It’s encouraging to see what folks can do when they work together.
Such is the case for Minnesota agriculture.
Gov. Mark Dayton recently signed a bipartisan, $35 million Rural Finance Authority bill that will allow the authority to continue offering eligible Minnesota farmers affordable financing, and terms and conditions not offered by other traditional lenders.
Without the investment, many farmers would face a credit crunch caused by several years of low commodity prices and rising expenses. RFA loans are particularly important early in the year, when farmers review their finances and restructure debt ahead of the growing season.
Dayton noted in a press release that RFA provides important assistance to Minnesota farmers struggling with low commodity prices and rising expenses. He thanked the state Legislature for moving quickly to pass the bipartisan legislation.
In addition to low-interest loans, RFA also offers programs to help new farmers purchase land, restructure debt, invest in farm improvements and finance livestock production facilities. Overall, more than $270 million has been invested in Minnesota farm operations since 1986.
RFA had lacked funding since Dec. 31 because the Minnesota Legislature failed to pass a bonding bill last session. Since exhausting the funding, RFA has been working with local banks to take loan applications, but has been unable to authorize new financing for Minnesota farmers.
For more on RFA, visit the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s website at mda.state.mn.us or call 651-201-6004.
Other ag policy issues that are moving through the legislative system, or at least are in the beginning of discussions include:
• Ditch mowing. Ditch mowing regulations quietly issued by Minnesota Department of Transportation officials last December, which The Farmer reported, have caused farm groups and their representatives to surge out of the weeds.
MnDOT sought to have farmers and others who mow or bale hay on state highway right-of-way land to files for permits by Feb. 28.
One state representative sponsored a bill (HF124) prohibiting MnDOT from requiring a permit to mow in the state highway rights-of-way. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate.
• Rollover bars. A bill was introduced in the state House to extend the tractor rollover program in Minnesota for another year. Last year, the Legislature approved funding for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to start the program.
The program, which helps farmers with the financial cost of adding roll bar protection to older tractors, was considered successful, with 226 kits approved.
The proposed bill seeks another $150,000 to fund it this year. Like last year, MDA also will seek private donations to help defray program costs.
• Buffers. Hearings and committee meetings continue pertaining to buffer legislation. State agencies and farmers have provided comments and testimony on a range of issues — alternative buffer practices, buffer maps, law implementation, the impact of Palmer amaranth and local government funding for implementation and enforcement.
A Department of Natural Resources official reported that there have been more than 4,000 change requests since the first buffer map was released, and nearly 2,500 changes have been made. A revised map was expected to be released by the end of February. However, as of March 1, the updated map was not reported available.
In the Legislature, the first committee deadline is March 10. The first deadline is for committees to act favorably on bills in the house of origin. Two more deadlines also are in March. Lawmakers have a week off at Easter for holiday, returning back to work April 18. The Minnesota Constitution sets a deadline for the end of each year's session — the first Monday after the third Saturday in May. This year, that’s May 22.
• Conservation Reserve Program. In his opening statement before a recent U.S. House subcommittee conservation and energy meeting, Rep. Collin Peterson said he supports simplifying and reforming the Conservation Reserve Program and increasing program acres. Peterson said he would like to see the cap raised to 40 million acres in the next farm bill.
“We lowered the cap [to 24 million acres] on CRP in the 2014 Farm Bill because we were losing the acres anyway due to high commodity prices,” he said. “So, because of the way the budget process works, we reduced CRP acres to protect the conservation baseline and help offset some of the cuts in Title 2.
"I’m going to be looking at ways to make CRP less complicated and more affordable on rental rates. I’m also interested in steps we can take to bring the program up to date, perhaps by repealing the requirement that program, or base, acres are needed to sign up."
Peterson addressed the annual Pheasants Forever annual meeting and shared his position. That’s in line with PF, too. The organization supports a minimum 40-million-acre CRP cap; a modernization to the CRP application and sign-up process; and a strategy for CRP transition for expiring contracts.