Q&A: Chuck Ross, from farm family to farm chief

first_imgGovernor Peter Shumlin’s appointment of Chuck Ross as secretary of agriculture won praise from Vermont farmers as well as political insiders. Ross, 55, is well known for his work as Senator Patrick Leahy’s state director for the past 16 years. He also served six years in the Vermont Legislature as a representative from Hinesburg, where he has worked as a farmer on his family’s homestead. Discussion with Chuck Ross, Vermont Agriculture Secretary Part 1 More videosVermont Business Magazine reporter Kevin Kelley recently spoke with Ross about his plans for the state’s agricultural economy. An edited transcript of the hour-long conversation follows (video of the interview can be found by clicking the picture above. All five parts of this interview can be found by clicking “More Videos” or going to www.vermontbiz.com/videos):         VBM: Please start by telling us about your background in agriculture.        ROSS: Two aspects of my background are relevant. One is certainly my experience working with Senator Leahy on the Agriculture Committee, on dairy and other farming issues.        The other part is that my family has been involved in agriculture for generations, both on my father’s and mother’s side.My father is a native Vermonter, seventh generation. His family owned an orchard on Lake Champlain and exported apples from their dock before World War I. They also raised trotters and owned a wood lot in Huntington where we cut Christmas trees.        I was running a part of the family business with 500 acres of square-baled hay in Hinesburg. I also managed farm operations in Iowa on land that was on my mother’s side. Her family were original sod-busters in Iowa.        VBM: In your work with Leahy you became probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the country on the complex subject of price supports for agriculture. What would you say is the likelihood that Vermont dairy farmers might finally get good, stable pricing for their product?        ROSS: Some years ago we started the interstate dairy compact which passed in Congress largely through the efforts of Sen. Leahy. It worked really well for the Northeast dairy community but it was never a permanent law; it always had a sunset provision. Dairy politics led to its demise because it not seen as being as favorable to other parts of the country with dairy interests.        Prices have been volatile since then. I remember about five years ago sitting in Sen. Leahy’s office with Vermont dairy farmers who wanted him to fix the problem. We said the senator can’t fix the problem unless his colleagues hear from their own farmers that they want a solution as well. Rather than lobby us, who are already supportive, we suggested they reach out to dairy farmers around the country.That led to a lot of Vermont dairy farmers flying around the country on their own nickel, which in turn led to awareness of the need for a new dairy pricing system and a unified approach for such a proposal.        Until about a month or two ago, it had the support of both processors and producers, but as it came closer to becoming an actual legislative proposal the processors broke away.        Congress is in a difficult place right now. They don’t need more budget impacts and they don’t want to jump into managing a divisive conversation about dairy. We’ve gone from having a great chance to see a unified dairy community pushing for a proposal that Congress would be quite likely to take up, to a situation that isn’t as positive.        But I haven’t given up hope. There’s still a good chance we can get something done. We’ve got a well-placed delegation from the Northeast.        VBM: Speaking of budget impacts, Congress is making lots of cuts in lots of programs. What do you think will be the effect in Vermont of Congress’ cuts in agriculture?        ROSS: The proposal we’ve been working on is believed to actually produce a savings for the budget, but it has not been scored by the CBO [Congressional Budget Office], and that’s the acid test.        We’re not immune from federal budget cuts on other fronts. It will play out in the farm bill with potential reductions in nutrition programs, which help people buy food, and probable reductions in conservation programs, which help fund practices that mitigate impacts on water quality in the state.        Energy programs involving agriculture will take a big hit. There will be a cut in the Agriculture Innovation Center supported by Sen. Leahy that has helped fund Vermont farmers on energy programs and in diversifying agriculture. It was going to be funded for a million dollars and it just got zeroed out.        VBM: Governor Shumlin speaks of an agricultural renaissance in Vermont. What’s your strategy for making that happen?        