
State Rep. Michael Alberts (R-50) cautioned that tough economic times were ahead. “There's going to be a mad scramble for money,” he said. “Make sure you make your voices heard early in the legislative session.”