What is an Agricultural Commission?
The local legislative body of any New Hampshire city or town may establish an agricultural commission (Ag Com) to recognize, promote, and encourage farming and agricultural-based economic opportunities, and conserve agricultural land and resources. An agricultural commission has advisory and review authority to work with the boards and agencies of local government.
The purpose of an agricultural commission is to protect agricultural lands, preserve rural character, provide a voice for farmers, and encourage agriculture-based businesses and activities. For years New Hampshire farmers have served as stewards of land and water resources, including habitat for native plants and animals. As New Hampshire communities grow and change, citizens are looking for ways to support local farms, and foster new ones.
Agricultural commissions are a new idea for New Hampshire municipalities seeking to balance growth and quality of life issues, and preserve local character. As prescribed by NH law, 674:44-e, an agricultural commission may be established in accordance with RSA 673 for the proper recognition, promotion, enhancement, encouragement, use, management, and protection of agriculture and agricultural resources, tangible or intangible, that are valued for their economic, aesthetic, cultural, historic, or community significance within their natural, built, or cultural contexts. The word “agriculture” shall include the entirety of RSA 21:34-a, which is the definition of farm, agriculture, and farming.
Citizens can use an agricultural commission to help keep farming viable and vibrant in their community, whether rural, small town, suburban or urban.
What does an Agricultural Commission do?
An agricultural commission advises other town boards and advocates for the interests and needs of agriculture in the community. It has no regulatory or enforcement powers. Ag com members work cooperatively with other town or city governing and land-use boards and commissions to ensure the concerns and interests of farmers are better understood and considered in decision-making.
An agricultural commission may:
- Conduct inventories of agricultural resources, historic farms and farm buildings,
- Educate the public on matters relating to farming and agriculture,
- Serve as a local voice advocating for farmers, farm businesses and farm interests,
- Provide visibility for farming,
- Give farmers a place to go to for help,
- Help resolve farm-related problems or conflicts,
- Help protect farmland and other natural resources
- Conduct activities to recognize, promote, enhance, and encourage agriculture, agricultural resources, and agricultural-based economic opportunities.
- Assist the planning board, as requested, in the development and review of those sections of the master plan which address agricultural resources.
- Advise, upon request, local agencies and other local boards in their review of requests on matters affecting or potentially affecting agricultural resources.
Who can start an Agricultural Commission?
A resident or group of residents interested in farming, farm businesses, rural character, open space, etc., can start organizing support for creating an agricultural commission. The local legislative body establishes the agricultural commission. In towns with town meeting government, citizens can initiate a warrant article to establish an agricultural commission.
Who can serve on an Agricultural Commission?
An agricultural commission can have from three to seven members, appointed in a manner prescribed by the local legislative body—town meeting or town or city council, and up to five alternate members.
Each agricultural commission member shall be a resident of the city or town which establishes the commission. One commission member may be a member of the local governing body. One commission member may be a member of the planning board. Not more than 5 alternate members may be appointed. When an alternate sits in absence or disqualification of a regular member, the alternate shall have full voting powers. In determining each member’s qualifications, the appointing authority shall take into consideration the appointee’s demonstrated interest and ability to understand, appreciate, and promote the purpose of the agricultural commission.
Members of an agricultural commission also may serve on other municipal boards and commissions, including but not limited to a conservation commission, a historic district commission, or a heritage commission.
Does an Agricultural Commission cost the town money?
Each town decides what is an appropriate budget for the agricultural commission and other municipal boards. The New Hampshire statute specifies that a town or city may appropriate money as deemed necessary to carry out the purposes of an agricultural commission. All or any part of money so appropriated in any year and any gifts of money received pursuant to RSA 674:44-f shall be placed in an agricultural fund and allowed to accumulate from year to year.
The town treasurer, pursuant to RSA 41:29, shall have custody of all moneys in the agricultural fund and shall pay out the same only upon order of the agricultural commission. The disbursement of agricultural funds shall be authorized by a majority of the agricultural commission. The use of such funds shall not be for the purchase of any interest in real property.
Are Agricultural Commissions regulatory?
Agricultural commissions are created to represent farming interests in the town, but do not have any regulatory or enforcement authority.
What NH towns have established Agricultural Commissions?
As of January 2015, agricultural commissions or committees are operational in the towns of:
- Brookfield, Boscawen (2010)
- Canterbury (2009), Chester (2011), Chichester (2010)
- Durham (2011)
- East Kingston (East Kingston), Effingham (2010)
- Fitzwilliam (2011)
- Harrisville (2011), Hollis (2009)
- Lee (2008), Loudon (2009)
- Marlow (2008), Merrimack (2008)
- Nelson (2011), Newton (2011), North Hampton (2009)
- Peterborough (2011)
- Richmond (2011)
- Sandwich (2010)
- Tuftonborough (2009)
- Weare (2008), Wolfboro (2009), Webster
List compiled by Nada Haddad, Field Specialist, Food & Agriculture, UNH Cooperative Extension, Rockingham County
Complete list available as a PDF for downloading and printing.
The guide provides information on how to establish an agricultural commission to promote, enhance and encourage the interests of farming, agricultural resources and rural aspects of community life where you live.
The PowerPoint introduces citizens to the value of New Hampshire agriculture, and to agricultural commissions as a new tool for supporting local agriculture.
Massachusetts has several more years of experience with establishing local agricultural commissions to promote and foster farming and rural heritage in towns and cities affected by growth and development. Find more information about and for agricultural commissions on the Massachusetts Agricultural Commission website.