ROSS: I’m actually very bullish on Vermont agriculture because we have a foundation, built by the dairy community, that includes the critical assets of farm land as well as highly talented businessmen and businesswomen. They’ve had to be highly talented in order to survive the recession of the past two years. We also have access to a powerful market stretching from Montreal, to Boston, to New York.        As for the renaissance, there are young people interested in agriculture ‘ some of them trained specifically in it, others educated in fields that have given them an interest in agriculture. They’re smart and motivated.Vermont is seeing an increasing number of non-dairy farmers but we’re also seeing an increase in dairy farmers. Yes, a lot of dairy farms are going out, but they’re also coming in. Some of them are organic or diversified farms.        The renaissance of agriculture in Vermont is mainly about dairy. You’ve got Commonwealth [a yogurt maker] starting up in Brattleboro as well as all the artisanal cheese makers. Vermont is recognized as one of the top three artisanal cheese locations in the world; there’s us, Quebec and France.        Our biggest challenge in the agency is providing the regulatory support to make the renaissance continue and expand.        VBM: Part of it has to do with community-supported agriculture [CSAs: farms that grow food for distribution to prepaid members.] There are more and more CSAs around the state, right?        ROSS: Yes, and there’s also the issue of slaughter facilities, making them more widely available for Vermont farms that raise animals. There’s a lot of demand for infrastructure support.        We’ve also had the growth of a whole food hub in Hardwick, which has been a bright beacon on the agricultural landscape in Vermont. But Hardwick isn’t alone. You can look at the Intervale right in Burlington which, despite the problems with composting, has been a raging success. There’s talk of having a food processing center there.        We’re also seeing it happening in Rutland, which has historically been quiet on agriculture. Now there’s a group there called RAFFL [Rutland Area Farm and Food Link] that’s creating local food hubs. If you go to the farmers’ market in Rutland, you’ll see it’s really dynamic.        VBM: The whole localvore ethic is important for Vermont ag, right? Maybe we’ll see more farms with non-traditional products.        ROSS: Yes, we have an increasingly diverse agricultural economy, but dairy will continue to be a huge and necessary part of it because of dairy’s support for infrastructure. Dairy has also kept the land open in Vermont and put opportunities in place.The localvore ethic helps new farmers stand up their businesses and get to the point of scaling up their businesses.Learning how to support a local agricultural economy is important for its positive health benefits as well as agricultural and economic benefits. Fletcher Allen has spent years figuring out how to source food locally. The hospital is buying food from the Intervale because it’s healthy and tasty for its clients. Dollars meanwhile go into the local economy and not away from it. It closes a circle by supporting local producers who are supporting your mother who may be in the hospital.VBM: What about agro-tourism? Do you think that will be important to Vermont’s farming sector?ROSS: I’d say agro-culinary tourism. We’re looking at proposals to build that market, working closely with the Agency of Commerce. I actually spend more time with Lawrence Miller [secretary of commerce] than with anyone else outside my own agency.Agro-culinary tourism does offer a tremendous opportunity. Vermont is becoming a popular food destination. NECI [the New England Culinary Institute] has had a big impact in populating our towns with people who know how to cook.VBM: You’ve been in office four months and have at least 20 months more to go. What do you want to achieve in this term? What’s the one biggest thing you want to achieve?ROSS: I’d like to assist in the implementation of Farm to Plate [a 10-year strategic plan to strengthen Vermont’s food systems.] It will be a comprehensive road map for how to build the future of agriculture.I would also like to participate in passing national legislation on dairy pricing. It’s something that’s beyond my control because it’s on the federal level, but I can certainly help if we do go in that direction.I also want to see us make strides on more effectively addressing water quality issues.Agriculture is part of that but it’s not by any means exclusively so. The problems that we have in Lake Champlain, for example, were not created in the past five years and are not going to be solved in the next five years. They’re a product of our society over the past 50 years or even 100 years. It’s not fair, in my view, to hoist today’s farmers on the petard of yesterday’s failures and to tell them you’re responsible for solving the problem.It will take years for Lake Champlain to get better. We have to all take responsibility for making that happen.The risk Vermonters face on the water quality issue is that we’ll stand among ourselves and point fingers, saying, ‘you’re the problem; no, you’re the problem.’