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Va. legislators urge farmers to be more vocal on issues
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
WINCHESTER, Va. (Sept. 27, 2016) — Farm groups near and far each year put out the call to their members — the “boots on the ground” in agriculture — to personally engage with legislators to keep them informed on farming issues.
At last week’s annual conference of the Virginia Agribusiness Council, it was legislators themselves, three members of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee who made the same appeal.
“It’s always really interesting to actually talk to producers and see their perspectives aside from sitting in a room in Richmond and having different people come in with their perspectives,” said Del. Mike Webert. “It’s always nice to see knowledge at the source.”
Forecasting what agriculture-related issues they could be dealing with in future sessions, Wilt said water quality issues centered around the Chesapeake Bay will continue and added the conversation may start to include regulations for water use.
“That issue as we continue to navigate that, that issue is not over,” Wilt said.
Webert said he expects food safety to be a topic to get more attention soon.
“There’s a lot of federal regulations that are coming down and we as a state are going to have to decide how we’re going to handle that,” he said.
Webert said a lot of the committee’s work revolves around correcting misinformation that comes through in proposed legislation.
He said issues around using biosolids is a prime example.
Webert said an interesting issue that came up last year was around chickens and backyard flocks. A bill from Del. Chris Collins was proposed to have dogs that kill three or more chickens to either be removed from the state or euthanized.
Webert said the problem stems from municipalities permitting backyard chicken ownership in suburban and urban areas.
“The reason we have that is we gave the localities the ability to have backyard chickens. So now you have an entire area where you didn’t have to talk about that before,” Webert said. “That was actually a pretty controversial bill.”
Keam said a big challenge is overcoming strong partisanship in the legislature that can keep lawmakers from solving problems.
“You really don’t understand what’s going to happen to legislation if you don’t talk with people who will be most impacted by it,” Keam said. “Sometimes they might say government intervention is actually good, it helps us.
“Other times they might say government intervention here is really a bad idea.
“So rather than coming in with preconceived notions based on politics or idealogy, if we come in with the idea that we’re here to solve problems, I think that’s good.”
The legislators each referenced a recent two-day retreat the committee had in Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore meeting with stakeholders of water quality issues and the Chesapeake Bay.
Del. Tony Wilt who is chairman of the Chesapeake Bay subcommittee said it was valuable to see the things that relate to what they discuss when in session.
“It’s a valuable tool,” he said. “How else are we going to learn unless we go there and learn about it first hand?”
Keam said Virginia’s agriculture groups have been helpful in his education of agriculture since he represents a largely urban district in Northern Viriginia.
“You all are the ones that help us understand that,” he said. “Having all of you come and talk to us and you having us come and talk to you throughout the year really helps us get better policies done when we’re in session.”
Katie Frazier, president of the Virginia Agribusiness Council said the delegates’ message underscores what farm groups have been asking of their members for years.
“So when we ask you when we beg you to invite a legislator out to your operation or you, business, they just told you how valuable it is. I beg of you to please take us up on that request,” Frazier said.