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Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) held a roundtable on the rural economy at Edgewater Farm in Plainfield Thursday. (Meghan Pierce)

Kuster hears small farmers' concerns

PLAINFIELD — U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., heard some good news Thursday and some bad news at a roundtable discussion at Edgewater Farm.

The good news is small farms are increasing in New Hampshire. The bad news is that burdensome federal regulations are threatening small farms.
Kuster convened the roundtable of local business owners and agricultural leaders to learn how Congress can best support job creation and the region’s rural economy.

At the gathering that took place on Edgewater Farm owner Pooh Sprague’s porch over ice tea and homemade cookies, Kuster touted the many federal programs to help rural communities that are included in the Farm Bill, which she helped pass in February.
The loans and grants that come out of the Farm Bill have a ripple effect on the local economy, said Rick Ellsmore, state conservationist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, adding there is $4½ million for conservation projects this year.
“This is pretty much a pass through to the farmer to a contractor, a logger, a forester, a concrete operator, a hardware fencing supplier. It’s also going out to the economy,” Ellsmore said. “That $4½ million creates an awful lot of jobs and supports the local economy.”
Jay Phinizy, state director of the USDA Farm Service Agency, said the microloans made possible by Farm Bill funds help new farms start and help existing farms through emergencies and expansions.

“We bring the pitchforks and the shovels to the farmers,” Phinizy said.
Farmers and officials said they were concerned about proposed federal regulations, especially the FDA’s proposed Food Safety Modernization Act, which would pertain to water and soil and food products processed on farms, and the EPA’s proposed definition for “navigated water” on farms.
The officials said these regulations seem to be tailor made for large corporate farms in the Midwest, but would drive small farms out of business.

Small farm impact

Sprague said it’s hard for him not to believe the growth of the small farm has not prompted these new regulations.
“We know we’re making an impact even as small as it is on the profitability of these big guys. Stepping on us is the most convenient and a little too easy,” Sprague said. “We can deal with climate change. We can deal with pretty much anything else, probably deal without federal money. But the real thing that’s going to kill and put the hackles on is this overreaching sinister regulatory process.”
There have been so many new regulations from the federal level that is hard to keep up, said Seth Wilner, agricultural field specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

“It’s grown so much in the last six years it makes your head spin,” Wilner said.
After the roundtable, Kuster said she agreed, these small farmers are already held to food safety and clean water state regulations. The new regulations proposed are cost prohibitive for the small family farm, she said.
“This is an issue about overburdensome government regulations,” Kuster said. “Frankly, they could put small farms out of business.”

Kuster said her goal is that residents of New Hampshire have access to healthy, locally produced food, so she is working to ensure the new regulations are not burdensome or not adopted if they are redundant to clean water and food safety regulations already in place.

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