Blog

November 17, 2015

By Kristina Sweet, Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

EVENT: Vermont Agency of Agriculture Hosts FDA for December Meeting on Food Safety Modernization Act Final Rules

DATE: Monday, December 14, 2015

TIME: 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM

LOCATION: Latchis Theatre, 50 Main Street, Brattleboro, VT 05301

On Monday, December 14, 2015, join the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) and U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) subject matter experts for an overview of three final Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Rules:

  • Produce Safety
  • Preventive Controls for Human Food
  • Preventive Controls for Animal Food

FDA subject matter experts will provide information on what the new rules cover and who must comply, as well as major requirements of the rules. All stakeholders throughout the Northeast are invited to attend this informational event and will have opportunities to ask questions of FDA subject matter experts.

Signed into law in 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) represents the largest update to the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act since 1938, requiring FDA to set new food safety standards for food production both in facilities and on farms. Since FDA published the proposed rules in January 2013, VAAFM has worked to establish strong partnerships with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and FDA in order to ensure the perspectives and experiences of New England producers have been accurately represented throughout the rulemaking process.

The Produce Safety, Preventive Controls for Human Food, and Preventive Controls for Animal Food rules are now final and will be implemented throughout the United States over the next one to five years. VAAFM, along with other state departments and agencies of agriculture, will continue to work closely with NASDA, FDA and other national partners as FSMA rules are finalized and throughout the implementation process.

This informational event is free, open to the public, and accessible to people with disabilities. No registration is required. For more information or to request accommodations such as seating, interpreting, etc., call (802) 522-7811 or email AGR.FSMA@vermont.gov in advance of the event.

For updates and more information, visit VAAFM’s Food Safety Modernization Act page at http://go.usa.gov/3SV3F. To access the final FSMA rules, visit FDA’s FSMA page at http://www.fda.gov/FSMA.

Provisional Meeting Agenda (To be confirmed by 11/30/15)

9:30–10:00 AM - Reception (Refreshments provided)

10:00–10:40 AM - Welcome & Opening Remarks

10:40 AM–12:00 PM - FSMA Preventive Controls for Human Food Final Rule Overview with Question & Answer Session

12:00–1:30 PM - Break (Lunch will not be provided)

1:30–2:50 PM - FSMA Produce Safety Final Rule Overview with Question & Answer Session

2:50–3:00 PM - Break

3:00–4:20 PM - FSMA Preventive Controls for Animal Food Final Rule Overview with Question & Answer Session

4:20–4:30 PM - Closing Remarks

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November 3, 2015

By Ryan Patch, Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

Ten Public Meetings Across the State will Allow Stakeholders to Provide Feedback                                                                                                     

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets (VAAFM) has released a draft copy of the Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs) for a period of public comment which will run through December 18, 2015.  This is a pre-filing period which will afford the opportunity for all interested stakeholders to review the Draft RAPs and provide initial comment before VAAFM will formalize the draft this winter and will then enter into the formal rulemaking process in the spring of 2016.  Additional public comment periods will follow both the draft rewrite as well as the formal rulemaking period.

For a copy of the draft RAP document, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/sites/ag/files/pdf/water_quality/VAAFM-Draft-RAP.pdf

To help facilitate this comment and input process, VAAFM has scheduled ten public meetings across the state.  These public meetings will include a detailed presentation of the draft RAPs, with a question and answer session to follow.  In order to maximize public input, VAAFM is also offering to hold smaller group meetings for interested organizations and stakeholders to review the rules in greater detail.  For the current list of scheduled public meetings, please visit VAAFM’s webpage at: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/news-events/public-meetings

“It is important for all stakeholders to understand the rules are in draft form – and that their feedback in this process is critical,” said Vermont’s Agriculture Secretary, Chuck Ross. “We are holding these meetings because we want to engage with the public, to gather their feedback, and to ensure we are implementing a realistic, workable framework for agricultural practices in our state that effectively protects our lakes and rivers. We hope, and expect, that key stakeholders will step up and attend these meetings, to ensure their perspectives are heard.”

VAAFM was directed by the Legislature to draft the RAPs pursuant to Act 64, signed into law on June 16, 2015.  Act 64 amended and enacted multiple requirements related to water quality in the State.  The “Accepted Agricultural Practices (AAPs)” were rewritten to a higher level of performance and renamed the “Required Agricultural Practices (RAPs).”  VAAFM was charged with revising the RAPs by rule on or before July 1, 2016.  Act 64 requires that the revised RAPs include requirements for: small farm certification, nutrient storage, soil health, buffer zones, livestock exclusion, and nutrient management.

