Ag bills among big-budget whipsaws

FARGO, N.D. -- Legislatures in the four-state area all are dealing with finding their place in a struggling national economy and attempts to read the tea leaves of impacts -- positive and negative -- from energy price fluctuations.

FARGO, N.D. -- Legislatures in the four-state area all are dealing with finding their place in a struggling national economy and attempts to read the tea leaves of impacts -- positive and negative -- from energy price fluctuations.

Often beneath the top-line stories are those relating to farming and ranching.

In the North Dakota Legislature, where budgets look brighter because of petroleum revenues, the most prominent "aggie" bills likely are increases for barley, sunflower and flax checkoffs and a continuation of the existing wheat checkoff level -- all with a focus on more research.

Heading the checkoff list is the wheat bill (HB1409), which keeps the wheat levy at 15 mills -- 1.5 cents a bushel. The rate allows the North Dakota Wheat Commission to generate about $8.1 million in gross revenue per biennium, using a five-year average crop of 285 million bushels. Under original authorization, a 3-mill portion that was used for paying Canadian trade legal bills will expire June 30, accounting for a difference of roughly $1.6 million per biennium. HB1409 passed the House 83-9 on Feb. 2 and now is in the Senate.

The barley bill (SB2203) doubles the barley checkoff from 1 cent to 2 cents a bushel. The bill passed Feb. 2 by a 44-1 vote and is in the House. The oilseeds bill (SB2209) increases the checkoff for sunflowers from 3 cents to 4 cents per hundredweight and the flax checkoff from 2 cents per hundredweight and flax from 3 cents to 4 cents per hundredweight and a new 3-cent checkoff per bushel for safflower. The bill passed the Senate 46-0 Feb. 5 and is now in the House.


Legislators say the easy victories on these bills indicate that the commodity group leaders have done a good job of making their case for more money and have created trust that they'll make sure it is used primarily on research. Here are some other prominent ag-related bills in play in the various legislatures:

North Dakota

n HB1109: Removes the ag commissioner from governing bodies of some commodity groups. Uncontroversial, it was passed the House 89-0, and is pending in the Senate.

n HB1426: Would make the state Public Service Commission to establish guidelines on wind tower setbacks, with provisions for exemptions, with primary sponsor Rep. Phil Mueller, D-Wimbledon

n HB1491: Increases penalties for certain brand violations, has passed the House Agriculture Committee.

n HCR3028: A resolution, by Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, and Rep. Wes Belter, R-Leonard, would ask Congress to support the "responsible use of the beneficial qualities of biotechnology." Wanzek is a farmer and member of a national pro-biotechnology group. A hearing was held Feb. 12.

n SB2291: Passed the Senate 47-0 Feb. 4 and is on to the House. This allows a livestock facility to add $250,000 to existing $500,000 limit for an interest rate buy-down on building and expansion, if the expansion includes a "biodigester."

n SB2440: Sets "chemigation" site fees and charges $30 for the permit to cover costs in the ag department..



The overarching issue in Minnesota is the budget, which is because of a $5 billion to $7 billion shortfall. Agriculture makes up about one-thirteenth of 1 percent of the overall budget, according to the Minnesota Farmers Union.

Among potential cuts: The sustainable ag demonstration grant program, the dairy profitability teams and inclusion of new money for livestock investment grants, as well as an increase in the livestock depradation account, according to MFU.

There are no proposed changes for ethanol producer payments, organic cost-share and county fair grants, according to the Minnesota Farmers Union. But the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute took a 50 percent cut in the governor's proposed budget.

On strictly agriculture issues, HF10 and HF217 both attempt to fix the so-called Green Acres tax benefit program. The issue is how to stop developers who pay low agricultural tax rates on land they want to develop. The problem is that when tillable but so-called "nonproductive" land is transferred or sold, it comes out of a Green Acres program and up to seven years of back taxes are owed. Involved in this is how Conservation Reserve Program land is treated.

