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Senate to Debate Budget – Your Advocacy Needed!

The Massachusetts Senate is in the process of putting together its budget and will soon be debating proposed amendments. There are several amendments which are important to the farming community. With nearly 1200 proposed amendments, it’s going to take a concerted effort for farmers to ensure that the Senate hears and understands their needs and concerns.

Note that not all parts of a proposed budget deal with funding.

Below is a list of amendments important to agriculture. Please review them. If they are important to you, use the blue “Take Action” at the bottom of this page to contact your senator and ask them to support these amendments. Please use the underlined number at the beginning of each section when referring to a particular amendment.

FY2019-S4-51– APR Waiver and Appeals –Senator Rodrigues

While the Agricultural Preservation Restriction Program is nearly universally supported by farmers, many have raised concerns with the administration of the program. Concerns have been raised with:

• The transparency and openness in the development of “policies” governing APRs.

• The Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) interfering with sales of APRs between qualified farmers

This amendment would address these concerns by:

• Assuring that APR policies are developed in open public forums with the Agricultural Lands Preservation Committee. They would also be required to be approved by the Board of Agriculture.

• Better defining who qualifies as a farmer, and limiting DAR involvement in farmer-to-farmer sales of APR properties.

FY2019-S4-875– Estate tax valuation for farms –Senator Tarr

• Massachusetts has an estate tax threshold of one million dollars – one of the lowest in the country.

• Presently, when the estate tax is calculated, all land is valued at its highest and best use. As a result, farmland is typically valued at its development value, leaving many who inherit farmland with a hefty estate tax. Many can’t afford to pay it and are forced to sell all, or part of the land.

• This proposal would value farmland at its agricultural value for estate tax purposes. The land would be required to remain in agriculture for 10 years. If the use changed within that period, the owner would pay back-taxes.

NOTE – this is identical to a stand-alone bill filed by Representative Hogan, and a component of the Governor’s budget. The more venues in which a bill is offered, the greater the likelihood it will pass. 

FY2019-S4-922– Produce Safety – Senator Gobi

• The Food Safety Modernization Act is a federal law meant to improve on-farm activities which could impact food safety.

• This provision would give the DAR the ability to administer the program in Massachusetts.

• DAR understands Massachusetts agriculture better than any other state or federal agency.  It is to the advantage of the farming community to be regulated by an agency that understands agriculture.

FY2019-S4-930– Exemptions from taxation of structures and buildings essential to the operation of agricultural and horticultural lands – Senator Tarr

• With direct-to-consumer sales, value-added processing and agritourism, farm buildings are becoming increasingly important to the viability of farms – even as much so as land.

• Unfortunately, many agricultural buildings are taxed at a commercial rate – which often isn’t supported by farm income – which is typically seasonal.

• The state constitution does not allow for an agricultural rate for buildings as it does for land (Chapter 61/61a).

• This provision would provide a 10-year tax exemption for new and renovated farm buildings.  Such an exemption would spur investment in farm infrastructure and give farmers a tax break when they need it most – immediately after investing in new buildings or renovations.

FY2019-S4-965– Massachusetts Aquaculture Centers – Senator Tarr

• The three Aquaculture Centers in Massachusetts are crucial to the growth of the aquaculture industry in the Commonwealth, providing much needed research and education for a burgeoning agricultural sector.

• They are also key to efforts of the Departments of Public Health and Marine Fisheries in disease monitoring and research.

• This amendment provides $300k to the aquaculture centers in the coming year.

FY2019-S4-969– Pollinator Hive Loss Prevention and Stewardship – Senator Tarr

• Honeybees and pollinators are crucial not only to the livelihoods of beekeepers, but to many fruit and vegetable growers who rely on them to pollinate their crops.

• Many concerns have been raised about threats to pollinator health.

• This amendment provides $50k to UMASS Extension for research and education on pollinator health.

To take action, please click here.


Alert – Ask Your Legislators to Sign onto Letter Supporting the Estate Tax Bill HB 3915

 

Farm Bureau’s biggest priority for this legislative session is HB 3915, An Act to establish tax valuation for farms. This bill is currently in the House Committee on Ways and Means. Representative Kate Hogan, who sponsored the legislation, is coordinating a letter to Representative Jeffrey Sanchez who chairs the Committee on Ways and Means, asking him to pass the bill favorably. The letter will coincide with Ag Day on March 27.

The more support a bill has, the more likely it is to pass. So, please contact your state senator and representative and ask them to sign onto Representative Hogan’s letter.  

Here is some background to help you write your note:

  • Massachusetts has an estate tax that is levied when the value of an inherited estate exceeds $1 million. The estate tax is based on the “highest and best use” of the land. For farmland, this is typically its development value, rather than its agricultural value.
  • This is a challenge for many inheriting farmland who want to continue to farm the
  • land rather than develop it. Often, they do not have cash on hand to pay the estate tax and are forced to sell some or all the land to do so. This is contrary to the intent of several state laws and programs intended to preserve farmland.
  • This bill would calculate the value of the farmland for estate tax purposes at its agricultural value. If the land is developed within 10 years, the owner would be responsible for back-taxes.

To take action, please click here.


Please contact your state representative and ask them to co-sponsor budget amendments important to Massachusetts agriculture

It’s budget time on Beacon Hill. The House is currently reviewing amendments to the budget and will be voting on them next week.

There are several amendments which are important to the agricultural community. Please consider contacting your state representative using the form on the right, and asking them to co-sponsor the following amendments:

Amendment #495 – Produce Safety Amendment 

• The Food Safety Modernization Act is a federal law that requires most farms to comply with strict new food safety requirements.

• The law allows for the state governments to take the lead on oversight of education and enforcement regarding the requirements.

• This amendment would give the Department of Agricultural Resources state authority to take on these tasks.

• Without this authority, oversite would fall to the Federal Food and Drug Administration, which has little knowledge or understanding of agriculture in Massachusetts.

Amendment #734 – Neonic Review 

• Many have raised concerns with the potential impacts of neonicotinoid (neonics) pesticides on bees. There is even legislation that would restrict the use of all neonics in Massachusetts.

• While the concern may not be valid, there has yet to be scientific review conducted on the risks of neonics to bees and other pollinators. State law and regulation contains provisions for such a review to be conducted by the Department of Agricultural Resources, and utilized by the Pesticide Board Subcommittee (the group which registers pesticides in MA) to use the review in determining whether to register and or restrict pesticides.

• This amendment would provide funding for such a review.

Amendment #992 – Uniform State Plumbing Code

• The Massachusetts Plumbing Code Contains provision only for “residential” and “commercial” buildings. Unlike the building code, it does not have provisions for agricultural buildings.

• As a result of this, many farms have had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to meet requirements which appropriate for farm buildings and facilities.

• This amendment requires the state plumbing code to be updated to include provisions specific to agricultural buildings.

Amendment #1263 – Bee Inspection

• Massachusetts beekeepers have faced significant losses of bees due to the impacts of mites, other parasites and diseases.

• Honeybees are an important part of agriculture in the Commonwealth, both as a source of honey and as a means of pollinating fruit and vegetable crops. Farmers have seen losses of crops in MA due to low honeybee populations.

• This amendment would provide funding to the Department of Agricultural Resources Apiary program to do inspections, monitor and education to help reduce losses of honeybees.

Debate on the amendments will begin 4/23.  Fill out the form on right to contact your state representative before then and ask them to support these amendments.

To take action, please click here.