2017 Texas Legislative Session Overview

TXontop-thaleThe 2017 Texas legislative session is in full swing, and FARFA is busy trying to pass good bills and kill bad ones!  Check out the summaries of our top-priority bills, including water bills that will affect the future of every Texan.

Priority Bills to Pass

Young Farmers & Military Veterans: SB 330/ HB 950 would allow young, beginning farmers and veterans going into farming to qualify for agricultural valuation with reduced property taxes in their first year of farming, instead of waiting for five years under the current law. Over a third of all farmers are over age 65, making it vital to remove barriers to young farmers entering this career path. Read more and take action here.

Raw Milk: Licensed farmers can legally sell raw milk in Texas, but sales are limited to on-the-farm. This marketing restriction does not increase the safety of the product, but rather places unnecessary burdens on farmers and consumers.…

Read more »

Texas Bill Would Ban Drones at CAFOs

Texas HB 1643 would classify Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) as “critical infrastructure,” in the same category as power plants and petroleum refineries.

What does this mean?

  • It would be illegal to simply fly a drone over any CAFO in Texas, even if you don’t take pictures;
  • Flying a drone over a CAFO would be a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by jail time;
  • Even university researchers would not be able to take pictures of CAFOs for academic and research purposes.

cafoHelp us stop this new variation on the Ag-gag laws!

It is already illegal to take pictures of private property in Texas. Not only is taking drone pictures of private property a misdemeanor, but the individual or property owner may bring a civil suit against the person operating the drone, with penalties of $5,000 to $10,000, plus actual damages and attorneys’ fees.

But HB 1643 would mean that, instead of facing fines, people who take drone pictures of CAFOs could go to jail.…

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Say No to New Tax on Organic Farmers

organicsRemember the “Got Milk?” and “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” advertising campaigns? They were developed through “checkoff” programs designed to promote individual agricultural products.

The checkoff programs are essentially taxes on the farmers, who are forced to pay for these marketing programs whether they agree with the messages or not. Right now, certified organic farmers are exempt – but the USDA is considering creating a checkoff program that would cover all organic products.

This is the wrong path for organics and American family farmers.

In theory, checkoff programs are supported to allow an entire agricultural sector to fund research and marketing to boost a product’s success, with all parties benefiting in the process.

In reality, big industrial-scale players are the ones who benefit because the programs promote the commodity (beef, milk, etc.) without respect to how it’s grown, where it’s grown (U.S. or foreign), or who grows it (small farmers versus massive agribusiness operations).…

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FARFA Joins Group Asking to Shut Down USDA’s Animal ID Road Tour

 

Updated: Check out one attendee’s report from the first meeting.

 

JOINT NEWS RELEASE 
Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance, R-CALF USA,
South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, and Western Organization of Resource Councils

For Immediate Release: April 7, 2017

Contacts:
Judith McGeary, FARFA: 512-484-8821
Bill Bullard, R-CALF USA: 406-670-8157
Silvia Christen, SDSGA: 605-342-0429
Rachel Zatterstrom, WORC: 970-409-9820

Groups Ask President to Shut Down USDA’s Animal ID Road Tour

Billings, Mont. – In a joint letter addressed to President Trump and Acting Secretary of Agriculture Michael Young, four groups ask for the cancellation of the seven upcoming meetings scheduled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to address the agency’s plans to expand its Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) rule. The agency had only announced the all-day meetings less than 30 days before they were scheduled to begin in April.

Specifically, the groups ask that the USDA immediately halt any further action toward expansion of the existing ADT program, cancel the public meetings scheduled for April and May, and extend the comment period to allow a minimum 120 days for producers to provide written comment on the effectiveness of the existing ADT program.…

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It’s here: The big, ugly water bill

drought cornWe’re been warning you about it, and now it’s here … SB 1392.

SB 1392 has so many bad provisions that it’s hard to know where to start, but here are a few of them:

  1. The bill abolishes the requirement that groundwater conservation districts balance production (i.e. pumping) with conservation. Instead, the bill establishes pumping and exporting groundwater as a priority for the state and for the so-called “groundwater conservation districts” (whose ability to conserve groundwater will be effectively abolished).
  2. It prevents groundwater conservation districts from considering the socioeconomic impacts of the “desired future conditions” they set (DFCs are how much they plan to drain the aquifer). The bill effectively pretends that drawing down our aquifers – which is nothing more or less than mining this vital resource – doesn’t have social and economic impacts on the communities that live above them.
  3. It removes the public interest in conserving and protecting groundwater from the districts’ list of factors to consider.

Read more »

FARFA/Vista Ridge

FARFA is active in opposing Vista Ridge’s attempts to transfer massive amounts of water from Milam and Burleson Counties. The San Antonio Water System, limited in its ability to drain the aquifer beneath it thanks to the protections on the Edwards Aquifer, keeps trying to find other aquifers to enable massive development without the inconvenience of serious water conservation steps. Unfortunately, the Post Oak Savannah Groundwater Conservation District has largely gone along with the demands of the water marketers to date.