South Dakota

n SB3: This bill is designed to fill in missing portions of productivity-based ag land tax assessment system. It passed the Senate 22-12 and now is referred to the House Tax Committee. There are bills to repeal last year's legislation dealing with a productivity-based method and return to a market-based system.

n SB41: Revises the definition of wind easements to include options. It's in the Senate State Affairs Committee.


n HB1146: This bill would make "torture" of an animal a felony. It's in the House Judiciary Committee, with no hearing date. The state Farm Bureau sees this as a "part of a larger effort by radical animal rights" groups to get rid of all forms of animal agriculture. It is being pushed by the Humane Society of the United States.

n HB1299: Requires state vehicles filling up at a state fleet site to use an E30 blend with ethanol. The bill was referred to the House Commerce Committee Earlier, a Senate committee turned back a bill that would have repealed a law passed in

n SB181: This would appropriate $450,000 to the South Dakota State Fair. South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, had proposed cutting all $775,000 from the fair to balance the budget. A hearing is set for 10 a.m. Feb. 17 in room 412 at the Capitol.

n HB1062: Increases to $5,000 a reward the state Brand Board can pay for information on stolen livestock. The current reward is $1,000. The House passed it unanimously and it's been referred to the Senate Ag and Natural Resources Committee.

Also being watched by the South Dakota Farm Bureau are budget cuts, including $1 million from the Cooperative Extension Service.

Specialty livestock species industries killed a bill that would have charged sales tax for breeding stock fro ostriches, emus, rheas and "domesticated fur-bearing animals" such as deer, elk and mink.

n SB54: Requires grain warehouses to file rates for storing, receiving and redelivering grain. The rates, specific to each commodity, can't change more than four times within the licensing period, beginning July 1. Rates must be available to customers upon request. It passed the Senate and is in the House ag committee.

n SB94: Exempts "small wind" projects from property taxation. Those are less than $30,000 and less than 5,000 kilowatts. Passed a tax committee but was killed on the floor.


n SB136: Repeals a law that requires that cooperative businesses set a side a small part of their earnings for education. This passed the Senate 22-16.

n SB141: Requires large wind towers be set back from adjacent property lines by 1.1 times the height of the tower, except if the adjacent landowner signs an agreement allowing it. Referred to Senate State Affairs Committee.

n SB169: Requires that a wind easement agreement "including all accompanying exhibits, attachments, provisions and documents," be recorded in the county Register of Deeds office.

n SB188: This bill is designed to diversify the State Brand Board. The governor appoints five members, but the new bill would create three districts and would require two members each from Districts 1 and 2 and one from District 3. It is in Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.


n HB39: Creates and funds a "water rights enforcement program" and protects gives priority to "prior appropriators." It was passed in the House and now is in the Senate.

n HB48: Changes some of the conditions relating to Growth through Agriculture programs made by the Ag Development Council loans, among other things conditions of the recipient match, and provides for loan forgiveness. Passed in the House, now in the Senate.

n HB190: Allows landowners to attach fences to bridge abutments or guardrails, but requires that those fences allow the public to reasonably access state waters. Also removes liability for injuries or accidents for people using required "pass through." The bill passed the House, now in the Senate.


n HB203: Requires the Fish, Wildlife & Parks to notify the public when introducing or transporting wolves, mountain lions, elk, deer or antelope. Passed the House, now in the Senate.

n HB233: Allows trucks handling hay, livestock or farm products to purchase a 30-day permit that allows "10 percent heavier than the normal allowable gross vehicle weight" during the winter months." The bill was tabled in the House committee.

n HB375: Requires the Department of Environmental Quality to prepare a report about the state's participation in a regional or federal climate change initiative.

n HJR13: Sponsored by Rep. Betsy Hands, D-Missoula, it encourages the state to become "carbon neutral" by 2030.

n SB225: Would allow trucks hauling sugar beets between Sept. 15 and Dec. 1 to operate on highways within 50 miles of a harvested field if the gross weight doesn't exceed weight limits by more than 30 percent. The bill was tabled and probably is dead.

n HB418: Limits what a state court could do to stop or delay construction of a horse slaughterhouse.

n SB31: Requires that at least one member of the state Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission must be a livestock breeder or manager. Passed the Senate 28 to 20 and is in the House.

n SB214: Creates mandatory minimum sentences for punishment of livestock theft.


n SB217: Reimburses livestock producers for tests on their animals when FWP population goals have not been met.

n SB353: Reduces a tax break that has been given for ethanol regarding the gasoline license tax. The first hearing is Feb. 20.

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