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November 16th, 2018

VOTE FOR VERMONT: Assisting Vermont’s 7,000 Farms

Meet Vermont’s newly appointed State Director of the Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency (FSA) – Wendy Wilton! You might know her as Rutland City’s Treasurer and as a former candidate for State Treasurer. Wendy spent the last 10 years serving Rutland as the Treasurer, Tax Collector and Pension Administrator. She accomplished a great deal while in Rutland. She put the City’s financial house in order, recovered from a $5M deficit and achieved a “clean” audit for the City after 31 years of adverse audits.

Prior to her years in Rutland, Wendy worked for Vermont’s Small Business Development Center, where she advised small businesses including agricultural businesses. She also served in the Vermont Senate and was a member of the Senate Agricultural Committee 2005-2006.

Wendy was appointed to her new position by President Trump in November 2017. Wendy brings to this assignment a strong financial background and lending experience.

After her appointment, Wendy attended a meeting in Washington, D.C. at the USDA to hear Secretary Sonny Perdue talk about his views on agriculture. Purdue is a strong believer in good government, in that it should operate efficiently and serve the needs of its customers: the people of the United States – a philosophy which Wendy has embraced for years.

His expectations of state directors are that they will “help ensure that the USDA is offering the best customer service to all farmers, ranchers, foresters and agricultural producers across the country”.

Pat McDonald and Ben Kinsley, co-producers and co-hosts of Vote for Vermont, a public access TV show, invited Wendy to discuss her new role as State Director of FSA and to introduce herself to Vermont farmers and other members of Vermont’s agricultural sector and to talk about the critical funding programs her office provides for farms in Vermont. We talked about the complexities and challenges of farming to include land use, water quality, economic viability, the high cost of capital investments, environmental structures, etc. We discussed how long it’s taking Vermont to clean up Lake Champlain and went back as far as the Vermont Clean & Clear Action Plan which was introduced in 2003. The Clean & Clear initiative was funded with FSA loans. We talked about how Vermont farmers want to do the right thing and look to the FSA and other resources for guidance.

There are two different areas under Wendy’s supervision: one is the agricultural loan program which is responsible for direct loans to farmers and loan guarantees and the second section is where all services and programs reside to assist farmers to include conservation programs, disaster assistance, crop insurance and price supports. Currently FSA has nearly $200 million in outstanding farm loans in Vermont.

Wendy explained that there are 9 county offices located around the State. There are approximately 45 employees statewide dedicated to assisting farms and farmers in the State. FSA serves agriculture by providing federal program benefits such as annual operating loans and land purchases, commodity price supports, disaster relief and conservation. There are also 9 county farm boards comprised of farmers elected to individual boards. They work with the FSA executive director to provide input on both current and potential programs.

We talked a little about the amazing technological and innovated advances which are being made in farming. Wendy mentioned that farmers can direct their combine through their smart phone. Wendy talked about a farmer in Vermont who sells the white wispy floss in milkweed to be used as a “plant-based” insulating material in clothing. How is that for innovation?

The FSA’s website makes available many on-line programs. It contains a great deal of technical and financial information along with numerous fact sheets to include information on bees & pollinators, conservation, dairy, disaster protection & recovery, energy and fish.

Wendy noted that one of the items to be dealt with by Congress in 2018 is the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill authorizes a variety of USDA (FSA) programs such as agricultural support, conservation and nutrition programs. Vermont FSA will work with farmers to ensure what the needs of the agricultural community and along with other entities relay those needs to the USDA and Vermont’s congressional delegation.

Another area of critical importance to Vermont farms is the regulating of milk prices through the Federal Milk Order System.

Note: There were a lot of other issues discussed with Wendy. If you would like to see the show go to Vote802.com where you can find this show and other Vote for Vermont shows on YouTube. Writeups of other shows can be found on Vote802.com/blog. Wendy can be reached at 802-658-2803 at the state office. Her email is wendy.wilton@vt.usda.gov.

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