Agriculture remains the top industry in Virginia and in Pittsylvania County. I have always been proud to support farmers and the farm industry during my years in the Virginia House of Delegates. It’s a win/win to help the farmers who grow the products we put on our kitchen tables. And the money farm families spend in local markets help all other types of business. It is the economic underpinning of Danville and Pittsylvania County.
I was the original bill patron in 2019 of legislation that made industrial hemp a new crop for Virginia farmers. Southside farmers had suffered a sharp loss in revenue due to changes in the tobacco industry and its marketing. In this year’s General Assembly session, I introduced a measure aligning Virginia’s regulations on industrial hemp with newly-passed federal guidelines to help this young industry continue to grow, giving Virginia’s farmers a lucrative alternative crop to grow and market. I have been excited to watch this industry take off in Virginia. A large processing plant that opened last year in Halifax County is only the beginning.
I have been happy to work with the Virginia Farm Bureau over the years to find the best ways to help our farmers and supporting industries. There are a number of bills moving through the General Assembly this year that will have a positive impact, if adopted.
One of them lowers the excise tax on Virginia-grown peanuts. Another protects farmers from having to obey certain zoning restrictions that are more applicable to traditional housing units. A bill from Halifax County Delegate James Edmunds increases the minimum fine for dumping or disposing of litter, trash, or other unsightly matter on public or private property from $250 to $500.
I was proud to support a measure to create the Local Food and Farming Infrastructure Grant Program. Those grants will support infrastructure development projects that support local food production and sustainable farming. There is another bill that creates the Virginia Agriculture Food Assistance Program. That would allow Virginia farmers and food producers to donate, sell, or otherwise provide products to charitable food assistance organizations. The fund will help offset some of the costs of making these donations.
The General Assembly's Special Session is winding down. Committees faced a Monday deadline to finish up work on their bills. Also, the budget is now in a conference committee. Lawmakers from both chambers are trying to work out the differences between House and Senate spending blueprints. Their compromise plan will then have to clear both houses before it goes to the Governor’s desk.