Agriculture and Farmers

Citizens Count Editor

New Hampshire is home to more than 4,000 farms covering 470,000 acres. The state estimates the agricultural industry supports more than 20,000 jobs with an economic value of approximately $850 million. And while the number of farms in the US has dipped the past decade, there’s been a resurgence in New Hampshire.

However, it’s still difficult to make farms profitable. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, fewer than 1,500 farms surpass $10,000 in annual revenue.

There is debate over what the state can do to help farms survive and flourish without unduly burdening neighbors and taxpayers.

Farmland preservation

Farmland preservation generally takes the form of paying farmers to agree to restrictions on the development of their land in the future, for example by making the land a conservation easement. This ensures that the farmland continues to be used for farming or conservation purposes even if it is sold.

New Hampshire acts to preserve farmland through several different offices and initiatives:

  • The state Office of Strategic Initiatives oversees agriculture, farmland and open space preservation.
  • The New Hampshire Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) is an independent state authority that makes matching grants to communities and non-profits to conserve and preserve important natural, cultural and historic resources, including farmland.
  • The Legislature formally established the Commission to Develop a Land Conservation Plan in 2015. This commission, made up of community leaders, is responsible for developing a multi-year land conservation plan. According to a report filed with the commission, about 4% of the state’s land area is actively farmed. Of that 4%, 13% is protected.
  • State law also grants communities the power to establish local agriculture commissions to promote and enhance agriculture, agricultural resources, and related economic opportunities. While an agricultural commission has no regulatory or enforcement authority, it can assist a local planning board in the review of relevant matters.

Additionally, the federal Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has several programs that offer financial and technical assistance to owners of farm or forestland.

Agritourism

The issue of agritourism gained prominence in 2015 when a farmer in Henniker challenged a town ruling that banned weddings on his farm. The NH Supreme Court ruling backed the town and challenged the Legislature to set definitions for how agricultural land could be used.  The Legislature passed a bill (SB 345) in 2016 that redefined agritourism.  

This law defined agritourism as any activity carried out on a farm that allows members of the public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view, enjoy, or participate in activities related to farm life. Activities that can be considered agritourism include pick-your-own fruits, Christmas tree harvesting, hay/sleigh rides, corn mazes, and wine tastings.

Cities and towns are prohibited from adopting stricter ordinances that conflict with this law.

Subsidies

From 1995-2016, New Hampshire farmers received $77 million in USDA subsidies — 48th among all U.S. states. According to the USDA, 90% of farms in New Hampshire did not collect subsidies.

At the state level, the Legislature passed a $2 million bailout in 2017 to assist New Hampshire’s 120 dairy farmers impacted by the 2016 summer drought and falling milk prices. New Hampshire’s dairy industry contributes an estimated $225 million to the state economy.

PROS & CONS

"For" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

"NH should take more action to protect farmers and farmland."

  • Farms are not only a food source; they also provide economic, environmental and socio-cultural benefits.
  • Protecting agritourism is important because it is one of New Hampshire's fastest growing sectors. The number of agritourism farms has increased 115% since 2007. 
  • Subsidies provide economic stability to farmers. As New Hampshire witnessed in 2016 with its dairy farmers, the industry can be volatile as it is dependent on uncontrollable forces such as climate. Subsidies help mitigate the damage.
  • The preservation of farmland in New Hampshire is of both national and local importance. It helps keep the U.S. less dependent on foreign food sources, thus increasing our national security. A thriving local agricultural industry not only delivers the freshest and healthiest foods to consumers, but supports thousands of jobs.

"Against" Position

By Citizens Count Editor

"NH should not take more action to protect farmers and farmland."

  • Taxpayer dollars should not be spent on preserving farmland, as this unfairly subsidizes some farmers — and therefore their agritourism businesses — over their competitors at taxpayers’ expense.  
  • Broad definitions of agritourism allow farmers to use land zoned agricultural, and which therefore pays a lower tax rate, for commercial activities that are only loosely associated with farming. These activities can also have an impact on neighbors, other community members, and other businesses that must compete with these subsidized farms. Empowering municipalities to set rules and regulations for what extra business farms can engage in gives local residents more say.
  • New Hampshire should allow the free market to regulate which farms are profitable and which end up sinking. This will ensure that the most efficient agricultural businesses succeed.
  • If farmers can't make their land profitable, that land should be turned to other use, whether for residential development, commercial production, or alternative forms of conservation that make the land a resource for all community members.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Signed by Governor

Preempts the local regulation of seeds and fertilizer, so that state law takes precedence.

Signed by Governor

Makes various changes to food safety regulations, particularly related to dairy.

