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January 20, 2005

Farmers are hot to make their case to legislators

RICHMOND—During the coldest time of year, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation members have provided a list of hot topics for their respective legislators.

More than 100 farmers from across the Old Dominion will be in Richmond Jan. 24 to meet face-to-face with lawmakers about some of the most pressing issues facing them back on the farm.

Budgetary issues are urgent this year, including adding critical research and Virginia Cooperative Extension specialists and funding for the Virginia Horse Center and the Virginia Agricultural Vitality Program.

“After a year of strategic planning, we need to address the critical needs for Extension and research programs throughout the commonwealth,” said VFBF President Bruce L. Hiatt. “The Virginia Horse Center is an important asset to rural Virginia and deserves continuing state support, a commitment first made in 1986. And the Virginia Agricultural Vitality Program’s effort to slow the loss of valuable farmland needs funding.”

Farm Bureau is asking for $3.3 million for the Commonwealth Staffing Initiative. Developed in consultation with the farm community by Extension, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech, the plan would hire 55 research, Extension and program staffers to address critical needs for the state. Those include finding ways to better protect water quality, promote rural economic prosperity and improve food safety and security.

Farm Bureau is asking for a $720,000 budget request to continue paying the original debt service of the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington. While the horse center has grown and is becoming profitable, Hiatt said the center cannot stand on its own yet and the public-private partnership should continue to be honored.

“Another hot topic for farmers is the ongoing erosion of private property rights in Virginia,” Hiatt said. “As Virginians, we should take the lead in respecting those rights, which are the foundation of our nation’s laws. We support legislation that will allow landowners to recover costs if forced to go to court in an eminent domain case if the court rules in their favor.

“We also support proposed legislation calling for stricter notification from condemning authorities to property owners in advance of their agents setting foot on private property,” he said.

Farm Bureau also seeks new state funding for local purchase of development rights programs, part of Virginia’s ongoing Agricultural Vitality initiative. Six Virginia localities already offer to buy the rights to develop certain rural properties in exchange for them remaining in agriculture or forestry use. But many other rural governments will never have the resources to carry out similar programs without state help, Hiatt said.

Contact Martha Moore, VFBF governmental relations director, at 804-290-1013 or Norm Hyde, VFBF video producer, at 804-290-1146.

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