Rural Affairs Commission & Farm to Plate Program Hearings

Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, District 21 addressing the Environment & Agriculture Committee on SB 141-FN

Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, District 21 addressed the Environment & Agriculture Committee on SB 141-FN on April 1.

Concord, N.H. – April 2, 2014 – Public hearings were held by the Environment & Agriculture Committee of the New Hampshire House of Representatives on two Senate bills (SB 392 and SB 141-FN) yesterday.

Sponsor of SB 392, Sen. Jeff Woodburn, District 1 spoke on the purpose of the bill that would establish a commission on rural affairs.  The commission would address delivering services in rural communities in an effective way.  Sen. Woodburn is a resident of Dalton, N.H. and is familiar with the hardships in his area.  “I see the struggles of rural communities daily,” noted Sen. Woodburn.  “Something as basic as having access to heating fuel was a problem for the town of Woodstock.  The free-market system didn’t serve this rural community well since no local company was willing to deliver in this area.  It took local and state governments to make this happen.”

SB 392 would establish a commission that looks at the world from a rural perspective that studies a wide-range of issues.  Rep. Bob Haefner mentioned that expanding economic and social opportunities for rural communities is a problem across the country.

Rep. Rebecca Brown expressed her concern that a commission on rural affairs may be seen as a North Country issue whereas rural life is an essential part of New Hampshire.  And issues such as broadband is a problem throughout rural New Hampshire and even close to Concord.

Commissioner of Agriculture, Markets and Food Lorraine Merrill spoke in favor of the proposed legislation.  Her strong interest in agriculture, developing local food systems and rural attentiveness was apparent throughout her testimony.  “I hope agriculture will be seen as the overall economic and cultural pursuits of this commission,” said Commissioner Merrill.  “I also agree with Rep. Brown that the commission should not be specific to the North Country.  Many towns have master plans that include protecting rural character and it is that very reason why people move to those communities.”

NH Farm Bureau Federation Policy Director Rob Johnson spoke in favor of SB 392.  He mentioned that Farm Bureau would like to see the Department of Agriculture, Markets and Food attached to the legislation.  Commissioner Merrill addressed the comment by saying the Department could be attached in concept and in principle as the ongoing problem is resources.

There is no fiscal appropriation for the commission and funds would need to be sought from various grants or other resources.  Details of the commission are in the developmental stage and have been sent to the Agriculture Policy Sub-Committee, which will meet next week to start working out the details.

An overview of SB 141-FN, establishing the Granite State farm to plate program was presented by bill sponsor, Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, District 21.  “With the revival of the ag-economy,  this bill is to establish a farm to plate program similar to what has been developed in Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts,” noted Sen. Fuller Clark.  “New Hampshire is not in a position to allocate funds to the program and was amended by the Senate to have no fiscal impact on state, county and local expenditures.”

SB 141-FN is to help New Hampshire remain in the forefront of the local food movement and aids in promotion.  It includes collaboration of state agencies and private associations to work together to accomplish policy and principles.  It was also noted by Rep. Brown, that the bill would demonstrate New Hampshire’s commitment to developing the ag-economy.  Sen. Fuller Clark reiterated that when seeking federal funds it is important that a farm to plate program is included in the state statute.

Commissioner Merrill supported the bill and emphasized the importance of all New Hampshire farms to the local community and economy.

The New Hampshire Farm Bureau Federation is in support of the SB 141-FN.  Policy Director Rob Johnson, spoke on behalf of Farm Bureau but questioned what difference the legislation would make.  He noted that Farm Bureau would like to see mention of maple, ornamental horticulture, current use, and our land grand university.

SB 141-FN, establishing the Granite State farm to plate program was also sent to the Agriculture Policy Sub-Committee for additional work.