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NO. 48. AN ACT RELATING TO DIVERSIFIED AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT AND SPECIAL SUPPORT FOR THE APPLE INDUSTRY.

(S.208)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1. PURPOSE

The purpose of this act is:

(1) to bring up-to-date existing state policy of supporting and promoting a diversified agricultural sector in Vermont, and to direct the department of agriculture, food and markets to engage in a set of one-time initiatives intended to foster the greatest efficiency, productivity and profitability possible among the dozens of different agricultural commodity groups making up the Vermont agricultural sector today; and

(2) to direct the department of agriculture, food and markets to provide Vermont commercial apple growers with a one-time, intensive assistance program intended to help growers to weather the current economic crisis in the apple industry in the Northeastern United States.

Sec. 2. 6 V.S.A. § 2963a is added to read:

§ 2963a. VERMONT PRODUCERS; DIVERSIFIED AGRICULTURE

(a) Policy; purpose. It is state policy, adopted by the general assembly in 1976 when enacting this chapter, to encourage agricultural development and diversification through several means, including research, promotions, marketing and supporting private individuals and organizations in their efforts to develop and market new agricultural products. Since 1976, Vermont agriculture has expanded to encompass dozens of commodity groups through the work of agriculturists both small and large, both new and long-established as Vermont farmers, and both inexperienced and sophisticated in the efficient production and modern marketing of their commodities. It is therefore the purpose of this section:

(1) To acknowledge the growing contribution by producers of diverse agricultural commodities to the Vermont economy and to the general welfare of Vermonters, including:

(A) the production of food and fiber for consumption by Vermonters and others, including visitors to Vermont who may return home with a desire to continue to buy Vermont commodities; and

(B) the preservation and enhancement of a working Vermont landscape, which in turn is so valuable to tourism and outdoor recreation, environmental integrity, helping to contain urban sprawl, and the aesthetic enjoyment of Vermonters as they go about their day-to-day lives.

(2) To help provide Vermont producers of diverse agricultural commodities the opportunity to thrive in their respective endeavors, and to ensure all Vermonters the opportunity to continue to enjoy the benefits thereof.

(b) Comprehensive plan. The agricultural development division shall prepare a comprehensive plan for the most efficient and productive future development of diversified agriculture in Vermont. In so doing, the division shall continue its initiative to organize and lead the dozens of commodity groups in a collaborative self-assessment and planning effort. Through this initiative plus the assistance of educational institutions and other government agencies, the division shall organize and manage:

(1) An assessment of the needs of individual producers and producer associations, plus the public or private programs that could help to meet these needs, including consideration of a farm viability enhancement program.

(2) An evaluation of existing and potential market demands for diverse commodities, the resulting opportunities presented Vermont producers, and the actions required of Vermont producers to take maximum advantage of these opportunities.

(3) The preparation of an action and finance plan, based on the needs assessment and market evaluation, including annual performance benchmarks and annual budgets for at least a five-year period. The plan shall be updated annually, and shall be presented annually by January 15 to the governor, the general assembly and the public. The plan presented in January 2000 may be preliminary in nature.

(c) Ongoing support programs. The agricultural development division shall continue its ongoing support of producers through training and technical help, marketing and commodity distribution, and public education in the benefits of a diversified Vermont agriculture. Major program areas shall consist of:

(1) Industry development: Help to form and provide ongoing support of commodity associations, which in turn can help individual members with management and production improvements, value-added processing, sales and distribution.

(2) Marketing: Help enable producers, if they so choose, to concentrate on their production activities through reliance on commodity associations or other entities to oversee marketing and commodity distribution activities, including:

(A) Collaborative marketing initiatives: With emphasis on reducing duplications of efforts and other inefficiencies, including the organization of cross-commodity marketing efforts.

(B) Direct marketing: With emphasis on helping producers to sell their locally grown commodities to local consumers, including individuals, businesses and institutions.

(C) Wholesale marketing: With emphasis on helping to locate and develop markets, organize and conduct commodity promotions, and organize sales fulfillments.

(3) Vermont identity programs: Promote Vermont agricultural commodities as being of high quality, plus their easy recognition by consumers, with emphasis on the seal of quality program and its identification of Vermont food products as safe and wholesome.

(4) Communications: Insure that producers, potential consumers, public agencies and private entities, and members of the public are sufficiently informed, including use of:

(A) Electronic information: Encourage and assist with the use of electronic information technology, including website development for electronic commerce, plus on-line research and e-mail connections.

(B) Traditional information: Support information gathering by nonelectronic means, and the use of traditional media for communications, market research and advertising, and public education.

(d) Grants. The agricultural development division shall develop and implement a grant award program in support of individual producers and producer associations. The grants shall be tailored to reinforce the division initiatives required by subsections (b) and (c) of this section. In awarding a grant, priority consideration shall be given to applicants who demonstrate greater financial need. The division shall, by rule, adopt guidelines to implement the grant program.

(e) Coordination; reports.

(1) In the implementation of this section, the agricultural development division shall collaborate with the Vermont economic development authority to ensure that the economic development activities provided for by chapter 12 of Title 10 are consistent with the needs of Vermont producers of diverse agricultural commodities. The division shall also collaborate with relevant private and public organizations, including the sustainable agricultural council established by section 4701 of this title.

(2) The agricultural development division shall report annually by January 15 to the general assembly on the implementation of this section, including the extent to which performance benchmarks contained in the comprehensive plan were achieved during the previous fiscal year, and a description of and justification for the allocation of state, federal or other funds during the previous fiscal year. Such information contained in the report submitted in January 2000 shall cover the first half of fiscal year 2000.

Sec. 3. VERMONT APPLE INDUSTRY

(a) The commissioner of agriculture, food and markets shall, in consultation with the Vermont apple marketing board, assist Vermont commercial apple growers as follows:

(1) Grower records and marketing: The commissioner shall contract with expert consultants who shall:

(A) Develop computer software for growers' record keeping and cost accounting; conduct group training for growers in software use; and help the commissioner copyright software and plan software distribution to growers.

(B) Assist the department, the apple marketing board and Vermont apple growers' business associations with marketing, including consumer education and servicing of supermarket trade.

(2) Quality control: The commissioner shall contract with expert consultants to conduct on-site evaluations of individual growers' orchard quality control practices and conduct group training for growers in such practices. The commissioner may consider contracting for this purpose with the University of Vermont agricultural extension service.

(b) The commissioner shall report by January 15, 2000 to the general assembly on progress in the implementation of this section.

Approved: May 25, 1999