Issues with unregistered farmers aired

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(PNC graphic by Ricky De Guzman)

Another bill aiming to prevent farm theft was recently heard at the legislature. The legislation also firms up requirements for those who want to register as a bonafide farmer on Guam and also regulates the selling of agricultural products only to registered farmers.

Under Bill 63, any business that buys local produce must ensure that the farmer who sold them the product is registered as a bonafide farmer with the Department of Agriculture.

BIll 63 also proposes that any business found buying produce from anyone that is not a bona fide farmer would be subject to possible suspension or even revocation of their business license, according to Senator Clynt Ridgell, the author of the bill.

The legislation is a companion bill to Bill 62 and both pieces of legislation address agricultural theft.

Bill 62, which was passed recently by the Legislature, amends the law by making it clear that agricultural theft is considered theft of property and therefore illegal. It also would require violators to pay the market value of the stolen produce plus the cost of production as well as allow authorities to confiscate equipment and vehicles used in stealing the produce.

Agriculture director Chelsa Muna Brecht provided testimony at the hearing. Aside from agricultural theft, she says there are other reasons why the department worked with the senator’s office for this bill.

She says they would hear complaints from registered farmers about blackmarket farmers who would undercut the sales of registered farmers. There are also concerns about pesticide use by unregistered farmers.

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“They had contracted customers who would buy their produce only to show up and find that an unregistered farmer had come before them and offered their produce at a fraction of the price that the bonafide farmer was selling,” she said.

Muna Brecht says they also want to protect legitimate farmers in a market where they are competing with farmers who may illegally be farming on Chamorro Land Trust land.

Agriculture has been working with Chamorro Land Trust in identifying these farmers and lessees.

“Through conversations and as part of investigations conducted, the agency has found that there are some Chamorro Land Trust lessees holding leases to agricultural lands but then who are not farmers farming the land and they are not in a partnership with the person who is farming the land but rather illegally subleasing that land,” she said during the hearing.

Additional subcategories

Muna Brecht said they will be working with the senator to create subcategories for the bonafide farmer certification

As written now, a bonafide certification is required for those who are commercially selling agricultural products for a profit, according to Muna Brecht. But they would like to add subsistence or beginning farmers who are not yet commercially engaged on the list. 

She added: “The requirements would be the same with the exception of reporting any commercial profits.” 

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Louella Losinio
Louella Losinio is PNC's News Director for TV and Digital Media. She was a former reporter for the Marianas Variety (Guam Edition) and the Guam Daily Post, former editor-in-chief and co-founder of the Pacific Island Times, As a freelance writer, she has contributed content to various regional and local publications such as the Marianas Business Journal, Guam Business Magazine, The Guamanian, and Island Times. Aside from her decade-long experience in the media and print industry, Louella has experience in technical writing, education, and nonprofit management.