MN FFA Foundation to livestream video during convention

The Minnesota FFA Association is reaching a larger audience with the new feature of live stream, hosted by the Minnesota FFA Foundation, during the 88th Minnesota FFA Convention, April 23-25 at the University of Minnesota (UMN) St. Paul campus. Nearly 4,000 members will attend the three-day event to compete in career development events, attend sessions and workshops and receive awards for their FFA achievements.

FFA Foundation live streaming

The Minnesota FFA Foundation will be hosting a livestream of several events at the Minnesota FFA State Convention in St. Paul April 23-25, for those who want to see what’s happening or relive some of the good-old-days from their own time in FFA. (photo from mnffafoundation.org)

Live stream will be hosted on the Minnesota FFA Foundation site:

mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming and will begin 30 minutes before the start of each session. Recordings of the sessions will be available to view after the session has occurred.

Live stream will be available for these sessions:

  • Reflections/Talent: Sunday, April 23, 2017 — 5:30 p.m.

 

  • Session 1: Monday, April 24, 2017 — 8:30 a.m.

 

  • Session 2: Monday, April 24, 2017 — 1:45 p.m.

 

  • Awards: Monday, April 24, 2017 — 6:30 p.m.

 

  • Session 3: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 — 8:45 a.m.

 

  • Session 4: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 — 12 p.m.

 

Visit mnffa.org for more details about the 88th Minnesota FFA convention. Follow along on social media and watch the general sessions at mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming

 

About Minnesota FFA

The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. More than 25,000 students in Minnesota are enrolled in agricultural education classes. Students who have taken three or more classes in career and technical education, including agricultural education have a graduation rate of 98.7 percent. Visit www.mnffa.org for more information.

 

MN Farmers Have Until May 5 to Renew CSP Contracts

Land Stewardship Project, CSP, Conservation stewardship programMinnesota farmers have until May 5 to re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This renewal option is specifically for farmers and ranchers who enrolled in CSP initially in 2013. Farmers are encouraged to contact their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for more information on renewing (www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/contact/local).

CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program that provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to actively manage and maintain existing conservation systems and to implement additional conservation activities on land in production. Through CSP, participants take steps to improve soil, water, air and habitat quality, and can also address energy conservation issues.

“CSP is a wonderful program,” said Jon Jovaag, a Land Stewardship Project farmer-member from Austin, Minn. Jovaag had a CSP contract in the past and plans on reapplying in 2017. “It helps farmers implement conservation practices over their entire farming operation.”

Land Stewardship Project, Conservation Stewardship Program, CSP

The Land Stewardship Project would like to remind Minnesota farmers that the renewal deadline for the Conservation Stewardship Program is May fifth. The renewal option is specifically for farmers that enrolled in CSP back in 2013. (photo from nrcs.usda.gov)

Program contracts, which are administered by the NRCS, last for five years, at which time they are eligible for renewal. There are approximately 7,000 U.S. farmers and ranchers with program contracts that will expire this year, totaling over 9.5 million acres. In Minnesota, there are 552 contracts expiring, totaling 387,331 acres.

It is optional to renew an expiring contract, and participants who do not re-enroll can always re-apply and compete for funding in future annual program signups. However, there is significant benefit to renewing now: the process for renewing is non-competitive and much simpler than re-applying through the competitive process later, and participants will avoid any gaps in their CSP payments that would otherwise occur.

NRCS has already mailed letters to all participants with contracts that are set to expire this year. Local NRCS offices will then follow up with producers to discuss renewal criteria and new conservation options. Participants will need to meet additional renewal criteria. Under the terms of the 2014 Farm Bill, program contract holders can renew their contracts provided they have met the terms of their initial contract, agree to adopt and continue to integrate conservation activities across the entire operation, and agree to either meet the stewardship threshold of at least two additional priority resource concerns or exceed the stewardship threshold of at least two existing priority resource concerns by the end of the renewed contract period.

