Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives
in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same,
Whereas: There are nearly 700,000 acres of land in Massachusetts which is owned and managed by farmers. The continued urbanization of this state is making this land more and more important as open space, wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge zones and as a buffer to the environmental impacts associated with increases in population density, and;
Whereas: Farmers across the state are faced with a growing morass of regulation and restriction which is increasing the cost of farming and jeopardizing the future economic viability of our farms. This, in turn, jeopardizes the open space which is supported by the agricultural operation, and;
Whereas: Although the Wetlands Protection Act exempts "work performed for normal maintenance or improvement of land in agricultural use: many routine and long standing farm operations are being challenged by local and state agencies, creating confusion, frustration and in some cases, costly delays. The intent of this Act is to establish a uniform definition to assist the agricultural community in complying with the Wetlands Protection Act and reducing the current uncertainty that exists.
SECTION 2. Section 40 of Chapter 131 of the General Laws, is hereby amended by inserting, after the eighteenth (18) paragraph, the following paragraph:
Within one hundred and twenty days of the effective date of this act, the department, upon the advice and consent of the Commissioner of the Department of Food and Agriculture, shall promulgate rules and regulations pursuant to this section which shall establish definitions for the term "normal maintenance or improvement of land in agricultural, or in aquacultural use", for each agricultural commodity, or where appropriate because of similarities in cultural practices, groups or commodities in the Commonwealth. The department shall create a farmland advisory board to be appointed by the commissioner consisting of five persons one a member of the cooperative extension service, one a member of the USDA soil conservation service, one a member of a municipal conservation commission who has demonstrated expertise in agricultural issues, and two commercial farmers with expertise in different agricultural commodities to assist the department in the drafting of rules and regulations pursuant to this paragraph.
SECTION 3. Chapter 131 of the General Laws is hereby further amended by inserting after Section 40A, the following Section:
Section 40B. The farmland advisory committee established in paragraph nineteen of section 40 of this chapter shall meet quarterly and at the call of the commissioner or upon written request of any two members. The committee is charged with advising the commissioner relative to the definitions of "normal maintenance or improvement of land in agricultural or aquacultural use and other issues relating to agriculture including but not limited to, consistency in federal and state statutes, rules, and regulations pursuant to agricultural activities governed by Chapter 131, Section 40, of the general laws and issues affecting agriculture pursuant to Chapter 21G of the general laws. The farmland advisory committee, in conjunction with the department, shall make an annual report to the committee on natural resources and agriculture as to their activities under this section.
SECTION 4. The department of environmental quality engineering shall submit any rules and regulations promulgated under the provisions of this act to the committee on natural resources and agriculture for its review within thirty days prior to the effective date of said regulations.