One of the first signs of spring on the legislative calendar is “Ag Day” at the State House. Massachusetts Farms will take center stage on Tuesday, March 27th to celebrate “Ag Day” where farmers come together to focus our legislators’ attention on agriculture. It’s a day to celebrate the hard work by farmers and the diverse products they produce in Massachusetts. Farmers, producers, agricultural associations and commodity groups join together to recognize these contributions of agriculture. There will be an opportunity to sample local products at “A Taste of Massachusetts” and learn more about our local agriculture. Farmers can also meet with their legislators to reinforce the importance of agriculture to the Commonwealth and promote favorable legislation. As the number of smaller farms increase and urban agriculture grows, we need to make legislative changes to reflect the Commonwealth’s increasing farming population.
This event is open to the public and we encourage farmers to attend! Please contact me if have questions. It’s not as intimidating at might appear. Below is a summary of budget items and legislation in this legislative session that is of particular interest to the farming community. Thanks to Winton Pitcoff of the Massachusetts Food System Collaborative for the summary texts.
Upcoming budget items:
– Buy Local organization funding for their work to increase consumer awareness and sales of local agricultural products: $500,000. (2511-0100, H2 request is $300,000)
– The Healthy Incentives Program, which doubles SNAP recipients’ purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables directly from farmers: $6,200,000. (4400-1001, H2 request is $1,350,000.)
– Mass Farm to School, which assists public schools, universities and state agencies in sourcing and expanding offerings of healthy, Massachusetts-grown and -caught foods: $120,000. (2511-0100, H2 request is $120,000)
– Funding for community partners to conduct technical assistance and education for the Healthy Incentives Program: $275,000. (2511-0100)
– In the upcoming environmental capital bond, support existing funding of farmland protection (2000-7075); farm viability and infrastructure investments (2500-7021); and the continuation of prior authorizations for farmland protection and farm viability and infrastructure investments (2500-7011, 2500-7012, 2500-7013, 2500-7014, 2500-7023, & 2500-7024)
– HB3915: An Act to establish estate tax valuation for farms would lower the state estate tax on farms, by allowing farmland and forestland to be taxed at the same rate as it is for property tax purposes. Because of high land values, farm families can face steep estate taxes, reducing the viability of the farm for the next generation. Currently being considered by House Committee on Ways and Means.
– H3856: An Act relative to expanding agricultural land would allow some non-contiguous agricultural lands under the same farm ownership to be aggregated to benefit from Chapter 61A tax valuation. Ordered to a third reading by the House.
– HB2465: An Act relative to Agricultural Commission input on board of health regulations Would require that municipal boards of health give local agricultural commissions an opportunity to weigh in on new or changing regulations related to agriculture, so that farmers’ perspectives and needs can be taken into account.
– B2131: An Act relative to an agricultural healthy incentives program would establish the framework for the Healthy Incentives Program program’s long-term sustainability. Currently being considered by the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing.
– SB838/HB3327: An Act encouraging the donation of food to persons in need 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. Currently being considered by House Committee on Ways and Means.
– HB3908: An Act relative to the dairy farm tax credit Would increase the limit of the existing credit to $8 million from $4 million per year, to help offset the gap between the price of milk production for Massachusetts farmers, and the purchase price set by federal pricing programs. Currently being considered by House Committee on Ways and Means.