Here’s a bit of a refresher course on the CSP if you’re thinking about doing it for the first time:

Minnesota FFA Convention April 23-25th

Next week, the University of Minnesota (UMN) St. Paul campus will be flooded with a sea of blue jackets, as nearly 4,000 student members gather for the 88th Minnesota FFA Convention, April 23-25.

Minnesota FFA

The blue jackets are about to descend on the University of Minnesota for the State FFA Convention April23-25 at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Sciences on the St. Paul Campus. (photo from Rachel Marthaler Photography.)

During the convention, Minnesota FFA members compete in career development contests, attend sessions and workshops and receive awards for their FFA achievements. At this three-day event, high school FFA members also are introduced to the UMN community.

FFA is a national organization founded in 1928 that recognizes and supports the interests of food, fiber and natural resource industries and encompasses science, business and technology as it is applied to production agriculture. There are 30 different career development events (CDE) that students will compete in at the Minnesota FFA convention. The events include everything from forestry to agricultural sales. The FFA CDEs are just as diverse as the UMN’s College of Food,Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) majors.

At the convention, FFA members meet UMN students, faculty and professors who are helping with competitions, workshops and other convention activities.

“The first time I came to the University of Minnesota was with my FFA chapter for convention,”said Wendy Bauman, FFA member from Kerkhoven Murdock Sunburg (KMS) Chapter. “Now I’m a freshman in CFANS studying agricultural education. FFA is what introduced me to the University of Minnesota and is the reason why I chose this school and major.”

Many University of Minnesota CFANS students share a similar story. Many past Minnesota FFA members have found a home on the St. Paul campus. The partnership between CFANS and Minnesota FFA has strengthened both organizations as they work toward a similar mission of preparing future leaders for their careers.

“Minnesota FFA plays a key role in youth development and leadership across the state,” said CFANS Dean Brian Buhr. “We are fortunate to have a strong relationship that benefits our programs and departments.”

Visit mnffa.org for more details about the 88th Minnesota FFA convention. Follow along on social media or watch the general sessions mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming.

Wondering just what kind of impact Minnesota FFA can make on students?

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About University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

The University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), is one of the world’s leading research, education and outreach institutions in the natural resources, food and agricultural sciences. Its faculty, staff and students are dedicated to the enhancement and preservation of the world’s food supplies and natural resources. CFANS provides students the opportunity to enter career fields with some of the best job outlooks in the country, including 13 undergraduate majors and over 25 minors ranging from agricultural education and marketing communications to conservation biology and forest and natural resource management, to health and nutrition, and the future of food and agriculture management with a focus in business and technology. As part of this launch, the University will offer enhanced scholarships to Minnesota students, add additional recruitment events in Greater Minnesota and expand outreach to high school counselors and career centers across Minnesota.

About Minnesota FFA

 The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. More than 25,000 students in Minnesota are enrolled in agricultural education classes. Students who have taken three or more classes in career and technical education, including agricultural education have a graduation rate of 98.7 percent. Visit www.mnffa.org for more information.

 

 

Use fertilizers and pesticides with care in your yards this spring

Spring is here and many Minnesotans are thinking about their lawns, trees and gardens. Fertilizers and pesticides can be a useful management tool when used appropriately on these sites.

fertilizers and pesticides

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture wants to remind you to be careful when working on your lawns, trees, or gardens this spring. Make sure you keep product when it needs to be to avoid it washing into the water supply. (Photo from thespruce.com)

Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) urges the safe use of fertilizers and pesticides by reading and following all label directions. In Minnesota, it is unlawful to apply products without following label instructions.

Follow these tips and have a safe and successful gardening season.

If you use pesticide and fertilizers yourself:

  1. Read and follow all label directions.
  2. Do not apply products in windy or adverse weather conditions that can cause products to drift and potentially harm people, pets, or plants.
  3. Sweep sidewalks and hard surfaces of unused product and reapply to their intended site. Pesticides left on these surfaces easily wash into our water supply.
  4. Buy only what you need to avoid leftovers. Unused fertilizers and pesticides can go bad quickly, they are difficult to dispose of and turn into a hazardous nuisance.

