The growth of small-scale farms, along with the expansion of many existing farms, in the past 15 years has led to a 30 percent increase in the number of farms across Massachusetts. In addition, interest in local agriculture has inspired many homeowners to keep backyard chickens, goats and other livestock in residential areas where neighbors are far more comfortable with dogs and cats.With suburban residents increasingly vocalizing their concerns about their neighbors’ flocks, however small, local boards of health, which have broad authority over backyard livestock operations, began implementing regulations that put unnecessary and often burdensome requirements on livestock owners—no surprise considering board of health officials’ lack of knowledge about livestock, according to Brad Mitchell, Massachusetts Farm Bureau’s deputy executive director.“In most towns, board of health officials are elected. They typically know much more about the food code in restaurants or septic systems than they do about animal husbandry—and that was clear in the regulations they were drafting,” Mitchell said.The regulations typically failed to distinguish between commercial and hobby farms, ignored laws protecting commercial agriculture and addressed issues—pesticide use, animal health and animal welfare—that were beyond the board’s authority.
After months of negotiations and surviving a contentious budget battle in the state legislature, the hard work of enacting Illinois’ comprehensive energy bill is underway.The Future Energy Jobs Act calls for the installation of about 2,700 MW of solar in Illinois by 2030, a dramatic increase from the state’s current 75 MW. “It’s going to be crazy, and it’s going to be really exciting,”said Lesley McCain, executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association. “We’ve seen such interest from around the country, from all types of developers focused on helping get this legislation built out correctly.”About 40 percent of the new solar is to be utility-scale projects over 2 megawatts, about 50 percent is to be distributed and community solar, and two percent is to be on brownfields, with the remaining 8 percent left up to state officials’ discretion.The state will deal with utility-scale solar much as it has in the past — through procurements carried out by the Illinois Power Agency.
Last year there was a study committee on rural broadband issues and the growing digital divide facing our state. Residents of metro Atlanta and other densely populated parts of the state don’t witness this problem. Those living in rural Georgia too frequently deal with internet service that is slow, unreliable, or nonexistent. The main work of the committee was to identify that there are really several major problems under the rural broadband umbrella. Access to service, speed of service, reliability of service, cost of service, and regulatory barriers impeding delivery of service are all subtopics worthy of understanding before any solution set is found.There also remains a question of the proper government role in solving this problem. Purists would suggest that the market will eventually self-correct. The problem with that frame of mind is that an entire generation of Georgians may lose out on education, commerce, and employment opportunities before economies of scale allow for modern broadband service to be deployed throughout the state. The problems of rural broadband deployment continue to be studied by legislators, this year under the much broader “Rural Development Council.” Broadband is being looked at as in context with economic development, education, rural healthcare, and other issues unique to the less developed parts of the state. The point is that all of these issues are interconnected, and solutions for one often depend on solutions for others.
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker on Friday signed the long-awaited compromise marijuana bill into law, even as he voiced his disapproval with the controversial substance that Bay State voters broadly legalized in November 2016. "I don't support this," Baker said to reporters in his ceremonial office at the State House. "I worry terribly about what the consequences over time will be.""But look, the people voted this," he added. "And I think it's really important that we put a program in place that delivered a workable, safe, productive recreational marijuana market for them here in Massachusetts."The rewrite doesn't change personal home-growing and possession limits that went into effect in December 2016.
Chemical companies Dow Chemical Co and DuPont are seeing increased benefits in building sustainable "green" products, as they look for newer avenues of growth and build a stronger connection with millenials. A growing demand for healthy food and environment-friendly detergents was in part responsible for DuPont's better- than-expected second-quarter results on Tuesday."In the traditional chemicals (business) there is not a lot of innovation happening. They have to find new innovation drivers for competitive edge and biology is in that space," Bernstein analyst James Oxgaard said. "It's the millenials who are driving this demand." Consumer demand for healthier products should result in more sales of products such as probiotics, DuPont said on a call with analysts.Its Danisco business, which makes probiotic cultures and emulsifiers used in baking, helped boost margins in its nutrition and health unit by nearly 1 percentage point. Apart from food, both Dow and DuPont are working on building products such as detergents that do not need hot water to clean, or paints that remove formaldehyde - a chemical linked to certain cancers - from the air.
State legislators across the country fought back this year against a recent surge in citizen-generated ballot initiatives by modifying or scrapping voter-approved laws and passing new laws to make it harder for people to put measures on the ballot in the first place. South Dakota state legislators scrapped voter-approved campaign finance and lobbying restrictions. Maine lawmakers repealed a new tax on the wealthy. And in Florida, lawmakers decided a new law legalizing medical marijuana wouldn’t allow users to smoke it — prompting a lawsuit by one of the primary backers of the initiative. There were 76 citizen-initiated measures on the ballot in 2016, the highest number in a decade. The renewed interest in 2016 stemmed in part from legislatures’ reluctance to deal with controversial issues like marijuana legalization and minimum wage hikes.In addition, lower voter turnout in the 2014 elections meant that fewer signatures were needed to get a ballot issue before voters in some states. This year, some states took steps to make the ballot initiative process more difficult. “The intent of progressives in initiating initiatives and referenda [historically] was to circumvent legislatures that were not doing the people’s will,” Cunningham said. “Now referenda are often used by interests that can’t get something through the legislative process — hearings, amendments, debates — but can put a measure on the ballot and, by virtue of campaign spending, have a pretty good chance to get voters to pass it."
The state Commissioner of Agriculture is bringing back the West Virginia Agriculture Advisory Board with the goal of setting up a strategic plan to revitalize production in the state. Commissioner Kent Leonhardt said though the board is required to meet quarterly under state code, neither he nor his staffers can remember this going on whatsoever. The board will consist of the commissioner, the governor and the director of the cooperative extension service of West Virginia University. The board will also appoint a steering committee to further its goals.
First and foremost, I want to assist Secretary Perdue in executing his vision for creating an environment where rural communities can prosper. In that, I am specifically focused on taking action to improve the quality of life in rural America-- from greater access to broadband connectivity and medical care to distance learning. Two issues that I am particularly passionate about are leadership and capacity development in small towns and assisting rural communities in responding to the growing nightmare of opioid misuse and the many underlying challenges that have contributed to this issue. Beyond these external goals, I would like to foster greater synergy between Rural Development and the other mission areas in USDA as well as other partners focused on rural programs within the federal family. For example, how can Rural Development work more closely with other agencies to address challenges like food insecurity and child summer hunger.
Members of the Georgia House Rural Development Council said they were overwhelmed during a meeting at Bainbridge State College where they heard from rural health care leaders. Jimmy Lewis wanted a group of rural Georgia lawmakers to feel for themselves how he said rural hospital CEOs feel every day. Lewis, the CEO of a network of rural hospitals named Hometown Health, flew through slides with complicated payment formulas and national headlines about the tens of millions of people who could lose insurance under federal policy proposals."While you look at how to fix rural hospitals you need to see how overwhelming and just completely devastating the current situation is for a rural hospital simply to survive,” he said. "Sitting in on a hospital closure is worse than going to a community funeral,” As the U.S. Senate debates health care, state lawmakers are trying to figure out what they can do. Follow the example of states like Oklahoma and Texas to get more federal money, suggested Gregg Magers, who makes a living saving hospitals in states like Georgia that haven’t expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. He’s the interim CEO of Memorial Hospital and Manor in Bainbridge.
Maine has a new law that allows towns to regulate local food production without requiring state and federal rules. We’ll learn what this means for Mainers and how it ties into the national food sovereignty movement.