Legislative Update: What farmers need to know about the recently completed session

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff, Public Policy Director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association

Another Minnesota legislative session has come and gone. Like other recent sessions, this one featured a flurry of activity toward the end, resulting in some bills getting passed, and some left on the table unfinished.

Let’s take a quick look at some key items from this legislative session that Minnesota corn farmers should be aware of:

Property tax relief
The No. 1 priority of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association this legislative session was to get some much-needed property tax relief for farmers passed. Great news -– legislators heard you, and included $90 million dollars in the tax bill for agricultural property tax relief.

Starting with tax year 2017, farmers will receive a 40 percent credit for taxes owed for school bond payments. The relief applies to both existing school levies and future voter-approved bonding debt for schools. I’ve seen estimates that farmers can expect to see a tax reduction between $281-$700 per $1 million of the estimated market value of land. The tax reduction applies to agricultural acres (excluding house, garage and one acre).

Here is a story from the Mankato Free Press with more details. The relief was part of a $259 million tax package that Gov. Dayton still needs to sign.

Our second priority this session, a buffer clarification bill which exempts private ditches from the new buffer law, was passed earlier in the session and signed into law. The tax bill passed at the end of session included $11 million for counties to enforce the new buffer law. MCGA favors local enforcement of the buffer law, so this was welcome news. Each county should receive between $45,000 — $200,000 depending on how much work they have to do. More info on this legislation and buffers in general can be found here.

Don’t forget: Farmers have until the end of this month to send in comments on preliminary buffer maps. To view the maps, head to your local Soil & Water Conservation District office. More details on submitting comments can be found here.

MCGA supported the only stand-alone pollinator legislation to pass this year. The first-of-its-kind in the United States legislation would permit owners of solar power sites to publicly declare them beneficial to pollinating insects like bees and butterflies. Adherence to the pollinator-friendly guidelines is voluntary and monitored by the Minnesota Board of Soil & Water Resources pollinator plan.

MCGA is committed to increasing pollinator habitat in ways that fit in with Minnesota’s agricultural landscape. This bill is another way to support those efforts.

More on the bill can be found here. Gov. Dayton is expected to sign it into law.

Working lands watershed restoration program
A further look at an idea called working lands” (supported by MCGA) was included in the supplemental budget agreement and funded. The bill provides for the development of a detailed plan to implement a program to incentivize the establishment and maintenance of perennial crops.

We believe this could be an option to help farmers who are considering additional cover crops to take another step forward in striking that balance between maintaining a profitable farm operation and protecting our water and soil resources. The feasibility study and program plan must be completed by 2018.  

The supplemental budget bill is awaiting Gov. Dayton’s signature.

Other items
Also in the supplemental budget agreement was $35 million for rural broadband. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Water Certification program was funded at $2.5 million in a bill that funds the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. 

Both bills are awaiting Gov. Dayton’s signature.

What didn’t get done?
A bonding bill and a transportation bill were left unfinished. Not having a transportation bill is unfortunate given all the needs for roads and transportation infrastructure improvements in Greater Minnesota. A special session to address these two items appear unlikely in an election year, but we all know that Minnesota politics are unpredictable.

Final thoughts
Overall, I am pleased with the way this session turned out for Minnesota corn farmers. We worked to pass some long-overdue property tax relief, we cleared up several contentious items from last year’s buffer bill and we supported bills that benefit pollinator habitat and water quality.

Thank you to all the farmer-leaders who spent time at the Capitol this session visiting with lawmakers. And thank you to all the farmers who didn’t make it to the Capitol this session, but still reached out to their legislators to discuss issues important to Minnesota agriculture.

You all made your voices heard this session, and we were able to accomplish a lot. It’s been my pleasure to represent Minnesota Corn farmers at the Capitol this year.

Please contact me with any questions you might have about any of these legislative items, or others I didn’t mention this time.

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