Legislative update: Buffers, cover crops, pollinators and GMO labeling

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director

The Minnesota legislative session is moving right along, including several items that impact Minnesota’s corn farmers. Here’s an update on a few items that came up last week and will be coming up this week:

State

  • A bill authored by Sen. Rod Skoe that would alter the new buffer law advanced to the Senate Environment Committee. It’s companion bill on the House side, carried by Rep. Paul Torkelson, is set to be heard on Wednesday in the House Environment Committee. The changes would mostly address and clarify how the new law applies to public waters and ditches, move the timeline for installing buffers for public ditches that are part of a drainage authority plan to 2025, and exempt private ditches from the buffer legislation.
  • The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) is supporting a bill authored by Rep. Clark Johnson that would provide a pathway for establishing additional perennial cover crops throughout Minnesota. The bill, HF2881, is set to be heard today (Tuesday) in the House Agriculture Policy Committee and the Senate Environment Committee. Here is an excerpt from a letter authored by MCGA President Noah Hultgren in support of the bill:

We believe that highly productive agriculture and clean water are not mutually exclusive. We hope that our support helps communicate the commitment of Minnesota’s corn farmers to working with policy makers to help solve water quality challenges. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution. What works on one farm might not work on other farms. We believe this bill could be one option to help farmers who are considering additional perennial crops take another step forward in striking that balance between maintaining a profitable farm operation and protecting our resources.

  • MCGA is also supporting a bill (SF 2689) authored by Sen. Dan Sparks and Sen. John Marty and carried by Rep. Rod Hamilton in the House that would establish a fair and consistent standard for solar projects that choose to promote themselves as pollinator-friendly. Minnesota is set to build more than 4,500 acres of solar sites in 2016. The area around each solar panel may be used to provide habitat for pollinating insects like bees and butterflies. SF 2689 would ensure site-appropriate seed mixes are planted at each site to deliver on pledges to create pollinator habitat.

Federal

  • We were disappointed by last week’s vote on the floor of the Senate that stalled a bill that would have preempted state GMO labeling laws. Both Senators Klobuchar and Franken voted to block the bill, but remain open to voting for a compromise in the future. Because federal action hasn’t been taken, many food companies will begin labeling products nationwide to comply with Vermont’s GMO labeling law. Last week, Minnesota-based General Mills announced that it is labeling all food products containing genetically engineered ingredients in compliance with the Vermont law. Here is a good summary of last week’s vote and the entire GMO labeling issue.
  • MCGA signed onto a letter, along with 48 other national and state agriculture associations, to the U.S. Coast Guard expressing support for the Coast Guard’s position on the pending Container weight reporting mandate under the Safety of Live at Sea (SOLAS) international amendment. More details on that issue can be read here.

 

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