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A Message from the Director, February 2019

Winter is anything but our quiet season here at SEMAP. From our annual appeal in November right through to Farm to Tapas in the summer we have lively time planning and implementing our various initiatives and events.  On Saturday we had a very successful workshop on growing hemp, and just a few short weeks away is the 12th Annual Ag & Food Conference coming up on February 24th, 2019.  We have also been taking some time to look into legislative issues. With the new session just beginning, please reach out to your representatives if you see a bill that you support. If you are not certain who your legislators are, this tool will tell you. With many bills filed on similar subjects, it’s always helpful to name the specific bill number when contacting your legislators. Here is a list of the bills we think you should be aware of:


An Act encouraging the donation of food to persons in need.
SD91, Senator Kennedy; SD934, Senator Comerford; HD554, Representative Kane
Would provide civil liability protection for persons who donate food directly to consumers, as well as for food establishments that donate food whose labeled date has passed and a tax credit to Massachusetts farmers in the amount of the fair market value of the donated food, with a $2,000 annual cap per farmer.


An Act relative to an agricultural healthy incentives program. 
HD1083, SD1106, Sponsored by Representative Mark & Senator Gobi
The Healthy Incentives Program doubles SNAP recipients’ purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers, improving health outcomes for vulnerable communities and increasing sales for local farms. This bill will establish the framework for the program’s long-term sustainability.


An Act establishing farm to school grants to promote healthy eating and strengthen the agricultural economy.
HD3129, SD1086, Sponsored by: Representative Pignatelli & Senator Lesser
Would establish a grant program to support infrastructure and training to enable schools to do more scratch cooking using local foods.


An Act regarding a farmland protection and viability action plan.
SD1138, Sponsored by Senator Gobi
Would establish a farmland protection and viability advisory commission to develop a statewide Farmland Action Plan to compile data on land use trends, and use that data to guide state investments and policies related to farmland access, protection, and use.


An Act to promote urban agriculture and horticulture.
HD3921, SD759, Sponsored by: Representative Malia & Senator Edward Kennedy
Would allow cities with populations over 50,000 to adopt an optional property tax break for land used for urban agriculture, to help overcome the high price of urban land and promote the health, economic, and environmental benefits of growing food in cities.


An Act establishing a special commission to ensure the resiliency of family farms in the 21st century.
HD2794, Sponsored by: Representative Hogan.
Creates a study commission to look at the needs of agriculture in the Commonwealth in order to be viable and successful into the future. Energy, research, education and other relevant areas will be explored.


An Act establishing a commission on livestock shelter requirements.
HD953, Sponsored by: Representative Schmid.
Recent legislation attempted to create a “one-size-fits-all” requirement for livestock. Shelter needs for livestock vary with the species, age and condition of the animal. A simplistic shelter requirement will serve neither animals nor their owners well. This bill would create a commission of humane, veterinary and farming representatives charged with creating guidance on livestock shelter needs to assist the farmers and regulators in ensuring proper shelter for livestock.


An Act establishing farmer-cideries and authorizing the sale of farmer-cidery products at farmers’ markets.
HD712, Sponsored by Representative Hogan.
Creates a “Farm Cidery” license akin to Farm Winery and Farm Brewery licenses. To qualify as a Farm Cidery, licensees would need to use a percentage of apples grown in the Commonwealth. Allows cider from a Farm Cidery to be sold at agricultural events such as farmers markets. 


An Act relative to the growth of hemp.
SD1609, Sponsored by: Senator Hinds.
Clarifies that hemp is an agricultural crop and covered under Chapter 61a and can be grown on farms with an Agricultural Preservation Restriction (APR).


An Act establishing the Massachusetts rural jobs act.
SD1591, HD3159, Sponsored by: Representative Blais & Senator Hinds.
This bill creates access to capital by small businesses in rural areas. Capital is provided by investors who get a tax credit for mentoring and investing in rural small businesses. Investors and taxpayers cannot claim the credits for two years until after the funding is fully invested, and tax credits are capped at 15 percent each year.


An Act to further the protection of agricultural land.
HD 1619, Sponsored by: Representative DeCoste
Provides tax benefits on farm inputs (such as feed and hay) to commercial horse farms which are currently available to other commercial farms. Horse farms represent a considerable area of open space in the Commonwealth. By making such farms more financially viable, we can help prevent development of this land. 


An Act relative to shellfish aquaculture licenses.
HD 1109,  Sponsored by: Representative Cutler
Allows farmers who lease shellfish beds to sell, bequeath or otherwise transfer leases with the approval of the municipality.Shellfish business have evolved to where they have significant onshore businesses which rely on the leases. These businesses and their employees need greater security in their leased beds as well as the ability to sell them with their businesses, borrow on them, etc. 


An Act relative to agricultural commission input on board of health regulations.
HD3144, SD1601, Sponsored by Representative Blais &  Senator Hinds
Requires municipal Boards of Health to solicit input from municipal Agricultural Commissions (in towns in which they have been created) prior to promulgating regulations which would impact farms. 


