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Sustainable Agriculture Bill Passes Committee

March 28, 2006 – On the heels of two Senate-sponsored agriculture forums outlining a dire future for the local agriculture industry, a bill to ensure the development of sustainable agriculture was passed Tuesday in the Labor and Agriculture Committee.
The committee approved $1.2 million to purchase equipment and vehicles for the Department of Agriculture.
As a provision of the bill, the department is charged with providing equipment, through rental or sale, to farmers for their farms. The list of equipment and costs was provided to the senators by Agriculture Commissioner Lawrence Lewis.
Sen. Neville James said the department has been traditionally short on manpower and equipment. "These funds would support the needs of local farmers," he said.
Senators indicated the general fund would be used as the funding source, however, Sen. Ronald E. Russell suggested his colleagues perform an analysis of funds available in order not to abdicate their responsibility to the Office of Management and Budget.
Russell suggested the Insurance Guarantee Fund could be tapped.
"There is surplus money available in the government," Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson said, urging the government to prioritize and be courageous. "Food is an inflexible commodity," he said.
Senators also voted to prohibit further development and to use exclusively for farming all former V.I. Corp. lands previously used for the production of sugar cane on St. Croix.
The Sustainable Farming Industry Act, proposed by James, clarifies which farming activities are official components of the agriculture industry and outlines the rights and responsibilities of agriculturists. The bill also addresses land management guidelines and establishes the responsibility of the agriculture commissioner.
The bill goes on to the Senate Rules Committee meeting scheduled for April 13.
Present at the meeting were Sens. James, Russell, Nelson, Committee Vice Chair Craig Barshinger, and Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste. Sen. Pedro Encarnacion was excused, and Senator Celestino White Sr. was absent.
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