“The Agency of Agriculture wants to be very transparent with this process,” said Jim Leland, VAAFM’s Director of Agricultural Resources Management Division. “This collaborative process will ensure VAAFM develops a rule which meets the intent of Act 64, and is workable and implementable by the diversity of agricultural operations in the state.”

In addition to requiring the implementation of RAPs, Act 64 instructed VAAFM to establish a program certifying and training small farm operations.  With over 7,000 farms in the state, according to the 2012 USDA Ag Census, a significant portion of small farms could be required to newly certify compliance with the RAPs when the program is implemented on July 1, 2017.

“Farms of all sizes will be impacted by the RAPs, which is why it is important for all farmers to attend a meeting and provide comment,” said Leland.

Significant and expanding technical and financial assistance is available from Federal, state and local organizations—including Vermont’s new Clean Water Fund established by Act 64. This will help ensure farms of all sizes are able to continue to access resources to assist in the planning and implementation of management changes and conservation practices to improve water quality on farms. 

“Farms of all sizes are already making significant progress at developing plans and implementing conservation practices statewide,” said Leland. “When implemented, the RAPs will set a roadmap and standards to ensure current and future planning efforts are as effective as possible at improving water quality on farms in Vermont.”

Act 64 also requires that a VAAFM submit a draft report on water quality considerations regarding tile drainage to the legislature in January 2016, with the RAPs revised to included requirements for tile draining by January 15th, 2018.  Successful implementation of the RAPs will assist in Vermont’s mission to meet the goals of Act 64 as well as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for Phosphorus for Lake Champlain.

For more information about the RAPs, please visit http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap

A timeline for RAP public input, revisions and implementation can be found at AAFMs webpage http://agriculture.vermont.gov/water-quality/regulations/rap#Q9

VAAFM will seriously consider all comments received during this pre-filing period, though there may be no formal response to individual comments received.  Comment can be e-mailed to: AGR.RAP@vermont.gov or mailed directly to: 116 State Street, Montpelier, VT 05620

Comment received by VAAFM regarding the draft RAPs will be used solely for consideration during the revision of the RAPs and will not be used for water quality regulatory enforcement purposes.  VAAFM encourages farm operations to submit comment with examples of areas on their farm where their current management meets state water quality standards, but would be out of compliance with the draft rules.

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October 28, 2015

By Reg Godin, Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets

Today, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) announces the availability of $25,000 in grant funds for the Trade Show Assistance Grant.  Part of VAAFM’s growing Domestic Export Program, the Trade Show Assistance Grant is designed to help expand out-of-state sales opportunities for Vermont farm, food, and forestry businesses by increasing the financial accessibility of national trade shows.  Held annually throughout the United States, trade shows attract many thousands of retailers and represent a valuable opportunity for VT businesses to exhibit their products and connect with new out-of-state markets and distribution channels. 

Vermont businesses have the option to apply for funding in two different areas:

  1. Trade Show Attendee - A new Company which has not exhibited at a trade show before and would like the opportunity to attend (but not exhibit), to gauge exhibiting opportunities, and partake in educational programs.  Maximum grant will be $500 per attendee, with no more than 2 attendees per company.
  2. Trade Show Exhibitor – A Company exhibiting at a specific trade show for the first time (or first time in 5 years).  Grants of up to $2,000 are available to assist grantees with expenses related to:  booth space, travel expenses, accessories and trade show related marketing.

The application window for the Trade Show Assistance Grant will be open from Wednesday, October 28th through Tuesday, December 8th 2015.  The Trade Show Grant application can be found online here: http://agriculture.vermont.gov/domestic_export/trade_show_grant_application

This year marks the second year the Trade Show Assistance Grant has been made available to Vermont businesses.  Last year, 25 grantees were selected to attend 15 different trade shows in 10 different states across the country, including Nevada and California.  Twenty-one grantees have participated in a trade show to date, collectively reporting over 1,000 sales leads generated, nearly $35,000 in immediate sales and an estimated $1 million in annual sales. 

"A trade show is much more than a venue for sales,” said Hilary Hoffman of Vermont Hay Company, a 2014/2015 Trade Show Grantee who exhibited for the first time at Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore, MD.  “It is an opportunity to learn from more experienced retailers and wholesalers about product placement and price point, to gain input on possible future products, to collaborate with other companies, and to gain significant exposure to both small retailers and some of the largest chains in the United States. Well worth attending!"

