Senate Passes Comprehensive Agricultural Bill

COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
MASSACHUSETTS SENATE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON 02133

Senator Joan B. Lovely
State Senator
2nd Essex District

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

May 12, 2016

Senate Passes Comprehensive Agricultural Bill

(Boston) – Last week, the Massachusetts Senate approved a comprehensive, omnibus agricultural package. The bill, An Act to promote agriculture in the Commonwealth, sponsored by Senator Ann Gobi (D-Spencer) provides opportunities and protections to current and prospective farmers, increases the availability of locally grown food products, and invests in programs to further grow the agriculture industry.

“There is a surging movement here in Massachusetts and across the country to buy local products and support homegrown foods,” said Senator Joan Lovely. “This bill builds on this growing demand and offers resources to promote agriculture here in the Commonwealth, including the 400 farms in Essex County.”

Reflecting the recommendations of the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan, the bill utilizes state-owned land for non-commercial community gardens and farmers markets, while also allowing farmer brewers and distillers to sell products at farmers markets.

To incentivize farmers and drive local food production, the bill eases regulatory restrictions that may currently inhibit agricultural modernization by establishing commissions to assess the management of state protected farmland and the agricultural plumbing code. Other changes include extending the license durations for foresting and timber harvesting and integrating rain sensor devices into the state building code.

Providing a boost to Massachusetts Dairies, the bill establishes a regulatory framework for the allowance of off-premise raw milk distribution, including through CSA agreements. Massachusetts will join sixteen other states to allow raw milk distribution including Connecticut, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.

To promote job growth and support Massachusetts veterans, the bill creates the Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program Fund. The fund’s purpose is to integrate veterans into the field of agriculture and support veterans currently working in the industry.  The fund will provide loans and grants to public, private and charitable entities to finance projects that work towards this purpose.

A retained revenue account for the Department of Agricultural Resources, in conjunction with the Agricultural Resolve and Security Fund, will contribute to the funding of various educational and innovative initiatives to promote food growth and security. Aiming to protect crops, the bill also establishes liability of up to three times the assessed value to any individual who causes damage or destruction to crops or agricultural property.

Currently, there are 7,755 farms in Massachusetts working on over 523,000 acres to produce $492 million in agricultural products. While 80% of Massachusetts farms are family owned, farms provide employment to nearly 28,000 workers in the Commonwealth. Massachusetts ranks 6th in the nation for number of farms with Community Supported Agriculture (CSA); a 95% increase since 2007.  Over this same time period the state saw growth in agri-tourism sales of 127%. At nearly $48 million, the state ranks 5th in the nation for direct market sales and 3rd in the nation for direct market sales per operation.  Direct market sales account for 10% of the state’s total sales of agricultural products.

The bill passed on a 36-1 vote and will now go to the House for consideration.

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