‘ We should instead be standing together with our arms locked.There’s a lot of emotion around this issue but it needs to be channeled in a constructive way.        VBM: Let’s go back to the dairy situation in Vermont. Production is up even though there are fewer farms and even fewer cows. Do you think that trend will continue?        ROSS: Production fluctuates, but if the price of milk stays relatively stable I do expect production to go steadily up in Vermont. The reason is there’s a level of demand for our exports that we haven’t seen in a while.        Historically, prices move in a cyclical direction, so they’ll probably go down again at some point.        Yes, there has been a decline in the number of farms, but that’s been offset in terms of production by more efficient management and improvements in bovine genetics. Also, our dairy farmers are as good as any in being able to squeeze a little more output from their inputs.        VBM: Is it inevitable that Vermont dairy farmers will rely more on BST [bovine somatotropin, an injected growth hormone that increases cows’ milk production]?        ROSS: No. Consumers aren’t demanding it. We’re actually seeing an awakening of consumers’ interest in how their food is produced, who’s producing it and where. That’s expressing itself all over the country, especially in New England.        In Vermont, which is a small place, people can know who the farmers are, where that special cut of beef comes from, who produces their milk and cheese. Cabot has seen phenomenal growth in a declining market for cheese because they produce a great product.        VBM: So there’s an opportunity for marketing Vermont as BST-free?        ROSS: There was an upsurge in farmers’ use of BST and then consumers started asking questions about it and we saw many producers move away from it.        VBM: How widespread is the use of BST in Vermont now?        ROSS: I don’t have those statistics. The agency’s budget is being slashed and we don’t have the personnel to collect those stats.         VBM: Are there technologies related to agriculture that are being developed in Vermont that we might export to other states?        ROSS: Bio-digesters leap to mind. We’re the No. 1 state in bio-digesters per capita. This is a wonderful technology that helps farmers manage manure systems and produces a product that farmers can use. Bio-digesters also burn up methane which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.        It’s a technology that’s also generating research opportunities at the University of Vermont. They’re exploring ways to mitigate the methane emissions of cows by looking at the ruminant systems of cows. Getting better bugs into the digesters would also allow them to generate more methane.        The aim is to drive the economics of methane digesters to they can be used on ever-smaller farms. Right now, they make sense for a farm of one size but not of another.        VBM: We should talk about climate change. It’s the elephant in the room for a lot of the issues we have been talking about. Maybe Vermont will jump up one agricultural zone so we become where Connecticut is now. That will have both positive and negative effects.        ROSS: You need to be careful about being a fortune teller. If the climate does change, which I personally believe is happening, that’s going to make it more difficult for us to do some of the things we’re doing now but maybe also give us some opportunities we don’t have today.        Vermont can play a role in initiatives to mitigate climate change. If we can figure out how to produce ethanol from material besides corn, that will be an opportunity for Vermont farmers. Certain grasses could be made into a biofuel that would be an alternative to Number 6 or Number 2 heating oil.        Being able to leverage bio-digesters so they can be used on a greater number of farms will help mitigate the greenhouse gas impact.        Climate change could also bring us more invasive species, causing sugar maples to be crowded out in the forest. Buckthorn is a classic example of that.        VBM: So the Shumlin administration doesn’t have a definitive plan for dealing with potential climate change?        ROSS: I’m not aware of any definitive plan. I am aware of us working with the governor to figure out the most effective roles we can play on this issue.        Climate change is one of a number of ecological issues we’re facing in the 21st century. It may be the most important one, but it’s certainly not the only one. It will take a long-term effort to address it, and that’s not something you’re going to develop in the first three months of an administration.        VBM: How’s the Vermont apple industry doing these days?        