ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Organic farmers in Minnesota have concerns about the state’s agriculture industry that differ little from conventional farmers.
The 21st annual Minnesota Organic Conference offered a legislative listening session this year that allowed producers a chance to speak about what’s on their minds.
Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said opening the conversation was a good opportunity to hear directly from the producers.
“It always has to do with helping farmers be profitable, also some of the environmental concerns we always have in Minnesota,” Petersen said prior to kicking off the session.
Along with Petersen, the listening panel included
D-St. Cloud, Rep.
D-Brooklyn Center, and
R-Starbuck. Putnam is chair of the agriculture, broadband and rural development committee; Vang is chair of the agriculture finance and policy committee; and Anderson is the Republican lead of the agriculture finance and policy committee.
Incentives for farmers
Ben Hinueber of Albert Lea Seed spoke of the desire to see more financial incentives for those incorporating practices that improve soil and water quality.
Petersen said he’s working with legislators who are looking at a property tax credit for those enrolled in the
He also mentioned that the program does offer a $5,000 cost share.
Petersen made mention of the nitrate concerns that have arisen out of the southeastern part of the state. In that situation, the EPA told state agencies they need to develop a plan to address the
Putnam said water use and water quality are topics of utmost importance that are now part of a larger conversation.
“I think it’s fair to say that there’s much more appetite from farmers for there to be a reward or incentive than to have a negative approach,” Hinueber said.
Retired farmer John Dugan brought concerns of the shrinking dairy herd in the state. He quoted from a story that shared about the decrease in dairy farms. He wanted to hear from legislators about what could be done.
Petersen wanted to make clear that dairy farmers may be leaving dairies, but they are not leaving farming.
“It’s been a really tough ride for dairy,” Petersen said. “We continue to look at that and look at options.”
Petersen mentioned dollars available through the passing of the
in May 2023. The bill provides $4 million for the Dairy Assistance, Investment, Relief Initiative. The program provides financial assistance to Minnesota dairy cow operations that produced less than 16 million pounds of milk in 2022 and that enrolled in the Dairy Margin Coverage Program, a federal dairy risk protection program. He said Minnesota had the highest sign up rate for the program.
“And that helped save a lot of farms,” Petersen said.
Petersen said Minnesota will continue to see declines, but he was encouraged that some organic processors were looking for milk. He added, without naming the farm, that Minnesota has one very large dairy farm capable of impacting market.
Putnam agreed that consolidation of smaller farms into a few very large farms was a concern for dairy. He said he believed it was becoming harder to be a beginning farmer or even an intermediate producer.
“It’s also destroying small-town Minnesota because that ginormous dairy uses its own veterinarian, so there is no large animal vet for those other farmers that are still there,” Putnam said. “We have to find a way to respect and protect the small farmer, especially when it comes to dairy, not just for economic reasons but because it’s kinda who we are.”
Anderson said the industry needs to take a look at the capacity issues.
it’s harder to find a market for the milk that would normally go there.
Another concern was brought forth by
. Schwagerl brought up that the difficulty in becoming an entrepreneur in something like farming is having access to affordable health care.
Putnam said this is important, but it’s going to take time.
Anderson said that while Minnesota health care will be made more available to a greater percentage of people in Minnesota in coming years, he cautions that rural hospitals are concerned about reimbursement rates.
“Because we don’t want to see our hospitals close up either,” Anderson said.
Putnam agreed and said that about 11% of physicians live and work in rural areas and about a third of those are set to retire in the next 10 years.
Another concerned citizen said that he wanted to see data that showed how the state’s buffer law was offering any benefit.
was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton in June 2015. It requires small areas or buffers of perennial vegetation along lakes, rivers, streams and public drainage ditches that are intended to protect water resources and provide habitat.
The farmer said he understood that farming can cause nitrogen contamination, but he considered the law a “land grab” that offered farmers no compensation for loss of farmland and no data showing how it was helping. The law states that the buffer is to be up to 50 feet along lakes, rivers, and streams and 16.5 feet along ditches.
“Let’s get some data from the 16.5 to 50 feet that was taken. Did it actually do any good other than we have 95% compliance?” he said.
Anderson said the farmer was spot on and felt that they need to know what the data showed, and they should have known what the health of the water was before the buffers went into place. He made note of a Canadian study that showed buffers can be detrimental to the water quality.
He felt that there should be a property tax credit for those acres taken out of production.
“The benefits are dubious, but yeah, there is compliance, and let’s see what it’s done,” Anderson said.
Putnam said that this is a topic of discussion among lawmakers and he agreed that there should be compensation.
“Death by regulation is not democratic,” Putnam said.
Petersen said it was fair to look at how the law was helping. He added that the buffer law was already the law, it just wasn’t being enforced at the time.
prior to the implementation of the buffer law in 2015 showed that there was a benefit to having these buffers in place.
Other topics brought up included more options for health care, the need for better training of state and federal agriculture boards, concerns about the impact to hemp growers after opening up recreational marijuana use and the desires to grow the berry industry in the state.
Powered by WPeMatico
Go to Source