Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, a member of the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee, introduced a number of bills relating to the agricultural industry this General Assembly session.

As of Wednesday, all four bills Wilt sponsored relating to agriculture made it through their first hurdle by either passing out of subcommittees or making it to the House floor.

On Monday, a House Finance subcommittee referred a bill to create an enhanced income tax credit for certain best management practices to the full Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 1652 would provide an enhanced tax credit for farmers who voluntarily implement BMPs that work to substantially improve water quality in local streams and rivers.

BMPs are practices approved by the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board and can include livestock and poultry waste management, soil erosion control, nutrient and sediment filtration and detention, nutrient management and pest management.

Under the bill, the enhanced tax credit would equal 75% of the first $100,000 expended in implementing certain BMPs, and each amount should be consistent with the rate offered for each eligible practice under the Virginia Agricultural BMP Cost-Share Program.

Wilt said in previous interview that he hopes the bill would be another tool for farmers when implementing BMPs.

A second bill Wilt sponsored will head to the full House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources after being approved unanimously.

HB 1237 would change the process for granting basic beehive units for the beehive distribution program from a first-come, first-served process to one based on merit.

The bill would also limit applicants to three beehive units per household per year.

The beehive distribution program passed the General Assembly in 2018 and allows any individual registered with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a beekeeper to apply to VDACS for no more than three beehive units per year.

The program is funded through the Beehive Grant Fund. The state budget includes $125,000 for the first and second year from the general fund to be used in the Beehive Grant Fund, which has been proposed again in the fiscal 2021-22 budget.

Wilt joined Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, in an effort to assist Virginia’s struggling dairy industry through HB 1194.

The bipartisan bill would direct the commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services to establish and administer the Dairy Producer Margin Coverage Premium Assistance Program.

Those eligible would be any dairy farmer who has a resource management plan or nutrient management plan and participates in the federal margin coverage program for dairy producers at the tier one level as contained in the federal Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. Participants would receive a refund of its annual premium payment paid into the federal program.

“Rockingham County has more dairy operations than any locality in the Commonwealth and it is a vital industry for the Shenandoah Valley economy, yet Virginia lost an average of two dairy farms a week last year due to stubbornly low milk prices and other market factors,” Wilt said in a press release.

Missouri, Maryland and Vermont have implemented the program, according to the press release.

“Given how vital agriculture is to our local community, I will continue to do all I can to offer needed supports for our farmers,” Wilt said. “Offering these additional voluntary incentives for BMP implementation is the best approach to meet our future water quality goals. This contrasts with unnecessary heavy-handed government mandates that are currently also being considered by the legislature. Through HB 1194, I also hope we can provide some modest assistance to dairy farmers that are struggling to survive.”

The bill is headed to the House floor after the full committee pushed it forward, 21-0.

A final bill to define milk as the lacteal secretion of a healthy hooved mammal is headed to the Senate after making it through the House.

Contact Jessica Wetzler at 574-6279 or Follow Jessica on Twitter @wetzler_jessica

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