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Sen. Peter Welch discusses 2023 Farm Bill ideas with local farmers and agriculture leaders

Jan 11, 2023

SAINT ALBANS CITY, Vt. — Sen. Peter Welch spent Wednesday in St. Albans, with one of his stops being a meeting with local farmers and agriculture officials to hear their concerns.

A new farm bill will be negotiated in 2023, so Welch wanted to get local producers’ input on what Congress can do to help.

Dairy farms across Vermont have continued to be on the decline. Last year, the number dropped down to 550, 10 less from 2021.

Farmers, such as Paul Doton, all emphasized that labor issues are a main concern.

He also emphasized a struggle with profitability.

“Making it so the price of the product we sell is enough that it’s a profit,” said Doton. “If that means diversifying, that would be a great way to do it.”

At the end of the day, the export market decides whether they survive or not.

Welch is trying to get to the bottom of it.

“How is it that we get in a position where we produce all that we need and some?” said Welch. “This labor issue is very crucial.”

Maddie Kempner, from Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, said what she would like to see come out of the farm bill is more institutional purchasing of organic dairy products from schools, hospitals and prisons.

However, there’s a major issue.

“We don’t have the processing capacity to package organic products in the forms that [some places], especially schools, need to get those products to come in,” Kempner said.

Kempner said, for example, that the federal standard for milk being sold in schools is to have items packaged in 8 ounce cartons. She said the process infrastructure they have in the state right now for organic doesn’t support that kind of packaging.

More sustainability in all areas, such as cost of labor, processing, and pricing, are needed to create a more efficient cycle.

“How do we make this transition in a sustainable, economic way to having agriculture being a bigger and bigger contributor to reduction of carbon emissions?” said Welch. “That’s the transition. That’s hard to do.”

According to Welch, agriculture serves as the “backbone” to Vermont’s development.

Story Written by Tyler Boronski, NBC5

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