Agriculture & Farms
As I have said in the past, we can’t improve the district by providing more jobs at the expense of what makes the Berkshires a unique place to work and live. We need to preserve the gorgeous nature of our surroundings and environment. A part of that effort is preserving farms in Berkshire County. While I worked at 1Berkshire, many of the innkeepers at our local Bed & Breakfasts said that visitors often wanted to know if their food came from a local food source. There is an increasing popularity in agro-tourism, a commitment to fresh and local food from visitors and locals alike and increased attendance at local farmer’s markets. At the latest Lever Inc “Demo Day” presentation, there were two companies formed to aid local farmers connect with local markets. We need to help in this effort.
If elected, I will work tirelessly with our farming community to preserve their jobs and our heritage. It is not just those who work the land, but feed stores, hardware stores, insurers and everyone else who is part of the infrastructure of this industry sector.
There are many bills that have been filed in the Legislature to assist the farming community. Here are some that I support, will cosponsor, and will work hard to pass:
The Dairy Farm Tax Credit: This would double the tax credit which hasn’t increased since it was enacted ten years ago. Farmers are paid essentially the same price they were paid twenty years ago. Local dairy keeps our local prices down, keeps our milk supply fresh, and keeps local lands in a natural state. Most of the state’s water recharge areas are on farms and it is in our best interest to help keep the farms in business.
An Act to establish estate tax valuation for farms: This bill would lower the inheritance tax on farmland. Many farmers are land rich but cash poor. When a farmer dies, the land is valued at it’s highest and best use for tax purposes. While it may be worth little as farmland, it may be worth millions as a development project. As a result, farmers pay more in taxes and this forces many to sell their land because they can’t afford the inheritance tax. This bill would tax the land at its farm use as long as it stay farmland, enabling the next generation in a family to continue their farming operation. I believe that anything that helps a younger generation maintain farms is a good thing.
Farm Training: This bill creates a $500 tax credit for any farmer that establishes an internship to train people to farm.
In both the internship and inheritance tax bill there is a recognition that we need to help young people become farmers. There has been an increased interest in millennials to go into farming and I think that we should create programs such as these to encourage and support that.
Representative Kulik has a bill to create a study commission on Agricultural Tourism. I support this effort. Many people are interested in where food is grown and the natural resources preserved by farms. Tourism of our farm industry would be a great way to get the interest of the next generation, educate people on the needs of the farming community and generate income for our local farmers.
Creation of an Agricultural Security Fund: Representative Schmid has filed a large bill dealing with the preservation of farms in Massachusetts. I support the bill and want to point out two sections in particular.
First, Representative Schmid creates an Agricultural Resolve and Security Fund that, among other funds, uses 10% of the Pesticide Registrations in Massachusetts for agricultural education, support for sustainable agriculture and pollution prevention, agriculture integrated pest management programs, agricultural land preservation, control of animal diseases, emergency preparedness, agricultural innovation, the agricultural food safety improvement program, the farm viability enhancement program and the urban agriculture program.
It also establishes the Massachusetts Veterans and Warriors to Agriculture Program Fund. The purpose of the fund is to enhance the education, training, employment, income, productivity and retention of veterans currently working or aspiring to work in the field of agriculture in the commonwealth. Having worked for Solider On with Veterans struggling with homelessness and lack of applicable job skills in today’s job market, I have witnessed first hand the need for programs such as this.