 

However, in the hearing on March 28 on Vista Ridge’s request for a permit amendment, the Board did defer the decision to allow local landowners to present their questions and concerns. FARFA worked with the League of Independent Voters, Save Our Springs Alliance, and the local landowners (of which our own executive director, Judith McGeary, is one) to develop a briefing paper explaining the concerns and the questions to which Vista Ridge should be required to respond.…

Read more »

FARFA’s Local Foods Awareness Day 2017

Make an impact on local food laws by joining us at the State Capitol for our second Local Foods Awareness Day this Session: Monday, May 1. Be on the front lines as we educate legislators about the issues important to our movement.

Read More About the 2017 Local Food Bills

 

FARFA’s Local Foods Awareness Day

Monday, May 1, 2017, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.  See the detailed agenda at the end of this page. (If you missed our training webinar and this is your first time to attend, please join us at 9:30 for a brief training session.)

PLACE: Legislative Conference Center, Room E1.004, Capitol Extension, Texas Capitol, Austin (See map here.)

PARKING: Reasonably priced parking is available at the Visitors Parking Lot, San Jacinto Blvd., between 12th and 13th streets. (See map here.)

If you are a farmer, telling your stories can be the most effective way to gain legislative support for our bills!…

Read more »

Protect Local Control — Stop SB 1172/ HB 2758

Do you think that city and county governments should be able to:

  • Protect farmers from having their crops damaged or destroyed due to herbicide drift?
  • Protect bee populations by limiting whether or when seeds coated with bee-killing chemicals can be planted?
  • Protect the health of the community’s children by limiting spraying of certain toxic chemicals?
  • Respond to concerns that their citizens raise in the future about what is grown and how it is grown in their communities?

Man spraying vegetables in the garden

If you think that Texans should be able to seek solutions for these sorts of problems from their local elected officials, then you need to call your State Representative right now and urge him or her to oppose SB 1172 / HB 2758.

Download our Fact Sheet on SB 1172 / HB 2758

(updated April 1, 2017)

SB 1172/ HB 2758 would prevent cities and counties from regulating any seed “in any manner, including planting seed or cultivating plants grown from seed.” The language about “cultivating” means that it’s not just about the seeds themselves, but the things the farmers use to grow the plants – including fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that can kill other crops, crash bee populations, and harm human health. …

Read more »

SB 656: An Agriculture and Rural Ombudsman

Easing the regulatory frustrations for small farmers

 

Texas farmers and small-scale food producers must navigate a convoluted regulatory landscape to legally operate their businesses.  Confusion over ambiguous regulations and unintentional violations of regulations impose costs not only on the producer, but also on regulatory agencies in lost time and unnecessary expense.

SB 656, by Senator Judith Zaffirini, and HB 3798, by Roberto Alonzo, can solve the confusion by creating an agriculture and rural ombudsman office within the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Department of the Governor’s Office.

The regulatory maze is created by several factors:

  • Multiple agencies: the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), Texas Department of Agriculture, and the Texas Animal Health Commission each separately regulate aspects of farming and food businesses.
  • Multiple jurisdictions: Many farmers sell their food in multiple cities or counties.  As a result, they have to comply not only with DSHS regulations, but with the patchwork of requirements from local health departments.

Read more »

HB 950 / SB 330: Tax Relief for Young and Veteran Farmers

Helping aspiring farmers to afford land

 

The Young and Military Veterans Tax Relief bills (HB 950 and SB 330) help address the problem of our aging farmer population by allowing young beginning farmers and military veterans to qualify for agricultural valuation on their land after one year of farming, instead of having to pay high taxes while waiting for five years.

The bill passed the Senate last month, and had a great hearing before the House Agriculture Committee two weeks ago, but now seems to have stalled out.  PLEASE help us move this important bill forward!

Download our Fact Sheet on SB 330

High property taxes represent a major start-up cost for new farmers. Texas law provides that land used primarily for raising food is taxed at a lower rate, but not only must the land be used principally for agriculture, it must have been used that way for at least 5 of the preceding 7 years.…

Read more »

HB 231 / SB 700: Fair Property Taxes for Small Farmers

Clarifying the definition of “agricultural use” for tax valuation

 

Although Texas law provides for “agricultural valuation” of land used primarily for raising food, many farmers across the state have experienced problems in qualifying for such valuation due to bias against sustainable farming methods, urban farms, and produce farmers.

HB 231 and SB 700, the Fair Taxes for Small Farmers bill, provides for fair, consistent application of agricultural valuation. Last session, a very similar bill (HB 1900) was passed by the House by a vote of 135-4.

The Tax Code provides that land be appraised as qualified agricultural land if it is “devoted principally to agricultural use to the degree of intensity generally accepted in the area.” Unfortunately, many county appraisal districts have applied the provision in ways that exclude legitimate farms.

HB 231 and SB 700 have slightly different language, but both clarify the Tax Code by:

  1. Specifying that fruit and vegetable production qualify as “agricultural uses.”  There have been multiple cases of county tax assessors asserting that growing vegetables isn’t agriculture, or applying guidelines developed for row crops instead of vegetable production so as to exclude them.

Read more »