A quick summary of the 2014 MN Ag Leadership Conference

Rick Nolan

Congressman Rick Nolan stopped for a picture with MCGA Executive Director Tim Gerlach, MCGA President Ryan Buck and MCGA Government Relations Direct Anna Borroff at the 2014 MN Ag Leadership Conference.

The 2014 MN Ag Leadership Conference (MALC) took place Sunday through Tuesday this week in Brainerd. Over 150 farmers, agribusiness leaders, policy experts and elected officials gathered to talk about important ag topics such as trade, transportation, taxes, regulations and the political landscape.

Highlights included:

Congressman Peterson and Nolan
Congressman Collin Peterson opened the conference by addressing the group on Sunday. Congressman Rick Nolan closed the conference with a lunchtime talk on Tuesday.

Staff from the offices of Senator Amy Klobuchar and Senator Al Franken also attended all three days.

Farm bill
USDA will soon be releasing final rules on the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) portions of the 2014 farm bill. Dr. Joe Outlaw previewed an online tool being developed by Texas A&M University to help farmers with upcoming decisions about crop insurance coverage.

“Farmers will soon have all these decisions to make, and that’s a good thing,” Outlaw said. “The more decisions you have to make, the more you can tailor coverage to fit your operation.”

To learn more about Dr. Outlaw and Texas A&M’s work on helping farmers better navigate the new farm bill, go here.

Political insights
David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report returned to MALC for his always insightful and informative look at today’s polarized political landscape.

“The majority of Minnesotans still live in areas with diverse viewpoints,” he said. “That’s getting more rare these days.”

Minnesota political analyst Blois Olson talked with the group about the Minnesota political happenings, including upcoming races for governor, a senate seat and local elections. He also offered this piece of advice on how the agriculture community can better connect with the non-farming public.

“Don’t stop talking,” he said. “Don’t start screaming, but don’t stop talking to people.”

Taxes, taxes and taxes
Tax attorney Matt Dolan says don’t hold out hope for any type of significant tax reform in the near future.

“Tax reforms are typically taken on during the first term, when presidential political power is maximized,” he said. “There just isn’t enough political capital right now to do anything major with taxes.”

Spending vs. investing
Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition, shared his insights about the future challenges of transportation in the United States. When thinking about transportation, Steenhoek says we need to change our mindset from a spending mentality to an investing mentality.

“When you invest, you’re taking your dollar and expecting a greater return down the road,” he said. “When you spend, you’re hoping to get some kind of return the next day. We should be investing in transportation.”

Update from USDA
Todd Batta, Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations at USDA, says the agency’s budget has been cut by $1 billion since 2009, resulting in staffing challenges. Nonetheless, rollout of the new farm bill continues.

“We have two big things coming up,” Batta said. “ARC/PLC rules and regulations should be out soon and dairy program rules should be out by Sept. 1.”

Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
A farm bill finally got passed, but trade agreements that also impact agriculture are hanging in limbo.  The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement would help the United States maintain a competitive advantage in Asian markets. In addition to traditional industry goods, the agreement would also cover 21st century issues like digital goods and intellectual property.

“An agreement is getting close, but politics his holding it up,” said John Gilliland, a trade attorney at Akin Gump, LLP.

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