This year, the Working Lands Enterprise Fund has allocated $25,000 to continue the Trade Show Assistance Grant for the 2015/2016 grant period. The mission of the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative is to strengthen and grow the economies, cultures, and communities of Vermont's working landscape. This $25,000 investment will help Vermont food and forest producers reach critical out-of-state markets and support Vermont’s growing economy. 

The Domestic Export Program is administered by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. For more information about The Domestic Export Program, contact Reg Godin at Reg.Godin@vermont.gov or (802) 522-3648. 

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October 27, 2015

Six Vermont Agricultural Organizations Will Receive 2015 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program Funds

By Kristina Sweet, VAAFM

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets (VAAFM) announces grants totaling $255,475 for eight projects to benefit Vermont fruit, vegetable, hops, maple, and added-value producers and increase consumer access to locally produced food. These grants, funded through the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP), were awarded to six agricultural organizations to undertake a range of research, education, promotion, and program-building projects. The grants will leverage an additional $300,000 in matching funds.

“Specialty Crop Block Grants are integral to maintaining a safe, sustainable, and secure food supply and to enhancing the Vermont brand,” said Agriculture Secretary Chuck Ross. “These funds will enable the Agency of Ag and our statewide partners to make strategic investments in research, infrastructure, and education to improve on-farm efficiency and safety, develop new marketing tools, open distribution channels to Vermont producers, and promote farm profitability. We are grateful to our Congressional delegation for their continued support of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which helps to boost Vermont’s agricultural economy and sustain our working landscape.”

University of Vermont Extension Agronomist Heather Darby is one of this year’s grantees and has received prior funding to study sustainable methods of pest control in specialty crops and to develop a mobile hop harvester—projects that have had a wide impact in Vermont and beyond. “Farmers from all over world have utilized our online Vermont Hops Project materials,” said Darby. “And our hop harvester design has been adopted by six different farms and businesses from several provinces and states outside of Vermont. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is a huge asset to our research projects and will allow us to continue to share new knowledge with farmers both inside and outside of Vermont.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service awards Specialty Crop Block Grants to the 50 States, the District of Columbia, and U.S. Territories. In Vermont, VAAFM administers these funds to enhance the competitiveness of Vermont and regionally-grown specialty crops, defined as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops (including floriculture).”

VAAFM awards SCBGP funds through a competitive review process guided by industry, nonprofit and government stakeholders. An independent stakeholder advisory committee identified economic impact across Vermont’s working landscape, environmental stewardship, and farm viability as funding goals for 2015. A proposal review committee selected the following projects out of fourteen applications representing total funding requests of over $550,000:

  • University of Vermont Extension Northwest Crops & Soils Program to evaluate the efficacy of biostimulants and biofungicides for downy and powdery mildew in specialty crops ($33,485)
  • The Intervale Center to develop the supply chain for Vermont-grown organic mesclun and frozen berries ($5,057)
  • The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) to build demand for fruits and vegetables in Vermont schools ($35,500)
  • The Vermont Tree Fruit Growers Association to utilize State Information Centers to promote direct marketing of Vermont apples, cider and wines ($10,000)
  • University of Vermont Extension Center for Sustainable Agriculture to pilot post‐harvest management teams for the produce industry and conduct produce safety workshops to help farmers prepare for Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) implementation ($58,177)
  • University of Vermont Proctor Maple Research Center to enhance the competitiveness and economic sustainability of the maple industry ($13,151)
  • The Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Business Development Team to promote Vermont specialty crops in Japan ($25,000)
  • The Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s Produce Safety Team to build a Vermont state produce safety and market access program ($75,108)

To view the USDA-AMS press release announcing SCBGP awards nationally, visit http://1.usa.gov/1P0qdJZ.

To learn more about the Vermont SCBGP, visit http://go.usa.gov/3uzFm.

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October 27, 2015

By Chuck Ross, Secretary, Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets

As part of Act 64, the “Accepted Agricultural Practices” (AAPs) will be re-written to a higher level of performance and renamed the “Required Agricultural Practices” (RAPs). Between now and the end of the year, we will be holding meetings across the state to seek your input about the proposed new rules. This is your chance to share your feedback with us, and help shape the new rules which will govern ag practices in our state.

We are hosting a series of regional meetings, as outlined in the graphic below. We urge you to get engaged in this process – attend a meeting, review the proposed RAPs online (here), and speak with your friends and fellow farmers about the RAPs. We need your input to ensure these rules will be workable for farmers, the environment, the ag industry, and our communities. 

If you have questions about the process, please call us at 802-828-1619. Please make every effort to attend your regional meeting! Hope to see you there.

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