Do some homework if you hire a commercial applicator to treat your lawn and trees. Select a licensed professional that comes with experience and recommendations. Commercial applicators must show that they know how to use fertilizers and pesticides safely and properly before MDA awards them a license. When hiring a professional:

Ask to see their MDA issued license before they start work.

  1. Be wary of claims that products are completely safe, or of pressure to sign a long-term service contract.
  2. Recognize posted warning signs and avoid areas that have been chemically treated.
  3. Review the application record that shows what was used and how much was applied.
  4. Insist that sidewalks and hard surfaces are swept clean of product to protect our water supply.

For information about applicator licenses, call the MDA at 651-201-6615. To report unlicensed applicators, please file a complaint on the MDA website (www.mda.state.mn.us) or call 651-201-6333.

Consumers can call the Better Business Bureau at 800-646-6222 and check customer satisfaction histories for lawn care companies.

Here’s a few fertilizing tips from the Lawn Care Nut (Nice name, right?):

Meet the Oggun farm tractor

Oggun Farm Tractor

Southeast Minnesota residents got their first peek at the Oggun farm tractor at a viewing at Featherstone Farms of Rushford earlier this month. (Photo by Chad Smith)

It’s called the Oggun (Oh-goon), and it’s a different take on the farm tractor than many folks in agriculture may be used to. Southeast Minnesota residents got their first look at the new tractor during a showcase event at Featherstone Farms of Rushford on Wednesday, April 5.

 

The tractor was specifically designed for smaller farms, but that’s not what makes it unique. It’s unique in its design, it’s price, and the way it’s adaptable to newer technologies. The tractor has many unique characteristics, especially because it’s built with an open-source manufacturing design and parts you could find at a local tractor supply company. The idea for the tractor first began a short time ago.

The idea

Former IBM engineers and long-time business partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal (a Cuban-American) came together to form Alabama-based Cleber LLC. One day, Berenthal told Clemmons he wanted to do business back in his native country. The two talked over a lot of options, including software, but decided to go in a different direction.

“They started looking at things going on in the country,” said Locky Catron, a partner in Cleber, during opening remarks to the people in attendance, “and saw that the government had given land back to about 300,000 farmers, but there were only 60,000 tractors on the island.”

The tractors were all roughly 30 years old and of Russian design. Horace decided in June of 2015 that he and Saul were going to build tractors for Cuba. They needed to build something simple and easily fixed, because Cuban farmers were used to fixing everything themselves. They also needed to build something that was affordable. Mass production of tractors began in November of 2016.

The model

“That’s why they went to the open-source manufacturing model,” Catron said, “using all off-the-shelf parts. They designed the tractor based on the design of the Allis-Chalmers G. After doing all the work to put it together, the company realized business probably wasn’t going to happen in Cuba until the embargo is lifted.”

Once American farmers got wind of what Cleber was doing, they showed a lot of interest in the product as well. The business then set up shop in Paint Rock, Alabama, and began showing it to interested American farmers.

“I learned a valuable lesson from the Cuban farmers,” Clemmons said, “because they helped us understand how we can better serve farmers across the globe. $10,000 is still a lot of money to small farmers across the globe, so we have to create a business model where the price goes down every year.”

Cleber, LLC., told customers around the globe, including in Ethiopia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Australia, that they would give them the design of the tractor, which most companies don’t do. They agreed to ship parts that their customers couldn’t make in their countries with the idea that eventually the countries would take over the entire manufacturing process.

“We have offered a business proposition to our customers that says, ‘put me out of business,’” Clemmons said. “That’s about the only way we’re going to get 40-50 percent of the world’s smallest farmers equipped to do their work.”

People ask him how they expect to make money. His answer was a simple one.

“It’s called trust,” he said. “It’s called value-added. How hard would it be to use this technology and turn it into a skid steer? It’s got the engine, it’s got the hydraulics, so I’d take the tires off and put tracks on, and put a bucket on the front.”

He said they designed components to put together and they want to let people be creative in how they use those components.

The advantages

“Equipment (like tractors) is built using proprietary systems,” Catron said. “It’s unique components for a unique piece of equipment. We’re building the Oggun tractor that’s open-source, we’re building it using architectures, and we’re building it in the same way that technology is currently built today.”