ROSS: One of the biggest problems confronting apple growers in recent years is the ease with which they can get workers in from Jamaica to help them. Some of the Jamaicans have been coming here for generations ‘ 30 years to the same farms. These aren’t foreign workers who represent a threat to us or who are using all kinds of social services.        VBM: The same is true for dairy, isn’t it?        ROSS: Dairy farmers and apple growers are willing to employ Vermonters, but they aren’t getting them to sign up for these jobs. Just as the Irish and Italians did a couple of generations ago in the granite industry and textile industry, workers from Mexico and Jamaica are fulfilling an important role in agriculture. It’s important to remember that they were us a few generations ago.        VBM: Do you see Vermont wines as a growth sector or is that always going to be just a niche product?        ROSS: We’ve got two outstanding commodities now in maple syrup and milk/cheese. Are we going to get to the place where we compete on wines with California? I expect not. But we can get more competitive within a niche market.        Vermont has a lot of cachet. One of our opportunities is to leverage that cachet so we can do with Vermont wine what we’ve done with artisan cheese.Vermont meat is highly desired in certain marketplaces, so we’ve got to continue to ensure it’s of high quality because that’s what people are willing to pay for, which gives us better than an average price for the products we produce.        Vermont wine continues to grow as a commodity, and we will see our vintners get better at making it.        VBM: In introducing you and Lawrence Miller, Gov. Shumlin said something to the effect of ‘this is my jobs team.’ Can you talk about how agriculture can be a source of job growth and economic development in Vermont?        ROSS: I’ve been studying agriculture for much of my life, and I know it’s often overlooked as a fundamental part of our economy. There are agricultural businesses on Vermont Business Magazine’s list of the top 100 companies in the state. There are also some agricultural enterprises that don’t appear on your list but that should. Some of them would show up in the middle and some near the top of that list.        You may not think of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters as an agricultural business, but that’s what it is. Green Mountain imports an agricultural commodity, processes it and then exports it.        Governor Shumlin is right in saying that agriculture and commerce belong together. Farming is not some luxury habit that people engage in here. There may be a few of those, but when you talk to Vermont farmers, you’re talking to business men and women who know how to operate a tractor and how to balance their books.        The dairy industry alone accounts for some $2 billion a year in economic activity in Vermont. If we grow locally the amount of food we consume in Vermont, that will add 1,500 jobs in the next 10 years in agriculture. It’s not going to happen in one place, so it may not be as visible as a business that grows in one place.        If you want to know how to spend a dollar most effectively in the local economy, the answer is through agriculture. Farms are so plugged in to the local hardware store and feed store. When I was farming, I was in my town all the time buying stuff.        People continually miss the pervasiveness of agriculture in their local economy. Kevin Kelley is a freelance writer from Burlington.last_img read more

Mackay: McManaman a wanted man

first_imgWest Brom face a fight from three other Barclays Premier League clubs to sign winger Callum McManaman from Wigan, who look set to lose their FA Cup final heroes Shaun Maloney and Ben Watson. “There’s a deal been struck as to why Shaun’s not going to be waiting until the summer. Chicago and ourselves have come to an agreement that he can leave immediately. “He’s a terrific lad but he wants to further his career somewhere else now.” Speaking before Watson’s move was confirmed, Mackay said: “He’s a terrific lad but he’s out of contract at the end of the season. “He’s a London boy, his family will be moving back to that area and I’ve got to be realistic. He’s been a terrific servant for this football club, obviously he scored the winning goal in a very historic game for this football club, so there’s fond memories there, and for the last seven weeks he’s been a joy to be around. “He wants to play every week between now and the end of the season and with his lifestyle he wanted to get back down to London. I’m not going to stand in the boy’s way when his mind is somewhere else.” Press Association Latics boss Malky Mackay confirmed the Sky Bet Championship club had turned down the Baggies’ second offer for McManaman, 23, this week but they are not the only top-flight club showing interest in the ex-Everton trainee. Hull are another of the quartet of clubs tempted by a player Roy Hodgson said he considered for a senior England call-up in 2013. “The second bid has been rejected, that’s