New report recommends farm tax breaks

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(Host) Lawmakers are studying a detailed plan to revive Vermont agriculture. The plan was drafted over the summer and fall by a panel of farmers and farm experts. Their report recommends a tax break for farmers that already has the support of Governor Jim Douglas.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The new Vermont Agriculture Viability Council plowed familiar ground as it tried to come up with recommendations to boost Vermont agriculture. The appendix to its report lists 26 previous studies produced since 1990 on the problems facing Vermont’s rural economy.

Steve Kerr chaired the council before he was appointed agriculture commissioner. He says this report won’t gather dust. One reason, he says, is that the report was drafted by a broad coalition of farmers and farm experts:

(Kerr) “In the context of this very historically polarized debate, I think it creates an opening for a menu from which people can chose common agreement. That’s why I think it will not sit on the shelf. Frankly, we’ve already seen the governor already address a couple of the issues.”

(Dillon) Douglas has made agriculture a top priority and has embraced several of the council’s suggestions. The panel proposed lifting the statewide school property tax from farm and forestland that’s enrolled in the state’s current use program. Douglas included that proposal in this week’s budget address.

Kerr says other proposals are equally important, such as a plan to provide technical financial assistance to farmers:

(Kerr) “The problem with the competitiveness project is, it’s not a short term answer. If you’re looking for that bundle of short term, immediate and long property tax relief, it doesn’t get much quicker than that.”

(Dillon) The governor also wants to boost state loan money to farmers – another recommendation in the council’s report.

Senator Sara Kitell, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, says the report gives the Legislature a good blueprint to work from.

(Kittell) “It’s important to have some guidelines from what the leaders across the state look at the rural economy. So I think it was important for the natural resources and agriculture communities to hear this. It’s broad-based policy and we can go from there on the priorities of this session.”

(Dillon) The council also recommends that the state increase funding for marketing Vermont agriculture. It wants to boost support for agricultural education. And it says schools should buy more Vermont farm products.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Related link:
Vermont Council on Rural Development

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