By Larry Land
In recent years several members of the agricultural community have worked in support of various on-farm activities that have not generally been thought of as the traditional agricultural practices. Such on-farm activities might include the processing of certain foods or the promotion of on-farm retail sales.
To focus on this issue, Agriculture Commissioner Matt Lohr convened a 15-member “On-Farm Activities Work Group” that held its first meeting on May 29. Part of the work group’s focus was on HB 1430 (Lingamfelter), a bill rejected by the 2013 General Assembly that would have amended Virginia’s Right-to-Farm Law by expanding the definition of agricultural operations to include “the commerce of farm-to-business and farm-to-consumer sales.” Because of how HB 1430 would undermine local authority to regulate land use, VACo opposed the legislation. Part of the work group’s charge is to determine whether compromise legislation in the 2014 legislative session might be possible.
Diverse organizations represented on the work group are VACo, VML, the Virginia Farm Bureau, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, Fauquier County and Rockingham County, all of which opposed HB 1430. Work Group members supportive of HB 1430 include Martha Boneta, owner of Liberty Farms in Fauquier County, Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in Augusta County, and Lois Smith, Vice President of Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association.
The May 29 meeting included detailed discussions about changes that have taken place in agriculture over the past few years and the need for fewer restrictions on on-farm business activities if farming is to remain economically viable. Local government representatives emphasized the need for a regulatory framework that balances the protection of public health and safety with the need to promote economic growth and prosperity. Work group members also discussed the “scale” of certain on-farm operations, especially when considering promotional events featuring forms of entertainment that could attract large numbers of people.
Several work group members spoke about the virtue of on-farm retail operations as a way to provide shoppers with more choices for the purchase of locally grown food and other consumer items. Others spoke of the benefits of on-farm processing of agricultural products as a way for farmers to increase their profits by reducing transportation and other costs.
Future meetings are expected to focus upon certain approaches some counties have already taken to loosen restrictions on on-farm business activities.
The work group’s next scheduled meeting will be on July 23 at 10 a.m. at an undetermined location.
VACo’s Larry Land is a member of the work group.