An Act relevant to the regulation of farm rides.
SD1213, Sponsored by: Senator Humason
Limits regulatory oversight on farm rides which travel less than 10 miles per hour, with passengers less than 5 feet from the ground. Provides limited liability protection for operators of such rides as well as notification to the public of the limited liability. 


An Act relative to application deadlines for agricultural, horticultural, or recreational land.
SD703, Sponsored by: Senator Rodrigues
Changes the deadline for filing under Chapter 61, 61a and 61b to December 1st from October 1st, so the deadline is not in the middle of harvest season when farmers are most busy. 


An Act relative to updating the plumbing code in order to accommodate agricultural uses.
HD1261, Sponsored by: Representative Mirra
Unlike the building code, the plumbing code does not contain provisions for agricultural buildings or uses. Many of the requirements are inappropriate for farms. The bill would create a committee to review the code and make recommendations for change. 


An Act to support on-farm machinery maintenance.
HD1522, Sponsored by: Representative Orrall.
Current law exempts farm machinery and parts from sale tax. However, many farmers do their own maintenance. As machinery becomes more high-tech, it is increasingly requiring specialty tools and materials. This bill would extend the tax exemption available on farm machinery and parts to tools and materials used to maintain and repair this machinery. 


An Act relative to exemptions from taxation of structures and buildings essential to the operation of agricultural and horticultural lands.
SD 621, Sponsored by: Senator Tran
With the increasing prevalence of direct-to-consumer sales, agritourism and value-added processing on farms, buildings are becoming as important to the operation of farms as the land. However, like the land, the seasonal aspect of farm building use often does not adequately support the property tax. Unlike farm land, there is no equivalent of Chapter 61a for land. This bill mirrors a law in New York which provides a time-limited tax break for new farm buildings as well as renovations. This is critical in maintaining and building the agricultural infrastructure of the Commonwealth. 


An Act to enhance agricultural operations.
HD3149, Sponsored by: Representative Blais.
Allows farmers to use ATVs on roads just as they can tractors and other vehicles. ATVs are increasingly used on farms. Requires the farmer to file annually with the Chief of Police a listing of farm properties and the roads which will be used in agricultural activities. ATVs will only be allowed on these roads.


An Act encouraging the use of renewable energy on agricultural land.
SD1934, Sponsored by: Senator Rodrigues.
Clarifies that on-farm energy production facilities, where 80 percent of the energy generated is used by the farm are subject to zoning protection under the provisions of MGL 40a Section 3. Clarifies that this includes dual-use facilities, where a given plot of land is used for both agricultural and energy production.


An Act relative to pup trailers.
HD2087, Sponsored by: Representative Mark.
A pup trailer is a relatively small trailer measuring less than 30 feet in length. Current law limits pup trailers for farm use to 10,000 pounds with an “irreducible” load – a load which cannot be broken into smaller pieces. Trailers often weigh close to 10,000 pounds. The irreducible load requirement limits the utility and efficiency of pup trailer use. The bill would allow individuals with a vehicle registered with a Massachusetts farm plate in accordance with Chapter 90, Section 5 to haul up to 99,000 pounds as a combination of truck and trailer when said truck has also been issued an overweight permit under Chapter 85, Section 30A.


An Act relative to horse riding instructor’s licenses.
SD614, Sponsored by: Senator Rodrigues.
Massachusetts is the only state in the country which requires a license for horse riding instructors. The exam is given sporadically and, in few locations, outside of the eastern part of the state. The content has little relevance to riding instruction. The bill proposes to do away with the requirement for a riding instructor’s license.It would replace it with a requirement that all staff of commercial stables working with youth under age 18 be subject to a CORI check.


An Act to modernize certain provisions of the agricultural preservation restriction program.
SD1169, Sponsored by: Senator Rodrigues. 
Special Permits are issued by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) to owners of farms with Agricultural Preservation Restrictions (APRs) who request to have non– or quasi-agricultural activities, buildings on APR land. Examples may be a charity race, a farm brewery, etc. Current law limits the duration of a Special Permit to 5 years. In some cases, this is not enough time to ensure that the cost of developing infrastructure, marketing, etc. for the use will be covered. In some cases, the terms of necessary loans exceed 5 years. This bill will give the Department of ability to issue Special Permits for whatever period they deem appropriate.


An Act to promote healthy soils and agricultural innovation within the Commonwealth.
HD 3065, Sponsored by: Representative Schmid.
This bill establishes a Healthy Soils Fund within the State Commission for Soil, Water and Related Resources. The fund will be used to support loans and grants for research, education and technical assistance relative to soil health. The focus of the fund will be carbon sequestration, economic viability and mitigating climate change and its impacts. 


An Act to provide a tax deduction for charitable donations of food by farmers.
HD958, Sponsored by: Representative Schmid.
Many farmers donate portions of their crop to food pantries, shelters and other organizations which help those in need. While federal law allows a tax deduction for the value of the donated food, Massachusetts law does not. This bill would allow deductions for donated food like those allowed in federal law. 

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