Sen. Kissel and Rep. Bacchiochi Call For Creation Of Agricultural Committee [Hartford Courant]

February 3, 2012

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

The Hartford Courant
February 2, 2012

Two north central Connecticut legislators are pushing for the creation of a select committee that would focus solely on agricultural issues — an area that they say deserves heightened awareness right now.

The state’s $3.5 billion agricultural industry has untapped potential, said state Sen. John Kissel and Rep. Penny Bacchiochi when they announced the proposal Thursday afternoon. Neighboring states have recognized the agricultural sector’s strong growth potential and have created initiatives to encourage its development — Connecticut should do the same, the Republican legislators argued.

“The time is right and the time is now,” said Kissel, citing the recent inclusion of a $5 million grant in the jobs bill to restore fallow land and the recent formation of the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development. “To the extent that you can bolster this economy, you keep precious dollars in the state.”

A number of Republican legislators and supporters from the state’s agricultural community spoke in favor of the proposal and of legislation that would focus on workplace development, training and innovation.

“Often, the obstacles that I face as a farmer can be daunting,” said Kevin Sullivan, who owns the Chestnut Hill Nursery in Stafford. “The committee would give us a voice.”

Bonnie Burr, assistant director of the University of Connecticut’s Cooperative Extension System, said that Cooperative Extension was excited to be part of the effort to raise agriculture “far above what it’s been in the past.”

“When we talk about agriculture, it’s not only the cornerstone farming in rural communities, but also urban farming … and the obesity epidemic,” said Burr.

Henry Talmage, the executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau and co-chairman of the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development, also spoke in support of a new committee, emphasizing the possibility for innovation and job growth in the sector.

“For many years and decades we’ve talked about preserving agriculture, protecting it from inevitable loss,” said Talmage. “We need to recognize that this is an opportunity and not a problem.”

Bacchiochi said that the select committee “would not add a penny” to the budget, an assertion that was challenged by Democratic House Majority Leader Rep. Brendan Sharkey, who released a statement slamming the proposal as redundant and expensive.

“How can Republicans with a straight face call for more cuts to state government when they are proposing unnecessary and costly ideas like adding another committee to the Legislature?” Sharkey wrote in the release that was sent out Thursday.

“Just last month, the Governor’s Council for Agricultural Development was re-established to find ways to meet local demand for Connecticut-grown food and agricultural products and grow the state’s agricultural sector and economy,” Sharkey wrote.

Responding to Sharkey’s criticism, Kissel reiterated that the select committee could be created for a minimal cost and that it was a question of prioritization.

“This building should have a commitment to agriculture now,” he said.
Bacchiochi said that she and Kissel reached out to Democrats for support before the announcement.
“We’re firing the first salvo this afternoon and if our Democratic colleagues want to run forward with it, that’s great,” said Kissel.