Legislative Update: Coronavirus impact felt in St. Paul, Washington

(Minnesota Congressman and House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson met with Minnesota Corn directors)

By Amanda Bilek, senior public policy director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association

A lot has changed since last week’s legislative update. Beyond the changes we are experiencing in day-to-day private life, significant changes at public institutions in Washington D.C. and St. Paul have altered the public policy activities of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA).

In this week’s update, we will take a brief look at what happened in St. Paul and what legislative work might include for the rest of the legislative session. We will also profile federal policy discussions during an MCGA fly-in to Washington D.C. last week.

Actions in St. Paul prior to break in legislative operations

Yesterday, the legislature passed a $200 million package for health care providers to respond to COVID-19. Legislative leaders also agreed to cancel all committee hearings, floor sessions and public meeting for the next several weeks. Legislators will continue to conduct work via email, phone calls and meetings by appointment only.

Legislative leaders can bring legislators back to the Capitol if there are additional pieces of legislation needed to respond to COVID-19 or other extraordinary measures, however the legislature is currently adjourned until April 14. Leaders did note that if circumstances change they could come back to St. Paul earlier.

Given the unfolding events in St. Paul, MCGA did cancel our annual day on the hill and legislative reception. The constitutional adjournment date is May 18, and MCGA along with many other public policy organizations will continue monitoring the situation in St. Paul and will stay in contact with legislators as we work through the next several weeks.

Prior to the legislature taking a break from normal day-to-day activity, the Senate did approve $50 million in user-financed bonds for the Rural Finance Authority. The Governor is expected to sign the bill, making available funding that will provide another option for farmers to secure financing for their operations.

Corn growers make DC fly-in prior to Coronavirus restrictions

Much like St. Paul, public policy leaders in Washington are also changing operations and focusing on responses and preparations for COVID-19. However, MCGA had our previously scheduled spring fly-in last week, and we were able to meet with all of our scheduled appointments. Overall, it was a very successful week elevating policy issues important to Minnesota corn farmers with Congressional members and federal agency leadership.

Rep. Hagedorn (third from left)

MCGA farmer-leaders met with all ten offices of our Congressional delegation, several with the member of Congress. We appreciate Chairman Peterson, Senator Smith, and Representatives Emmer, Hagedorn, Craig and Stauber for taking time out of their schedules to meet with us.

Sen. Smith (second from right)

We also had the opportunity to meet with House and Senate agriculture committee leadership and staff, including Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and Sen. John Boozman (R-AR).

No visit to Washington can be complete without a round of visits to federal agencies. MCGA was fortunate to meet with Farm Service Agency Administrator Richard Fordyce, Risk Management Agency Administrator Martin Barbe, Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Matt Lohr, United States Office of Trade Representative Ambassador Greg Doud, the Environmental Protection Agency agriculture office and USDA Rural Business and Foreign Agriculture Service.

Ambassador Greg Doud (second from left)

Through all of these meetings there were plenty of key policy topics for corn farmers to discuss. Top of mind for farmer-leaders was communicating directly with congressional members and agency leaders about the significant economic challenges in agriculture, where a severe recession is entering into its seventh straight year with commodity prices still roughly 40 percent off of 2013 levels. Net farm income has fallen by an average of 32 percent since 2013.

Due to the persistent financial challenges in agriculture, MCGA farmer-leaders emphasized demand and market policies including trade and ethanol.

The visits were an opportunity to thank members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation for their support of USMCA and urge prompt implementation. At the end of last week the Canadian Parliament ratified USMCA. Also on the trade front, leaders communicated optimism that the China phase one agreement would lead to reopened markets for corn, but also expressed concern that animal disease and the spread of human viruses would slow things down.

On the ethanol front, leaders conveyed disappointment that the Trump administration was considering an appeal on the recent 10th Circuit decision regarding waivers granted to oil refiners from blending obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and urged Congressional members to hold EPA accountable in their administration of the RFS. MCGA leaders highlighted additional policy and regulatory opportunities to support biofuel expansion, such as streamlined labeling and equipment certification for E15 and in the long-term setting a Low Carbon Octane Standard.

Other fly-in topics covered disaster assistance and quality loss calculations, supporting crop insurance, advocating for a bipartisan Water Resources Development Act to set good policy for the inland waterways systems, and efforts to address failing infrastructure.

Staying connected

As we enter a period where other issues take a back burner to managing the public health issue before us, MCGA will continue to work with our partners and public policy leaders to respond and advocate for agriculture.

Be sure to follow the MCGA blog and its social channels (FacebookTwitter) throughout session for updates from the Capitol. You can also follow me on Twitter (@AjBilek).

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