where we are with that,” Mackay said of West Brom’s latest approach. Asked about interest from former Latics manager and current Hull boss Steve Bruce, the Scot added: “There’s been no formal bid but there’s been an enquiry. There’s been an enquiry from a few clubs but I have great respect for Steve Bruce so I don’t want to say any more than that.” Mackay later admitted there were four Premier League clubs keepings tabs on McManaman, who is expected to be in Wigan’s squad to face Huddersfield on Saturday after serving a three-match suspension. McManaman shone in the 2013 FA Cup final against Manchester City and the two men who were involved in the goal which provided the most memorable moment in Wigan’s entire history that day are set to depart. The club have reached an agreement with MLS side Chicago Fire to send Scotland international Maloney to the United States, while Ben Watson has joined fellow Championship club Watford until the end of the season. It was Maloney’s corner which Watson headed home in the 1-0 victory over Manchester City and the expected exits of those two players represents the end of an era for the club. “We’ve agreed terms with Chicago Fire for Shaun to leave imminently,” said Mackay. “That’s going to be happen in the next day or so. last_img read more

Irvine warns Cavendish over Rio

first_img Irvine told Press Association Sport: “I don’t think Cavendish has done an omnium at that kind of level. “Even if he shows up, he probably wouldn’t breeze it. I wouldn’t say he’d get his eyes opened, because he’s got good track skills, but it’s definitely not something that can be taken lightly. “The guys who are consistently good are guys who do a lot of omniums, a lot of track racing, and they’re good across the board. “If some fast man comes in, he could win one of the sprint events, but then he’d get tortured in an endurance event and that’s him out of the running. That’s the nature of that beast.” Cavendish is a 25-time Tour de France stage winner and 2011 world champion on the road. He is twice a Madison world champion and withdrew from the 2008 Tour de France to finalise preparations for Beijing, only to finish ninth in the Madison with Bradley Wiggins. That saw him suffer the ignominy of being the only British track rider to return from China without a medal and he vowed never to ride the track again. He was a surprise inclusion in the British team for the 2009 Track World Championships six months later in Pruszkow, Poland, but has not raced in international colours at that level in the six years since. Press Association British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton may have been hoping his comments that the door was almost closed for Cavendish, whose road commitments take precedence, would spark a guarantee of participation from the 29-year-old. But claiming a medal would not be a matter of just turning up even for a rider of Cavendish’s calibre, according to Irvine, the 2013 world scratch race champion who is eyeing omnium success in Brazil. The change to the omnium format, favouring bunch racers like Cavendish, has piqued his interest, but possibly not enough for him to sacrifice a whole season on the road, where he has been employed to devastating effect since his breakthrough year in 2007. Cavendish is out of contract with Etixx-QuickStep at the end of 2015, but both parties are keen to extend, although the Belgian squad would be reluctant to allow him the time to race indoors that he would need. Should Cavendish, who is 30 in May, miss Rio – where an undulating road race course would end his prospects – there is the distinct probability that one of Britain’s greatest cyclists would finish his career without an Olympic medal. Team Sky’s Ben Swift, who preceded Irvine as scratch race world champion by winning in Melbourne in 2012, is another who is assessing his options, but he is capable of success on the Rio road course. Irvine said: “There’s two ways of looking at it. There’s the pure World Tour endurance rider and then there’s the specialists, like myself. “I believe I can compete with the best on the track, I specialise for it. They can go off and race around the world all they want, but I can just drill out pursuits, kilos and flying laps and tune myself.” Irvine’s preparations take place in Majorca, as there is no velodrome in Ireland. Had things worked out differently, the 29-year-old from Newtownards might have been Britain’s track contender for Rio, only he was not part of British Cycling’s talent conveyor belt. “It’s just my unconventional way of doing things,” he said. “They were cherry picking 15-year-olds and I was lying under a car at that age (working as a mechanic). “But I’m not really one for structure. I probably would’ve got shot out and it could’ve all gone horribly wrong in a controlled environment. The way I did it suited me.” Irvine hopes his round-a-bout route could yet lead to success at next week’s Track World Championships in Paris and in Rio. “I believe I’ve the talent in me to do that result (in Rio),” added Irvine, who has had an injury-hit season this year. “I just need to be really selfish and plan just for that one thing. “I wouldn’t be doing it just to turn up for the kit and be another also-ran.” Mark Cavendish has been warned Olympic success is no guarantee even if he commits for the Rio de Janeiro Games, by Ireland’s Martyn Irvine, who is chasing a medal himself.last_img read more

