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January 26, 2006

Farmers stop lawmakers on annual Legislative Day

RICHMOND— More than 150 Farm Bureau members met face-to-face with their respective legislators Jan. 24, pressing them on issues critical to the farming industry like eminent domain reform, farmland preservation, renewable energy and saving farm wineries.

To drive home the point, Farm Bureau leaders wore flashing red stoplights to draw attention to their legislative-day theme, “Stop and Think About Farmers.”

With more than 35 bills regarding eminent domain already introduced to the General Assembly, VFBF Governmental Relations Director Martha Moore said the definition of public use needed to be clear and consistent.

“We need legislation that clarifies and narrowly defines public use,” she said. “We are trying to get as many of them [eminent domain bills] as possible pulled together in a consensus bill.”

Farm Bureau leaders asked legislators for their support on legislation which would apply specific notification provisions and property owner’s recourse to all condemners; clarify the definition of just compensation to include business losses; and increase the allowable amount of compensation for farmers required to relocate.

“My goal is to make sure agriculture, farm communities and property owners all have a seat at the table regarding eminent domain,” Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Weyers Cave, told Augusta County Farm Bureau members after hearing their concerns. “Individual property owners have been overlooked and we need to address the concerns of Farm Bureau and other groups affected by eminent domain.”

Meanwhile, Johns Bailey of Powhatan County and his colleagues were visiting the office of Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, to encourage support for renewable fuels.

“We want Sen. Watkins to support and promote renewable energy in Virginia,” Bailey said to a Watkins aid as about a dozen colleagues looked on. “The cost of fuel has gone up not only for farmers but for the consumer as well. We can use some of our products from Virginia agriculture to produce biofuels, particularly biodiesel.”

Bailey asked the aide to encourage Watkins to support renewable energy bills authored by Del. Robert Wittman, R-Montross, and Del. William Barlow, D-Smithfield. These bills create an incentive program called the Biofuels Production Incentive Grant Program and Fund. If passed, any producer of biofuels located in Virginia and commencing eligible sales on Jan. 1 shall be entitled to receive a biofuels production incentive grant in the amount of 20 cents per gallon of production at a cost share of up to 50 percent of production per calendar year.

Bailey and other VFBF leaders also encouraged legislators to support Landes’ House Resolution 148, a resolution encouraging state agencies to implement the use of biodiesel fuels in fleet vehicles, when feasible.

Bill Osl, a member from Cumberland County, spoke with Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, on the importance of House Bills 1288 and 1353, relating to farm wineries.

House Bill 1288, sponsored by Del. Chris Saxman, R-Staunton, will allow both Virginia wineries and small out-of-state wineries to self-distribute their product directly to shops and restaurants.

Last spring, the Federal District Court in Richmond struck down the right of Virginia wineries to serve as their own distributor and deliver wine in their own vehicles. The constitutional problem stems from allowing the Virginia wineries a right that is unavailable to out-of-state wineries. Approximately 90 percent of Virginia’s farm wineries use self-distribution, even if they also use a wholesaler to get their wines to market.

“Some wineries rely almost totally on this right for their sales,” Osl told Ruff. “This is an industry that has been thriving and growing recently. These court rulings are going to negatively impact the industry, and immediately.”

Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, has also introduced winery legislation in the form of House Bill 1353, which would allow Virginia ABC stores to sell in-state and out-of-state wines. This is an important market for Virginia wines, as about 20,000 cases per year were sold through ABC stores before the court case also struck down this practice.

“These are important issues in Amherst and throughout the state,” said Robert Curd, who is president of his county’s Farm Bureau. “We want to protect those small wineries and make sure they have the ability to sell their product, not only within the state but around the country and within the ABC stores as well.”

Curd was on hand to visit and discuss these issues with Ruff and Sen. Steve Newman, R-Forest, as well as Del. Shannon Valentine, D-Lynchburg. He also stumped for support for House Bill 512, introduced by Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Martinsville. That proposed legislation would clarify that farm winery employees could participate in and pour samples of their wine at wine tastings hosted by shops and restaurants holding any ABC license.

For more information, contact Moore at 804-290-1013.

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