Clemmons said the Oggun technology is simple, unique, practical, and it’s what small farmers need. Using off-the-shelf parts to build their tractors improves the local economies of their customers as well. The replacement parts can be found at local businesses like ag supply stores or auto parts stores.

“The parts don’t come painted certain colors, with patents on them, but instead they come out of the local economy,” Clemmons said. “All of that lowers the price over time because of the larger volume we get by using readily available components. Those components lower the price for everyone over time.”

Some of the specific tractor specs include a 19-horsepower Honda gas engine. The tractor length is just over 10 feet long and the weight is 1700 pounds. The brakes and the steering are hydraulic, with independent hydraulic drive. There’s also a unique zero-turn capability that comes with this tractor. It also has a 3-point hitch for implements. There’s also an optional PTO capability as well.

“It’s more than a tractor, the Oggun is a different way of thinking,” Clemmons added. More information is available at www.thinkoggun.com.

Minnesota Farmers Union tours state to hear farmer concerns

Gary Wertish Minnesota Farmers Union

New Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish, a Renville County farmer, recently embarked on a listening tour around the state to hear the concerns of Minnesota Farmers. (Photo from twitter.com)

One of the first things on the to-do list of new Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish was a series of visits around the state with farmers from across Minnesota. The idea was to get a sense of the concerns facing the state’s farmers as they get set for another growing season in Minnesota.

Wertish said the list of concerns farmers talked about with Farmers Union officials was a lengthy one. Concerns ranged from buffers to health insurance to property taxes to broadband. He says there seems to be a lot on the minds of Minnesota farmers as the turnout at almost every stop was good.

“We had a very good turnout at 15 stops around the state,” Wertish said. “We tried to cover all corners of the state. The smallest attendance was still 30-35 people but we also had a couple meetings that were 60-65 people. In total, roughly 450 people attended, so it made for some good discussion.”

In addition to farmers, a broad section of people turned out for the meetings, ranging from county commissioners, human services employees, people from local food shelves, and even had a couple school administrators. In addition to the usual topics like buffers, health insurance, and property taxes, Wertish said broadband access was brought up at virtually every meeting.

 

Broadband access

 

He said one of the stops was a dairy farm in Goodrich, where the family had just put in a robotic milking system. The couple told people at the meeting they were lucky to have access to high-speed internet, without which they couldn’t have made the switch. A lot of farmers around the rest of the state aren’t as lucky.

“You still have some areas around the state that are using dial-up internet,” Wertish said. “We hear stories of farmers out on tractors using GPS technology that lose their signal when they go down in a ravine. We also heard stories about farmers having to go into the McDonald’s in town to use their Wi-Fi.”

A farmer from Roseau has a son that works in the Twin Cities. His son came for a visit and was trying to do some work online while at the farm. His son spent half a day on work that would normally take him an hour in the Cities because of better broadband access. The son wants to take over the farm but keep his job in the Cities but he can’t do it without better broadband access in rural areas.

 

Health insurance

 

At a meeting in Mankato, a 59-year old farmer stood up to talk about healthcare. He and his wife farmed about 1,500 acres, and they’d been farming all their life. He and his wife could take care of all the work themselves so there was no need for hired help. But, neither one of them could work a job off the farm to provide healthcare.

“He buys insurance through the individual marketplace and his premium bill is $29,000,” Wertish said. “On top that that, the premium comes with a $13,000 deductible. That’s $42,000 combined. Lucky for him, he and his wife have never met their deductible.”

As he worked on cash flows and operating loans in meeting with lenders, they’d tell the farmer to cut expenses. As he looks at the worksheets, the only thing he can cut that’s not returning a chance at a profit is healthcare.

“While not quite that dramatic, we heard similar stories from around the state,” said Wertish. “Farmers are looking at out of control premiums. But to really fix health care, we need to take the politics out of it and we haven’t been able to do that yet.”

