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Published December 29, 2008, 06:00 AM

Ag: Farm Bureau sets agenda

Minnesota farmers, concerned about the pending state budget deficit, want lawmakers to hold the line on spending.

By: Brad Swenson Bemidji Pioneer, Worthington Daily Globe

Minnesota farmers, concerned about the pending state budget deficit, want lawmakers to hold the line on spending.

They’re also concerned about animal welfare issues, as activist efforts mount to restrict livestock operations. Control of bovine tuberculosis continues as a concern, as does continued support of alternative sources of energy.

Delegates of the 27,300-member Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation prepared for 2009 by debating hundreds of issues a month ago to determine the group’s priority issues agenda.

From the state budget, to transportation funding, to property rights, to solid waste management, to sustainable agriculture, the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s issues are as comprehensive as a political party’s platform.

Among new language this year is MFRB support of the Minnesota Board of Animal Health’s “efforts to eradicate, contain and control bovine TB in both management zones by all practical means/measures, with appropriate funding for fencing, testing and herd buyout.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this fall approved a split-state status for Minnesota, confining the most restrictive cattle movement rules to the bovine TB management zone around the area centered in northwest Beltrami County. The rest of the state is categorized as TB-Free. In the control zone, the state has authorized a herd buyout program and efforts will continue this winter to cull free-ranging deer, which are believed to be spreading the disease.

“Eradication, containment and control of bovine tuberculosis in Minnesota was the top priority for Farm Bureau in 2008 and will remain a high priority in 2009,” states MFB policy. “MFB supports providing the necessary resources needed to successfully address Minnesota’s bovine TB issue. MFB also supports efforts to increase the number of food animal veterinarians in Minnesota and the development and implementation of cost-effective, efficient animal mortality disposal measures.”

A complicated tax issue is also a Minnesota Farm Bureau priority this legislative session. Farmers want a provision approved in 2008 repealed or reformed.

The Green Acres property tax law removed non-productive acres such as sloughs, woodlands and wetlands that are not used for agricultural production from eligibility in the reduced agricultural valuation and property tax deferment program provided by Green Acres.

Specifically, the legislation changed the number of payback years for parcels, or portions of parcels, that will no longer qualify for Green Acres because they are non-productive acres. Also, property that is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, Reinvest-In-Minnesota or other conservation programs no longer are eligible for Green Acres.

“Farm Bureau supports changes to the Green Acres program that do not penalize farmers who currently have land enrolled in the program and continued efforts to preserve and protect agricultural land and contiguous land associated with farming operations,” MFB says. “In addition, MFB will work to ensure that farmers with land enrolled in Green Acres will be able to pass that land on to the next generation without losing Green Acres program benefits.”

Specifically, delegates asked that land enrolled in Green Acres prior to May 1 “which is sold or transferred to family members or unrelated persons who continue to farm productive agricultural land, or land remaining after a forced sale, is subject to the Green Acres provisions in place prior” to the 2008 session.

“As I went to county annual meetings all over the state, Green Acres was the No. 1 state issue,” Paap said.

Delegates first agreed to hundreds of position statements, and then the MFB Board listed about 10 top priorities from the agenda,

“We got good, sound Farm Bureau policy delivered and now we can look at priorities,” Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said in an interview. “We’ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us.”

Animal agriculture is still very important to the state of Minnesota, Paap said, and several policy issues encompass livestock. “We’ve got to continue to get to the finish line on bovine TB,” he said.

“We’ve done a great job, and we appreciate all of not only the Department of Ag, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and Minnesota DNR have done to get rid of the bovine TB from the cattle and deer herds, but we’re not there yet,” Paap said. “It’s going to take some funding, it’s going to take some cooperation so we can get back to our TB (Free) status as soon as possible.”

“Animal agriculture is vital to Minnesota’s rural communities and plays a major role in all aspects of agriculture,” according to MFB policy. “Livestock farmers place responsible animal care as their highest priority. That includes protection from predators, disease and severe weather; while providing them with food and water. Farm Bureau opposes legislation or regulations which restrict or prohibit scientifically established, accepted livestock and poultry husbandry practices.”

Californians, at the November polls, approved a ballot measure that places minimum cage sizes for animals such as chickens, a move which farmers say could devastate the poultry industry there.

Investing in livestock production is critical to Minnesota’s economy, Farm Bureau believes, as it supports funding to continue the livestock investment grant program, which supports Minnesota livestock farmers who invest in modernizing their farms. Farm Bureau will work with legislators and agencies to create a business climate and government regulatory framework that supports livestock prosperity and global competitiveness in Minnesota.

“Renewable fuels are very important to this state — ag-based renewable fuels,” says Paap. “But we’re going to have some challenges. We’ve got less money to spend. There’s definitely going to be some budget constraints, and that’s going to affect every one of us.”

What lawmakers do to balance the state budget will draw farmers’ attention, Paap said. “Are going to see increased fees? Are we going to see reduced services from government? How are we going to prioritize and still have the new dollars available for bovine TB, to make sure we take care of that?”

“As elected officials deal with the anticipated $4 billion budget deficit, Farm Bureau will work to ensure that spending is decreased and limits are put on bonded indebtedness in order to balance the budget,” states Farm Bureau policy.

“In addition, Farm Bureau will work to reprioritize state spending to ensure essential state services are maintained, including full funding for food safety, animal health and environmental protection services provided by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.”

But Paap adds that “a lot of the things we can do in agriculture — agriculture can be part of the solution. As we look at environmental concerns, biofuels can reduce our carbon footprint. There’s a lot of things we can do in agriculture to be part of that solution.”

Also listed as priority issues are efforts to create a business climate and government regulatory framework that supports livestock prosperity and global competitiveness in Minnesota, support of a number of alternative energy sources to include nuclear energy, using the Clean Water Fund for developing an on-farm research and demonstration program for evaluating the relationship between farming practices and water quality, and funding for maintenance and new construction of railroads, rural roads and bridges to promote movement of commodities and inputs.

Delegates also approved three measures authored by the Beltrami County Farm Bureau:

-- Support developing a supply and ownership structure for biomass production on public lands that encourages local and community opportunities.

-- Support government agencies managing public lands with the guiding principle to support long-term sustainable practices and the local economy.

-- Support using the resources of state agencies to facilitate the development of rural agricultural economic projects, including an increase in staffing if needed.

“That’s the best thing about Farm Bureau and Farm Bureau policy,” said Paap. “Whether it’s a state issue or a national issue, there was no policy we adopted … that didn’t pass one of our 78 county or regional Farm Bureaus. There will be no policy at our American Farm Bureau annual meeting that didn’t pass at one of the 2,700 county Farm Bureaus across the United States and Puerto Rico.”

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