James Maroney: Lawmaker is still captured by farming fantasy

This commentary is from Leicester resident James H. Maroney Jr.

The Legislative Assembly is considering a bill to strengthen the Right to Farm Act, the intention of which was to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits brought by neighbors who object to noise and /or pollution generated during the vital work of the farm – that is, producing our food.

But Vermont agriculture does not produce “our food”. It produces barely 1% of the country’s milk supply and a tiny fraction of the national meat, vegetable, fruit and fiber supply.

The genesis of the law on the right to agriculture dates back to the middle of the 20andmentality of the last century that saw agriculture as conservation. Installed in this mindset, the legislature enacted dozens of laws designed to keep farmers on their land by exempting them from sales and property taxes, labor laws, and nuisance liability.

It looks good! Except that farmers used the savings to pay for new capacity, sending more milk to already saturated markets and more poison into the already polluted lake and atmosphere. These laws have never been reviewed, so they are still in effect.

The undeniable result is a severely polluted lake, an existentially polluted atmosphere and a dwindling dairy industry from 11,200 farms in 1945 to just 650 today, an attrition of 94%. Clearly, allocating taxpayers’ money to programs designed solely in their face to “save agriculture and protect the lake” hasn’t succeeded either.

Yet the legislature is still captured by fantasy. The approximately $35 million in Bill 64 allocated to reducing the 45% contribution to lake pollution from “agriculture” is spent on projects such as planting trees, collecting old tires, cover cropping, wetland restoration – all great ideas. But they have nothing to do – in fact, they divert our attention – from preventing conventional farmers from importing toxic petroleum-based substances and applying them to their fields.

In January 2022, the Task Force to Revitalize Vermont Dairy released its report. The report does not mention the Global Warming Solutions Act, intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 26% by 2025, 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. These goals are not only mandatory, they are backed by the empowerment of ordinary citizens to sue the state if it fails to comply with them.

The Legislature secretly admits that it has been trying unsuccessfully for 60 years to reduce pollution of the lakes by conventional dairy products; he surely knows that the 2015 TMDL tasked conventional dairy with reducing his contribution by 66%, and he probably knows that in seven years, dairy only reached 11%. (Vermont spent $254 million from 2015 to 2021 to achieve a 38-ton phosphorus reduction in Lake Champlain. Not nothing, but just 16% of its 200-ton goal.)

The Governor’s Report on the Future of Agriculture in Vermont (February 2022), released a few weeks ago, is full of words such as robust, vibrant, strong, vital, dynamic, resilient, sustainable, high quality, innovative , profitable, and my favorite: Vermont agriculture is shifting to “climate-smart” practices to establish an “ever more symbiotic relationship with the environment.”

The ostensible purpose of this report was to exalt Vermont agriculture and lay out a plan for its future. But this report is not a plan; this is part of a misinformation campaign. The Vermont Agriculture Futures Report calls dairy “the backbone of our rural economy,” but in what economic skeleton can an operating loss of $1 to $6 on every quintal of milk produced be interpreted as its backbone? Why doesn’t the Legislative Assembly recognize the dismal results of its farm and lake pollution policies?

There is only one mention of pollution, dishonestly listed as one of many “long-term threats to the state’s natural and working lands” – that is, not some something Vermont agriculture contributes to, but something Vermont agriculture works hard to protect us from.

There is only one mention of organic in a case study to illustrate how “logistical and infrastructural barriers prevented farmers from increasing sales in the North East”.

Notably, there is no mention of the Global Warming Solutions Act, nor of fossil fuels, nor of conventional agriculture’s substantial reliance on products made from them. Even more surprisingly, this report is signed not only by the Secretary of Agriculture, but also by the Secretary of Commerce and Community Development.

Why doesn’t the Legislature ask the Secretary of Agriculture to explain why he thinks the taxpayers are paying him and his staff to gaslight them?

About Keneth T. Graves

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