One potential solution broached at the state level would be to let people buy into the Minnesota Care program. One reason it’s being discussed is there are over 1 million people enrolled, so the state can use its buying power to control costs somewhat. The additional benefit is more than one health care provider as well, so there is competition for business. Some Minnesota counties often have only one provider.

 

Buffers

 

The state requirement for farmers to have either 16-foot or 50-foot buffers between their farmland and bodies of water has been a contentious issue for months. Due in part to political pressure, the state recently came out with some alternative solutions to the buffer requirements.

“The initial reaction we (Minnesota Farmers Union) have is that it does look like it’ll help,” he said. “The biggest thing that came out of it is the state is giving some flexibility to local Soil and Water officials on how they do things. The state’s comment was ‘if the local Soil and Water officials can come up with a particular solution and defend it, they’ll acknowledge that local plan.’”

Wertish did say the new alternatives aren’t getting rid of the buffers 100 percent, there still may be some areas in the state where they get by with less than what the law requires, depending on the plan. He said it’s very encouraging that some of the control is being put back into local offices.

The biggest complaint farmers had didn’t involve the buffers themselves, but more the way it was handled. The decision came from the top down, so farmers felt left out of the discussions and here came more government regulations without having any farmer input.

 

Mowing ditches

 

Minnesota farmers have been mowing and bailing ditches for a long time. In addition to the obvious benefit of forage for livestock, there’s also the benefit of additional weed control close to their fields. There is a law on the books that says MN-DOT can require a permit to work in the ditches but enforcement has been lax up until recently.

“A few years ago,” Wertish said, “a certain state legislator expressed concerns during a meeting that ‘farmers were getting all this free hay’ when they mowed ditches. He felt farmers were taking advantage of the state by getting all this hay for free.”

Wertish says that’s where the discussion was first brought forward and why it’s going on today. There’s a law on the books that says MN-DOT should require permits to do that, but the Minnesota Farmers Union President said the legislator wanted to charge a fee for the bales.

“Since then, you have the pollinator issue that’s entered it,” he said. “I think all farmers realize we need our pollinators and we have to do what we can. So, it’s a combination of things that’s really brought it forward.”

Farmers are saving MN-DOT a lot of money by not having to mow in certain parts of the state. He says not every ditch in Minnesota is getting mowed. In some areas, it might be tough to get equipment into certain ditches. Wertish said one idea is to make it easier for pollinators to live in ditches like that. It’s important for MN-DOT to bring together all stakeholders and put a plan together.

 

Other topics

 

Transportation funding was a big topic of conversation. Minnesota has aging infrastructure that needs to be repaired and several people at the various meetings said it’s time to put more money into the state’s roads.

Farm bill development was another consistent topic of conversation. Wertish said most farmers told him they didn’t want any more checks from the government. They just wanted to make sure the farm safety net was solid in case of emergencies.

Here the new Minnesota Farmers Union president visiting Joe Gill, KASM radio in Albany, MN.

 

Pork Producers applaud White House on GIPSA action

GIPSA The Trump administration today gave notice that it will further delay the effective date of a GIPSA regulation related to the buying and selling of livestock, a move applauded by the National Pork Producers Council, which opposes the Obama-era rule. It also will take public comments on what to do with the regulation.

The so-called Farmer Fair Practices Rules, written by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), includes two proposed regulations and an interim final rule, the latter of which now is set to become effective Oct. 19.

“We’re extremely pleased that the Trump administration has extended the time it has to review this regulation and the public comments on it, which will show the devastating effects this rule would have on America’s pork producers,” said NPPC President Ken Maschhoff, a pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. “The regulation likely would restrict the buying and selling of livestock, lead to consolidation of the livestock industry – putting farmers out of business – and increase consumer prices for meat.”

GIPSA

National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschoff says his group is happy with the White House decision to delay the effective date of  new GIPSA rules regarding the buying and selling of livestock. (photo courtesy of National Hog Farmer)

A notice in tomorrow’s Federal Register will indicate USDA is delaying the April 22 effective date for the interim final rule by 180 days and setting a 60-day comment period – from April 12 to June 10 – on whether to further delay or withdraw it. Just days into his presidency, President Trump extended for 60 days the public comment deadline on and Feb. 21 effective date of the Farmer Fair Practices Rules.

