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January 25, 2007

Farmers ask legislators to reflect on ag issues

RICHMOND—About 175 Farm Bureau members met face-to-face with their respective legislators Jan. 23, pressing them on issues critical to the farming industry like eminent domain reform, providing self-distribution rights to small wineries, regulating electric utilities and ensuring Virginia has a place at the table in the national livestock ID debate.

To drive home their point, Farm Bureau leaders wore reflective name badges that encouraged legislators to “reflect on agriculture.”

Producers contacted members of both the House General Laws Subcommittee on ABC/Gaming and the Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee to encourage support for bills to restore to small farm wineries the ability to self-distribute limited quantities of their products.

“We need legislation to undo what we’ve done to wineries,” replied Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Martinsville, to his visitors. “We need to do what we can to help everybody.”

Virginia farm wineries have lost on average 25 percent of sales due to the loss of self-distribution. Commercial vineyards and wine production are among the most rapidly growing segments of Virginia agriculture—in 2005 the commonwealth ranked ninth nationally for both commercial grape production and bearing acreage.

“We need self-distribution to help foster those small agriculture businesses that are laying down the base for sustaining agriculture and preserving the land in this commonwealth,” said Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, who is among legislators who proposed the new wine legislation.

Eminent domain reform was another topic on the minds of Farm Bureau members. Virginia is one of 13 states that has not addressed loopholes in state laws and the state constitution that could lead to abuses such as the one documented in the 2005 Kelo v. City of New London, Conn. Supreme Court case.

“We advocate a prohibition—in statute and in the constitution—on an individual’s private property being transferred to a developer, government entity or third party for purposes of employment, economic development or an increase in the tax revenues,” said Martha Moore, director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

Farm Bureau supports bills up for review that comprehensively addresses eminent domain reform.

Contact Moore at 804-290-1013.

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