This week’s ag update from the Minnesota state capitol

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff
Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) Policy Director

Avian influenza and buffers remained the most-publicized agriculture issue at the state capitol last week, but as usual, there were plenty of other ag issues farmers should be aware of as well. Here is this week’s legislative update:

Buffers
Not much new to report on Gov. Dayton’s buffer proposal. The governor met with Northfield farmer and MCGA President Bruce Peterson, along with several other leaders from Minnesota’s farm and commodity groups, to discuss his proposal on Friday. We’ll continue to keep everyone updated on the buffer issue here at MinnesotaCornerstone.com.

Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture released the final version of its 2015 Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (you can read the whole thing here). It’s important for farmers to understand that the rule making process will last 2-3 years before this plan is implemented.

However, now is the time when farmers should begin to consider how this plan might affect fertilizer management on their farms. Rule making will consist of two parts:

  • Restriction of fall application of nitrogen fertilizer and the application of fertilizer to frozen soils in areas that are vulnerable to groundwater contamination.
  • Defining the regulatory process and options for regulation based on regional and site-specific conditions and considering input from a local advisory team, rules will be applied to an area with elevated nitrate through the use of a Commissioner’s Order as outlined in the Groundwater Protection Act.

As I mentioned earlier, the rule making process will take 2-3 years, but now is the time for farmers to consider if these news rules will affect their farms and plan accordingly. If you have any questions about the plan, I encourage you to contact Dr. Paul Meints, MCGA’s Research Director.

MCGA will closely monitor the rule making process and provide input when necessary.

Property taxes
In the House Republican tax bill, farmers would be refunded half of what landowners pay for school construction bonding projects. This proposal would give landowners some much-needed relief when construction bonding levies are introduced in rural areas without shifting the burden onto other homeowners.

House Environment Bill
One new development to note from the House Environment Bill: An amendment would remove the requirement that farmers applying for an irrigation permit need to do their own inventory of existing wells in the area. Instead, the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health would do this work since they have most of the information already.

Senate Ag, Environment, Natural Resources & Jobs omnibus bill
Highlights include:

  • $16 million for agricultural productivity research
  • Resources to study the cause of growth or decline of poultry and livestock production in Minnesota
  • $5 million for production-based incentives for renewable chemicals, advanced biofuels and biomass thermal energy (this is part of the Bioeconomy bill. Look for more info on that bill later this week).
  • Additional funds for groundwater monitoring (including analysis to assist in groundwater permitting decisions).
  • Soil and Water Conservation District funding for buffers, erosion control, water retention and other high priority conservation practices.

Federal issues
Last week was a busy one on the federal side. Here are the highlights:

  • Congressional leaders introduced a bill on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that allows free trade agreements to be submitted to Congress from the President for a straight up or down vote without any amendments. TPA’s passage would go a long way toward opening new markets for U.S. farmers. To make your voice heard on this issue and encourage TPA’s swift passage, click here.
  • The 2014 Farm Bill requires farmers to file conservation compliance with their local USDA service center by June 1 in order to remain eligible for crop insurance premium support. The final conservation compliance rule was posted to the USDA website last week.
  • On Wednesday of last week, a bill that would require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to come up with a new Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule passed out of a House committee. Look for a full House vote on the bill before Memorial Day. The Senate also will likely introduce its own WOTUS bill in sometime in the near future, mainly to push back on the currently proposed WOTUS rule that is being evaluated by the Office of Management & Budget and is expected to be released later this spring or summer.
  • As I highlighted last week, EPA agreed to a court-enforced timeline for establishing Renewable Volume Obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard for 2014 and 2015. Both numbers, along with proposed numbers for 2016, need to be finalized by Nov. 30. Read the full notice here.
  • MCGA signed onto a letter supporting the Pompeo/Butterfield GMO labeling bill. This bill would ensure all food labeling is uniform and based on sound science. It would also help cut through the confusion of the numerous state-driven labeling initiatives out there and develop a national, voluntary food labeling standard for products containing GMOs. More info on the bill can be read here.

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