“The administration recognizes the importance of this issue to livestock farmers,” Maschhoff said, “and it’s following through with its pledge to look at regulations that would negatively affect people and the economy. Now we need to withdraw this bad regulation.”

NPPC is most concerned with the interim final rule, which would broaden the scope of the Packers and Stockyards Act (PSA) of 1921 related to using “unfair, unjustly discriminatory or deceptive practices” and to giving “undue or unreasonable preferences or advantages.” Specifically, the regulation would deem such actions per se violations of federal law even if they didn’t harm competition or cause competitive injury, prerequisites for winning PSA cases.

USDA in 2010 proposed several PSA provisions – collectively known as the GIPSA Rule – that Congress mandated in the 2008 Farm Bill; eliminating the need to prove a competitive injury to win a PSA lawsuit was not one of them. In fact, Congress rejected such a “no competitive injury” provision during debate on the Farm Bill. Additionally, eight federal appeals courts have held that harm to competition must be an element of a PSA case.

“Eliminating the need to prove injury to competition would prompt an explosion in PSA lawsuits by turning every contract dispute into a federal case subject to triple damages,” Maschhoff said. “The inevitable costs associated with that and the legal uncertainty it would create could lead to further vertical integration of our industry and drive packers to own more of their own hogs.

“That would reduce competition, stifle innovation and provide no benefits to anyone other than trial lawyers and activist groups that will use the rule to attack the livestock industry. For those reasons, we’re asking the administration to withdraw the rule.”

An Informa Economics study found that the GIPSA Rule today would cost the U.S. pork industry more than $420 million annually – more than $4 per hog – with most of the costs related to PSA lawsuits brought under the “no competitive injury” provision included in the interim final rule.

# # #

NPPC is the global voice for the U.S. pork industry, protecting the livelihoods of America’s 60,000 pork producers, who abide by ethical principles in caring for their animals, in protecting the environment and public health and in providing safe, wholesome, nutritious pork products to consumers worldwide. For more information, visit www.nppc.org.

Agriculture News at the Minnesota Legislature

Minnesota Legislature In my years of living and working in Minnesota, I’ve watched the state legislature as part of my roles in broadcasting and journalism, and it’s safe to say the polarization along political lines is as big a challenge as it’s ever been. But it’s good to see that agriculture can actually play a part in bringing the Minnesota Legislature to the table to get things done.

I offer as proof a conversation I had last week with Thom Peterson, the Director of Government Relations with the Minnesota Farmers Union. If something is happening that could potentially affect the state’s agriculture industry, he’s one of the people that’ll know about it before the public. The legislature recently passed an ag appropriations bill and Peterson said it’s a good example of how people at the capitol can still work together.

Property tax Minnesota Legislature

Thom Peterson is Director of Government Relations for the Minnesota Farmers Union

“The Ag Appropriations Bill for the House of Representatives passed last week 134-0,” he said, “which I think is kind of neat because, in this day and age when a lot of people are on opposite ends of the spectrum, a lot of times ag groups and legislators are still able to work together.”

The Chair of the Agriculture Finance Committee in the Minnesota Legislature is Republican Rod Hamilton from southwest Minnesota and Jeanne Poppe, a Freeborn County Democrat, is the DFL lead on the Ag Finance Committee. Peterson said she worked with Representative Hamilton to pass a good bill that both parties could agree on.

One of the interesting things about the Appropriations Bill is funding for more hemp production in the state. Peterson said production has grown in the last couple of years in different parts of the state. The law allowing production first passed in 2015, with seven farmers growing 35 acres of hemp for the first time in 50 years.

This year, he said more than 40 farmers are going to plant 2,000 acres of hemp in Minnesota. Folks may hear hemp and automatically associate it with marijuana. This is not the same thing as growing an illegal drug in a farm field. Hemp is potentially a very valuable product for the state’s farmers.