Signed by Governor

Modifies the definition of agritourism. The Senate amended the bill to state, "No municipality shall adopt an ordinance, bylaw, definition, or policy regarding agritourism activities that conflicts with the definition of agritourism in [state law]." The amended bill also allows the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture to rule in a dispute on whether agricultural activities constitute agritourism.

Signed by Governor

Repeals the prohibition on using milk containers for substances other than milk.

Signed by Governor

Requires a letter from the United States Department of Agriculture to accompany any biologic or diagnostic reagent that does not require licensure.

Killed in the House

Exempts foodstuffs grown or produced in and then sold in New Hampshire from federal regulation so long as it is labeled as “Made in New Hampshire.”

Signed by Governor

Allows the use of an agricultural vehicle for "incidental" purposes, such as stops at a school.

Interim Study

Establishes a committee to study crop theft.

Killed in the Senate

Appropriates $6 million over the next two fiscal years for the agricultural land preservation programs.

Killed in the Senate

Requires maple syrup packaging to list the state or province of origin.

Signed by Governor

Makes various changes to the laws regarding meat inspection, slaughter, auctions, and shipments.

Signed by Governor

Creates a program to repay licensed milk producers from losses during the 2016 drought. The bill appropriates $2 million to the Milk Producers Emergency Relief Fund.

Signed by Governor

Clarifies the current requirement that private use or occupancy of public property is subject to property taxation. This bill also allows local property tax exemptions for leases of publicly owned agricultural land.

Killed in the Senate

Modifies the definition of agritourism to preempt any local regulations of agritourism.

Signed by Governor

Increases farmers' rights to host agritourism events on their property.

Signed by Governor

Allows the sampling of beer or wine at farmers' markets if authorized by the town or city.

Signed by Governor

Establishes the municipal registration fee for an agricultural/industrial utility vehicle.

Killed in the House

Allows homestead food operations to use a sign and business cards at the point of sale to fulfill labeling requirements.

Signed by Governor

Increases the number of poultry a federally exempt poultry producer may sell in a calendar year.

Signed by Governor

Establishes a committee to study livestock and meat inspection.

Signed by Governor

Requires local approval for re-established agricultural use after "abandonment" instead of "disuse."

Signed by Governor

Protects individuals donating pet food or agricultural feed from liability if the food is past its expiration date.

Killed in the House

Only applies limitations on nitrogen and phosphorus content to fertilizers sold in bulk at retail.

Interim Study

Includes "agritourism" in the definition of farm marketing.

Signed by Governor

Authorizes agricultural plates for qualifying vehicles of commercial fishing operations.

Signed by Governor

Establishes the Fishing Family Protection Act which prohibits local governments from adopting ordinances which unreasonably force the closure of commercial or recreational fishing operations. This bill was amended to also establish criteria for protective well radii for sewage disposal systems of commercial buildings.

Killed in the House

Creates an exemption from workers' compensation for very small businesses engaged in farming.

Signed by Governor

Allows "homestead food operations" (e.g. foods from small farms) to be sold at retail stores without a license, provided the food is properly labeled.

Signed by Governor

Exempts bison from certain licensing and inspection requirements.

Signed by Governor

Establishes a committee to study allowing the sampling of beer or wine at farmers’ markets.  The bill was amended to also establish a committee to study powdered or crystalline alcohol, and add solids, powders, and crystals to the definition of alcohol.

Signed by Governor

Allows the processing of uncooked lobster tails for sale in New Hampshire.

Killed in the Senate

Appropriates money to the New Hampshire agricultural lands program.

Signed by Governor

Establishes a commission to develop a land conservation plan.

Signed by Governor

Makes certain changes in the shellfish inspection program to conform to federal law.

Tabled in the House

Establishes a commission to study the effects of ocean acidification on commercially harvested species grown along the New Hampshire coast.

Signed by Governor

Permits composting facilities to use meat and dairy products in their composting operations.

Killed in the House

Establishes a special license plate with a $30 fee to fund agricultural education.

Killed in the Senate

Requires licensed animal transferors to keep certain records and submit copies of such records to the Department of Agriculture.

Killed in the House

Exempts small farm stands with gross sales under $100,000 from many laws, such as workers' compensation, food inspection, minimum wage, etc.

Killed in the House

Establishes a maple products coordinator in the Department of Agriculture using federal funds.

Signed by Governor

Allows backhoes, bulldozers, and other specialized vehicles to qualify for farm tractor plates.

Should NH take action to protect farmers and farmland?

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Issue Status

NH passed a law strengthening protections for agritourism activities on farms this year. 

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