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Published June 30, 2014, 09:30 AM

Minn. legislature delivered progress

Minnesota’s agriculture sector and hardworking farmers are too important to our great state to be used for political gain.

By: Jeanne Poppe, Agweek

Minnesota’s agriculture sector and hardworking farmers are too important to our great state to be used for political gain. Unfortunately, that is exactly what my colleagues Rep. Paul Torkelson and Sen. Gary Dahms did in their recent letter to Agweek (“Farmers hit too hard on taxes,” published June 2).

As chair of the Agriculture Policy Committee, I want to give you the facts about the tremendous amount of progress the DFL-led legislature delivered for Minnesota’s family farmers and rural Minnesota.

Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson says “MFU appreciates the investments that the legislature and Governor Dayton made in agriculture and rural Minnesota.” Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap says “the recently completed Minnesota legislative session took some positive steps forward for the Farm Bureau and agriculture in Minnesota.”

Tax relief

By investing additional revenue in property tax refunds and local government aid, the legislature delivered the first statewide property tax decrease in more than a decade, marking significant

progress for our seniors on fixed incomes, homeowners, renters and small businesses in rural Minnesota.

That’s no small feat considering property taxes had been going up by an average of more than $330 million per year. Unfortunately, family farmers still face challenges for a number of reasons.

When the Republican-controlled legislature eliminated the market value homestead credit in 2011, it raised property taxes on rural homeowners eight times higher than in the metro area and shifted a $50 million property tax hike onto farmers. When you factor in a 26 percent property value increase, farmland saw an increase of about $65 million.

Because of the great importance of agriculture to Minnesota’s economic health, we knew farmers needed property tax relief right away.

That’s why the legislature enhanced the market value credit for homesteaded farms, providing immediate property tax relief to more than 90,000 family farmers and permanent tax relief into the future. In 2014, an average family farmer will receive more than $400 in property tax relief, an increase of nearly $200.

This won’t solve every challenge facing our farmers, but it is a positive step in the right direction.

In addition, an improving economy and strong fiscal management at our state capitol allowed the legislature to repeal a sales tax on farm equipment repairs while maintaining a structurally balanced budget, which is exactly what we need to avoid the kinds of property tax shifts and hikes we saw over the past decade.

Farm-to-Food Shelf program expansion

The legislature expanded a Farm-to-Food Shelf program, estimated to generate 10 million pounds of fresh, healthy food for food shelves throughout Minnesota, which would in turn produce 7.6 million meals for families and senior citizens.

The modest $2 million investment will be used to compensate Minnesota farmers for costs incurred when harvesting and transferring surplus crops that would otherwise be discarded or left unused.

The bill, now law, is a win-win-win for Minnesota families, farmers and food shelves. It allows our state to provide nutritious food for low-income families, support the food shelves that serve our communities and make sure it is financially prudent for our farmers to make that possible.

Investments in vital research

The legislature made investments in research at the University of Minnesota that are vital to the health of our agriculture sector.

Some of the major highlights include the construction of a Terrestrial Invasive Species Research Center with the goal of fighting the spread of invasive plants and pests, study of the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, improving pollinator habitats and moving forward with the Forever Green Agriculture Initiative to conduct research on winter-annual and perennial crops, which will lead to better crop rotation, production and soil health.

Additional progress

State lawmakers provided new resources for the AGRI Fund that are helping to expand the Farm-to-School program, provide grants for the start-up, transition and expansion of family farm livestock operations, assist with the start-up of any farm, and fund research on conventional and cover crops.

We also extended the Farmer-Lender Mediation Act through 2016, boosted resources for the Department of Agriculture, created an agriculture water quality certainty program and provided funding for pollinator habitat restoration.

The DFL-led legislature expanded economic opportunities for Minnesota’s family farmers and strengthened our agriculture sector right now and into the future. There is more work to be done, but all signs show that our agriculture sector has a bright future.

Editor’s note: Poppe is the Minnesota state representative for Austin and the chair of the Agriculture Policy Committee.

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