“I always say you’d have to smoke 40 acres of it to have a chance to get high,” Peterson said. “It has no THC value (the chemical that induces the “high”). Canada has been growing and selling it to us for years with no problems.”

Other things looming for agriculture is the potential for some property tax relief for farmers and gricultural landowners. Here’s the conversation I had last week with Thom:

 

Farmers Union applauds ditch mowing legislation signature

The Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) today applauded the signature of Senate File 218 by Governor Mark Dayton that implements a moratorium on the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) in enforcing permit requirements for mowing and baling in right of way on trunk highways, except for land that adjoins state land, until April 30th, 2018.

MFU had raised concerns with the new permit system MNDOT had announced in December of 2016. Many farmers saw it as unnecessary, confusing and burdensome.

mowing ditches moratorium

Farmers mowing and baling ditches will continue as is for the next year, thanks to legislation signed by Governor Dayton placing a moratorium on a MN-DOT plan to require permits to mow rights-of-ways next to roads.

“Mowing roadsides has been an important source of forage for farmers, controls weeds, and it improves visibility on highways” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “The legislation will give all parties a chance to get together and address issues and MFU encourages farmers to pay attention to this issue over the interim.

“Make sure to be involved in making your voices heard on this issue” added Wertish.

Under the legislation, MNDOT will recommend to the legislative committees with jurisdiction over transportation, agriculture, and natural resources, that there be an establishment of a permit or notification system to mow or hay in a trunk highway right-of-way. The recommendation must be developed with input from agriculture and environmental groups. The recommendation must contain at least the following elements:

(1) ease of permit application or notification;

(2) frequency of permits or notifications;

(3) priority given to the owner or occupant of private land adjacent to a trunk highway right-of-way;

(4) determination of authority to mow or hay in trunk highway right-of-way in which adjacent land is under the jurisdiction of the state or a political subdivision; and

(5) recognition of the differences in the abundance of wildlife habitat based on geographic distribution throughout the state.

MFU thanks Rep. Chris Swedzinski (R-Ghent) and Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls) for their work as chief authors of this legislation.

Minnesota Farmers Union—Standing for Agriculture, Fighting for Farmers (www.mfu.org).

What’s next regarding NAFTA?

American agriculture will have a hard time succeeding without a solid trading relationship with other countries. Now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is off the table, new President Donald Trump and his administration are now turning their attention to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). It’s the first time an administration took a serious look at renegotiating at least parts of the deal since it was signed during the Clinton administration.

NAFTA, Free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico

The Trump Administration still has a goal of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico in an attempt to make it more favorable for America. (photo from CNN Money)

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture recently held their winter policy conference in Washington, D.C., and trade was one of the biggest topics of conversation. Nathan Bowen is the Director of Public Policy at NASDA. He says that NAFTA has been a very good thing for agriculture for a long time.

“U.S. agriculture depends on export opportunities for our livelihood,” Bowen said. “With the new administration, there’s a lot of talk about what’s going to happen on the international trade front.”

Bowen says NAFTA has been very important for U.S. farmers and ranchers, who depend on the markets in Canada and Mexico for significant parts of their livelihood. NASDA wants to make sure as the administration looks at redoing NAFTA, agriculture has a place at the table.

“We are working to make sure that agriculture keeps the gains they’ve made under NAFTA,” Bowen said, “and that we do take opportunities that are there to strengthen the agreement. Farmers send a whole range of commodities to markets in both Canada and Mexico.”

He says NAFTA has been good for a whole list of Ag sectors, including beef. U.S. beef exports to Mexico and Canada have almost tripled since the beginning of the agreement. It was a little over $600 million dollars back in 1994, rising to $1.9 billion as recently as 2015.

“The access that U.S. beef has enjoyed in both of those markets has really been important for the industry,” Bowen adds. “The same could be said for corn, with significant gains in that sector, and pork is another really good success story.”

Bowen adds that there really isn’t a timeline for negotiations between the three countries to begin but he’s hopeful it will start as soon as possible so that agriculture will know where it stands with market access to Canada and Mexico.

Here’s the complete conversation with Bowen: