In January, Connecticut welcomed Ned Lamont to serve as Connecticut’s 89th governor. The Working Lands Alliance has worked tirelessly in educating the new administration on the importance and economic impact agriculture has on the state. We were pleased to welcome the governor and members of his staff to our Working Lands Alliance March meeting where we had a fruitful conversation about the importance of the Community Investment Act, or CIA, Agricultural Hemp Production, and the Food Safety Modernization Act.
There are also several freshman legislators, many of whom are new to the challenges and barriers farmers are facing across the state. Because of this, we have been busy at the Capitol cultivating and investing in new relationships with legislators. We are hopeful by “tending to the crop” this legislative session we will have a “bountiful harvest” on June 5 and seasons beyond.
The Governor released his budget on Feb. 20, 2019, that addressed several of WLA’s 2019 policy priorities and made a strong investment in promoting a healthy agricultural sector for all of Connecticut’s residents. WLA was pleased to see the governor continued to fund and made additional investment in the Department of Agriculture as a standalone agency. The Department is crucial to continuing a strong and diverse agricultural sector, providing regulatory oversight and guidance to farmers and agricultural service providers. The increased funding for positions reinforced the administration’s commitment to the department, as the department felt the negative impacts of attrition over the past few years.
WLA was pleased to see an increased investment in the Agriculture Sustainability Account for dairy farmers. The increased investment comes at a time when the dairy economy is in dire straits. WLA has supported an increase in the funds available for the Agriculture Sustainability Account and will continue to support this much needed investment to support Connecticut dairy farmers.
Senior Food Vouchers – The additional investment in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program increases the spending power of seniors in need at farmers markets and will attract new customers to the market. The Aging Committee has passed a bill that would increase the amount of the vouchers to $50 per booklet. WLA and other agricultural organizations such as Connecticut Farm Bureau Association and End Hunger CT! suggests that if the booklet amounts are increased in this way, total funds should also be increased to assure that the same number of seniors can be served. In this way more value will be available to more seniors at farmers markets versus more value for fewer seniors.
WLA opposed the Governor’s plans to move CIA into the general fund. WLA supports the use of CIA funds for the core programs. These programs include farmland preservation, open space preservation, dairy sustainability, affordable housing, and historic preservation. We strongly urge that the CIA funding levels continue as statutorily required. WLA and members of the CIA Coalition strongly support the transparency of the fund and the revenue stream in the separate fund structure. There will be a loss of transparency and accountability if the funds and purposes are merged into the General Fund.
Read our full testimony here
Update from Finance, Revenue, and Bonding
We were thrilled Senator Berthel from the 32nd district introduced S.B. No. 208 – An Act Exempting from the Personal Income Tax Proceeds from the Sale of Agricultural Land Development Rights to the State. We testified in support of this important legislation that, if passed, will further encourage farmers to sell their development rights and extend the value of state grants in preserving working lands. The income tax exemption will allow them to preserve liquidity from the sale which can be used to reinvest in the farm, pay down debt, or just build a stronger working capital position for the farm. All of these are key aspects of Connecticut’s oldest in the nation “Purchase of Development Rights” farmland preservation program aimed at keeping working lands in Connecticut and providing for continued growth of farms, creating a strong and vibrant agriculture industry and allowing the farmers to better address the many challenges of farming in Connecticut.
We sent a letter out to legislators and asked them to co-sponsor this important piece of legislation that resulted in Rep. Hampton, Rep. Elliot, and Rep. Gresko signing on to this bill. We are anxiously watching this piece of legislation and hope that the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee will consider voting it out of committee in the upcoming weeks.
Read our full testimony here
Updates from the Environment Committee
On March 25, the CGA’s Environment Committee held their last meeting. Here are some of the bills that the Environment Committee voted out of committee that we believe will increase farmland protection and farm viability in the state.
S.B. No. 1063 – An Act Establishing a Task Force to Improve Farmland Availability for Beginning Farmers.
Over the next 20 years, 371 million acres of farmland (41 percent of all farmland) in the United States is expected to change hands. The average age of principal farm operators in Connecticut is 58 years old and many of these farmers are looking to transition their farm operations to new ownership. According to a 2016 report written by AFT, “Gaining Insight, Gaining Access,” over 92 percent of Connecticut’s 1,892 senior farmers do not have a farm operator under 45 working with them. While this does not mean these farmers do not have a succession plan, it suggests that the future of many of these farms is uncertain. At the same time, according to a 2018 report written by the National Young Farmers Coalition, “Building a Future with Farmers,” the biggest issue facing young and beginning farmers in our country is access to farmland.
If passed, this legislation will require that state agencies, farmers, agricultural advocates, and service providers come to a consensus on the challenges and barriers surrounding farmland access and affordability in Connecticut. Additionally, the task force will work to diligently draft a report that will allow the 2020 legislature to implement informed policies which will address this issue. WLA is working tirelessly with young and beginning farmers from the New Connecticut Farmer Alliance – A Chapter of National Young Farmers Coalition to lead efforts that will pass this task force this session.
You can read WLA’s testimonyhere
S.B. No. 1061– An Act Concerning the Restoration of Funds to the Community Investment Act
One of Connecticut’s most successful programs, the CIA, generates funding from a land record recording fee to support farmland, open space, affordable housing, and historic preservation projects statewide as well as provide a safety net for dairy farmers. This legislation will restore the $5 million CIA sweeps that happened in fiscal year 2019.
Over the last decade, CIA has made over $152 million in investments spread across every community in the state. The kinds of investments range from the protection of prime farmland in the small town of Columbia, to preservation of historic sculptures in Hartford’s Bushnell Park, to the protection of needed farmland and open space in one of the most urban parts of Bloomfield, to the development of supportive, affordable housing for disabled veterans in Jewett
City. The list of worthwhile projects goes on and on, and continues to grow as new investments are funded through CIA. This is why it is exceptionally important that the $5 million dollars taken from CIA in 2019 is reinstated.
You can read WLA’s testimony here
S.B. No. 598: An Act Concerning the Production of Hemp in Connecticut
S.B. No. 893: An Act Concerning an Enforcement Plan for Hemp Production
H.B. No. 5481: An Act Implementing the Legalization of Industrial Hemp
We also testified in support of Connecticut implementing a USDA approved hemp program. If passed, these important bills will allow Connecticut to compete in a $500 million-dollar industry (and growing) and make Connecticut the 43rd state to allow for hemp production in the country. Some U.S. farms are reporting revenue of $90,000 per acre from the sale of Cannabidiol – CBD oil alone, which makes hemp an enticing crop choice for some farmers. As many Connecticut farmers struggle to find new ways to remain viable, legalizing hemp production will allow them to compete in a lucrative market and increase the total number of acres of land that are in agricultural production within our state.
Read WLA’s testimonyhere
There’s always next year…
We were sad the Environment Committee did not raiseH. B. No. 5254 – An Act to Establish a Pilot Program Authorizing Municipalities to Impose a Buyer’s Conveyance Fee on Real Estate to Fund and Purchase Stewardship of Open Space for a vote. We worked with the Connecticut Land Conservation Council to encourage many of you to write testimony, call your legislators, and present testimony in support of this important bill. However, it does not look like the Connecticut General Assembly will move forward with this legislation this year. We will continue fighting for this measure next year and hope Connecticut will join the many other states across the country that have allowed municipalities to implement this conveyance fee that improves our quality of life.
Read WLA’s testimony here