VCU faces UMass in A10 tourney

first_imgVCU faces UMass in A10 tourney STEPPING UP: UMass’ Tre Mitchell has averaged 17.7 points and 7.2 rebounds while Carl Pierre has put up 12.1 points. For the Rams, Marcus Santos-Silva has averaged 12.8 points and 8.9 rebounds while De’Riante Jenkins has put up 10.3 points and four rebounds.SPARKING THE OFFENSE: Mitchell has either made or assisted on 53 percent of all UMass field goals over the last three games. The freshman big man has accounted for 26 field goals and 10 assists in those games.PERFECT WHEN: VCU is a perfect 6-0 when the team makes at least 79.3 percent of its free throws. The Rams are 12-13 when they shoot below 79.3 percent from the line.THREAT FROM DEEP: UMass’s Pierre has attempted 224 3-pointers and connected on 33.5 percent of them, and is 9 of 36 over the last five games.TOUGH DEFENSE: VCU has forced opponents into committing turnovers on 24.7 percent of all possessions this year, the eighth-highest rate among all Division I teams. Associated Press March 10, 2020center_img Share This StoryFacebookTwitteremailPrintLinkedinRedditNo. 9 seed VCU (18-13, 8-10) vs. No. 8 seed UMass (14-17, 8-10)Atlantic 10 Conference Tourney Second Round, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York; Thursday, 11 p.m. EDTBOTTOM LINE: VCU is set to match up against UMass in the second round of the A10 tournament. The only meeting between the teams this season came on Feb. 26, when the Minutemen shot 42.9 percent from the field while holding VCU to just 31.6 percent en route to a 60-52 victory. ___For more AP college basketball coverage: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25___This was generated by Automated Insights, http://www.automatedinsights.com/ap, using data from STATS LLC, https://www.stats.comlast_img read more

Brisbanes Emporium Hotel wins Best Luxury Accommodation in Queensland

first_imgSource = Kath Rose & Associates 2012 Queensland Tourism Awards shine light on best of the bestWhen luxury service, facilities, design and approach are called for, Brisbane’s Emporium Hotel is never found wanting. Last night at the 2012 Queensland Tourism Awards this independently owned and operated shining star was awarded best of the best – taking the title of Best Luxury Accommodation in Queensland. It is the third time the hotel has won the title, winning in 2008 and 2009, and according to owners and the couple behind the design and concept of the property, Anthony & Francine John, this year’s win is the most exciting. “Delivering consistent world class luxury accommodation and service takes incredible commitment and training and we are so very proud of the team” said Tony John. “Led by General Manager Peter Savoff, they take the concept of ‘hospitality’ always to a new level. It is a highly competitive time in the tourism industry; no more than in the top end of the accommodation sector and we must also thank our guests and supporters who fill our hotel,” said Tony John.“As Brisbane continues to position itself as Australia’s leading world city, such as being the “opening night city of choice’ for some of the world’s leading productions and entertainers, it is important a luxury hotel in Brisbane can exceed international guest expectations. This we do, and will continue to do as a shining light for Queensland,” he said. The stunning win comes on the back of a highly successful year for the hotel. “Just this week we celebrated officially achieving Silver Certification with EarthCheck, a badge that took more than three years to earn and positions the hotel as a leader in the unique worldwide group of sustainable tourism operators who bear the internationally recognised EarthCheck Certification Standard,” he said. This year Emporium Hotel also won – for the fourth time – Best Boutique Hotel in Australia, at the prestigious Hospitality Management (HM) Awards for Excellence and Best Deluxe Hotel, 5 Star+ 2012 Queensland Hotels Association Awards for Excellence. The hotel is ready for Summer 2012/13 with the recently announced Summer Daze at Emporium Hotel – featuring luxury overnight accommodation in a King Suite including a choice of either a bottle of French Sparkling, or two of the famous Emporium Hotel Summer Cocktails, or complimentary Valet Parking. From only $229 per room per night, the package is valid from 15 December 2012 through to 31 January 2013 and is the ultimate way to unwind, relax and enjoy Queensland’s gorgeous summer days.last_img read more