Several bills that will impact local agriculture have advanced through the Virginia General Assembly this past week including House Bills 1034 and 1002. The two similar bills would mean grants to support agriculture.

HB 1034 would establish a grant program for infrastructure for local food and farming. HB 1002 authorizes the governor to award grants from the existing Governor’s Agricultural and Forestry Industries Development Fund to encourage political subdivisions to support agriculture.

Sam Rasoul introduced HB 1034 Jan. 7. The bill would establish the Local Food and Farming Infrastructure Fund and direct the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to establish a grant program to support local food production and sustainable farming. The grants would be for the establishment or maintenance of farmers’ markets, businesses that manage agricultural distribution and marketing of food products from local and regional producers with the idea of creating infrastructure to benefit small-scale rural agricultural producers. The bill has been reported from the Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources and on Jan. 29 was referred to the Committee on Appropriations.

The bill is popular with farmers like Robin Rider of Backfield Farm in Etlan. Rider and her husband Jimmy emphasize sustainable, natural beef production on their family farm and have been active members of the Madison Farmers’ Market. Rider is hopeful that the bill will get through both chambers.

“We really need that kind of support to keep in front of the customers so they know we are still operating,” said Rider. “I also like the fact that it will help create or support the creation of local food processing infrastructure which should also be tied to farmers’ markets. Just think; we could offer fresh food during the growing season as well as high quality frozen or canned produce in the months when things don’t grow. We really need that, too. It closes the loop.”

Meanwhile, HB 1002 has advanced through the House of Delegates and was passed 99-0 on Jan. 31. The bill to encourage support of agriculture and forestry will now be sent to the Senate.

The 2020 session has also had several bills introduced having to do with the newly developed industrial hemp industry. HB 943 directs the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services to conduct the random test of a grower’s hemp for compliance with THC levels from harvested product rather than from the field. HB 1430 provides regulations for hemp extract as a food and authorizes the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to adopt labeling and testing requirements.

Several of the hemp related bills have died in committee, including one related to labeling, one authorizing localities to adopt ordinances restricting signs with the green cross symbolizing hemp products and one requiring growers to maintain a buffer zone of 100 yards from residential areas and provide odor control during bloom season.

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