Ag, health care and transportation funding passed out of committee
This past Friday marked the Minnesota Legislature’s second deadline, by which all bills that spend state funds needed to be heard by the relevant committees and sent to the House or Senate Floor for a vote. That said, a lot of changes can—and will—happen before these bills have the chance to be signed into law by Gov. Walz, making MFU’s continued advocacy over the next two months important.
First, there will be amendments to these bills on the House and Senate floor. And second, there will undoubtedly be significant differences between the bills passed in either house, meaning that members will have a lot of work to do to reconcile the bills once they make it to conference committee. The House proposes investing an additional $6 million in the agriculture budget, funding meat inspections, noxious weed control and rural mental health. The Senate, on the other hand, cuts staffing at MDA and funding for existing initiatives, like Farm to School, in order to maintain current levels of spending while adding new priorities, including dairy modernization grants. The House health and human services budget bill includes the governor’s health care buy-in proposal (ONECare) along with a number of important provisions to MFU, while the Senate bill doesn’t include this recommendation.
Friday’s deadline also marked the end of a busy week for MFU at the Capitol. Intern Emily Pliscott testified in the House Tax Committee about the significant difference a 30 percent increase to the agriculture school building bond tax credit would mean for farmers and rural school districts. Significantly, the change would provide $30 million in agriculture property tax relief. MFU President Gary Wertish also testified in the House Tax Committee in favor of repealing the sunset of the provider tax, which funds Minnesota’s rural health care safety net. He also testified about the need for a strong, responsible transportation funding package that will pay for needed repairs to roads and bridges, particularly in rural Minnesota. All of these priorities were voted out of committee and sent to the House floor for a vote.
This week, the Minnesota Legislature is in recess. Watch for town halls and other opportunities to connect with your representatives and make sure they understand the issues that are important to you as they get to work in the final moths of session.
On the federal level, Tom Emmer (R-MN06), Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN08), Jim Hagedorn (R-MN01), Angie Craig (D-MN02) and House Ag Committee Chair Collin Petersen (D-MN07) signed a letter requesting $2 million for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN). Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the bipartisan Family Farmer Relief Act, which would raise the Chapter 12 operating cap.
Ag Census paints a clearer picture of U.S. agriculture
After much anticipation, U.S. Department of Agriculture released the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture last week. The Census, which is taken every five years, is the most complete set of data for American agriculture, providing an abundance of information about land use, farm ownership and decision-making, demographics, production practices, income and expenditures.
This is the first Census that allowed operations to list more than one principal operator, thus offering a more accurate picture of the role of women and young farmers, who in previous years were often listed as secondary operators regardless of their level of involvement. As a result, the number of women producers jumped almost 27 percent, with more than half of farms listing at least one woman as a decision maker.
Though the number of beginning farmers grew as well, to 27 percent of total farmers, they are still overwhelmingly outnumbered by older producers: for every producer younger than 35, there are more than six farmers older than 65. This alarming trend has pushed the average age of farmers up to 57.5 years old. If older farmers retire at a faster rate than new farmers join the industry, it will put significant strain on the agricultural system as a whole.
The census points to some other troubling changes in farm-level consolidation and the farm economy. For one, the overall number of farms and ranches dropped by 3 percent, to just over 2 million, and total acres cultivated fell by 1.6 percent, to 900 million. Additionally, while the number of large- and small-sized farms grew between 2012 and 2017, the middle-sized farms fell. Unsurprisingly, as farms consolidated, so did farm production; just over 5 percent of farms accounted for 75 percent of all sales. That doesn’t mean farmers are making more money. To the contrary, 56.4 percent of operations lost money in 2017.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson expressed concern about some of these shifts. “We’ve got older farmers, fewer farms and fewer farm families on the land,” he said in a statement. “None of that is positive for American agriculture or our rural communities.”
However, there were some more promising data points; for one, many farmers are in engaged in on-farm energy production. Since the last Census was taken in 2012, the number of farms and ranches with renewable energy production systems, including solar panels, methane digesters, and wind turbines, grew by more than 100 percent. Direct marketing and value-added sales are on the rise as well, at a market value of $9.03 billion and $4.04 billion, respectively.
Though not all the results are encouraging, Johnson stressed the importance of the Ag Census in data-driven policy making. “The ag census is important to federal, state and local policymakers, as well as farmers and ranchers. The data will inform farm policy, rural policy, and long-term decisions made over the next five years,” said Johnson. “We’re grateful to the farm and ranch families who put in the time to fill out the 2017 Census of Agriculture, thereby giving a voice to their operations and their communities.”
Read more in the NFU release, and read the full Census here