As a farmer, I am well aware of the challenges we face as well as the great opportunities that we have. Vermont is in a unique position where we have a brand name and quality reputation that we can capitalize on. While I am most experienced in our diversified and value added agriculture community, I fully recognize that without a strong dairy presence, we do not have enough other agriculture to maintain our needed infrastructure. We must be creative with our milk marketing to get a better price for our farmers. So long as we stay attached to the commodity milk pricing system we will continue to see our dairies consolidate and we will not see the environmental improvements that we want.
With respect to specific legislation, GMO foods should be labeled. This will actually increase demand for Vermont products and we will be giving consumers the information and choice that we deserve.
When I was Chair of House Agriculture, I led the fight for passage of the Farmer Protection Act which made the GMO seed manufacturers responsible for the economic and environmental consequences of GMOs. This legislation was created to reduce the farmer vs. farmer conundrum when people use different production systems. Gov. Douglas vetoed the bill. I would like to bring it back. I also expanded the current use law to include small farm cheese plants. Since that time Vermont has become a mecca of small artisan cheeses. Some cheese producers from France now come here to learn from us!
I was also the Chairperson when we passed the FEED bill (Food Education Every Day) related to local food getting back into our schools. What is more important than feeding our children healthy food? Well fed children will learn better and be healthier. We must reduce our obesity issues and starting with healthy food as children is critical.
We need to invest in conventional dairy processing in Vermont and sell a Vermont brand of milk so that our dairy farmers are not as susceptible to the national milk price swings. If prices are stabilized and farmers are more financially stable then many of them could be even better environmental stewards. Rather than push their fields as close to streams in order to increase their yields, they could be getting a better price for their work and therefore could maintain larger stream buffers.