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Mug: Terry Wanzek

ND bills could expand opportunities in agriculture

We are back in session after crossover break last week. Between the two chambers, 904 bills were introduced this session, and we have 620 bills left after crossover; 284 failed and are gone. I'll talk about two bills that I believe offer great opportunity and potential to add value to North Dakota agriculture.

Many in North Dakota agriculture are interested in expanding animal agriculture industry in the state. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Dakota is ranked 34th in animal ag receipts in the U.S. with $1.2 billion in gross sales value. Compare that to other surrounding states: Iowa is No. 2 at $13.5 billion, Minnesota is No. 7 with $7.4 billion and South Dakota ranked No. 17 with $4.1 billion — still nearly 3.5 times more than our animal ag receipts.

There is tremendous potential to expand animal agriculture in North Dakota, given our competitive advantage in land, feed costs and wide open space. Yet we seem to be having difficulty getting animal feeding operations developed.

The North Dakota Department of Health tells us projects have been state permitted only to be held up by local jurisdictions by delaying approval or by increasing the zoning ordinances beyond the parameters set by the state.

Senate Bill 2345 is seeking to accomplish two things. First, it is an attempt to find some fairness in zoning animal feeding operations within counties and townships. This bill does not limit a county or township from adopting their own zoning requirements. When a person is seeking to build an animal feeding operation, SB 2345 establishes that they will be subject to ordinances in place at the date they petition the county or township. In other words, the ordinances cannot be changed after the fact.

The second goal of SB 2345 is to provide more certainty for investors and developers of an animal feeding operation. When a person seeking to construct an animal feeding operation petitions the county or township board, the board has 60 days to object. If a board determines the operation would comply or fails to object within 60 days, the project would be approved to move forward.

No one in support of this bill is promoting irresponsible animal agriculture projects. We want them to be developed to meet all environmental, zoning and agronomic requirements. But we want fairness.

The second bill with the potential to add value to North Dakota ag products is Senate Bill 2296.

Three sessions ago, we passed a loan guarantee program allowing the Bank of North Dakota to guarantee a loan up to $25 million for a fuel production facility. That effort resulted in a successful development project in the Dakota Spirit Ethanol plant in Spiritwood.

Dakota Spirit purchases roughly 30 million bushels of corn per year from local area farmers. It has a positive effect on the local corn market by increasing basis price by 50 cents per bushel. That's 30 million bushels times 50 cents or $15 million of added value per year to the farm economy. Those dollars turn over roughly four to five times, or $60 million to $75 million of economic impact, per year. And you can say it did not cost the state anything!

Funds were set aside in the loan guarantee fund for the purpose of providing risk capital for the Bank of North Dakota to be able to provide the guarantee on this loan. The loan has since been paid off and the funds are there to be used again.

SB 2296 is simply extending that opportunity again. It increases the amount of risk capital to $50 million and expands the scope of the the Bank of North Dakota's authority to include other added-value agriculture ventures beyond fuel production facilities.

There are exciting projects in the works that could benefit from this proposal. Projects that will create more local markets for our agriculture industry here in North Dakota.