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Published June 18, 2012, 08:50 AM

Session makes strides for agriculture

ST. PAUL — The 2012 Minnesota legislative session will go down in history as the Vikings stadium session, but you may be surprised to know how much got done in St. Paul when it comes to farm and food issues.

By: Dave Frederickson, Agweek

ST. PAUL — The 2012 Minnesota legislative session will go down in history as the Vikings stadium session, but you may be surprised to know how much got done in St. Paul when it comes to farm and food issues.

At the end of April, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton was signing into law the 2012 Omnibus Agriculture Policy bill. The legislation, which received broad bipartisan support, streamlined and modernized statutes covering food safety enforcement, grain trade and renewable fuels.

Among other things, the bill updated the statutory language governing the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Dairy and Food Inspection Division by consolidating enforcement provisions and creating one chapter that clearly described the enforcement options for food product categories overseen by MDA. The bill also updated state grain statutes for the 21st century, repealing nearly 150 statutes and rules while modernizing the remaining statutes to reflect today’s marketplace. Language was changed to eliminate multiple reporting requirements, eliminate multiple bond types and streamline licensing processes.

Biofuels

Another section of the bill fine-tuned the course of biofuels in Minnesota by extending Minnesota’s E20 mandate for two years and directing agencies to develop recommendations for incorporating biofuels other than ethanol into the mandate. The bill extended exceptions onto the state’s biodiesel requirement for three years, while directing MDA to develop proposals for evaluating the exceptions with an eye toward ending them.

Investment in agriculture

I was pleased that the omnibus ag bill also made two smart investments in the future of Minnesota agriculture. First, the bill extended the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation funding to June 2015. The AGRI fund was created in 2009 as the state’s ethanol payments were winding down, and the program goal is to promote the advancement of the state’s agricultural and renewable energy industries. The second wise investment the bill makes is the creation of a Dairy Research, Teaching and Consumer Education Authority. This public/private entity was proposed by the Minnesota Milk Producers Association to raise money from the private sector to invigorate Minnesota’s dairy sector.

The state made an additional investment in agriculture during the session’s closing days, when Dayton and lawmakers agreed to a bonding bill that included $33 million for the Rural Finance Authority. This money will be used to help local ag lenders make credit available to beginning farmers as well as established farmers looking to make on-farm improvements to boost productivity, profitability and conservation.

It’s easy to be jaded about government and politics these days, but we can be proud that agriculture remains an area of public policy where both parties can work together.

A big portion of the credit for this goes to the chairs of the House and Senate agriculture committees. That’s why I was sorry to see Senate Ag Committee Chairman Doug Magnus retire. Magnus is a good friend who always did what he knew to be best for Minnesota farmers. I wish him the best in his retirement, and I will always be thankful for his partnership and friendship.

Editor’s Note: Frederickson is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

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