The Missouri General Assembly is in full swing with several farm issues coming before both the House and Senate. Missouri Ruralist talked with commodity and farm organizations to see what their top legislative priorities will be for this year. From increasing the voluntary beef check off to increasing transportation weight limits on Missouri highways, these organizations are searching for legislative measures that will move agriculture forward in the state. In this month's "Web Exclusives", representatives from the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, Missouri Corn Growers and Missouri Farm Bureau provide the Top 3 issues farmers and ranchers should watch for this session.
Missouri Cattlemen's Association'
Mike Deering, Executive Vice President
Increasing transportation weight limits. Missouri Cattlemen's Association is pushing for increasing hauling limits from 80,000 to 85,500 pounds. "Right now we are not consistent with our bordering states," Deering explains. "It is difficult to ship cattle into the state because truck drivers have to adjust their weight to enter." He says the move would improve Missouri cattlemen's competitive edge. The advantage, according to Deering, is to lessen the amount of truck traffic on the roads by increasing weight. Cattle producers can put more cattle on the truck, requiring fewer trucks to navigate Missouri's highways.
Tightening up fence laws. Deering's office receives daily calls for interpretation the two fence laws in Missouri. There is the general fence law where the livestock owner is legally responsible for building and maintaining a fence. When adjoining landowners or renters own livestock the upkeep is split 50/50. The local option states that when one landowner requires a boundary fence, both landowners are legally responsible for upkeep of the fence, with no mention of livestock. Already 18 Missouri counties have opted out of the general fence law for the local option. Deering said the local option fence law increases livestock owners' rights. MCA plans to work with individual counties to encourage adopting the local fence law.
Changing statute to allow for a state beef check off. Currently in the Missouri statute, there is language stops and prevents having a statewide beef check off, because of the national beef check off that went into effect. Deering says his membership would like to take out the language that blocks the state check off and call for a vote of all beef producers to allow for a 50-cent check off. That would increase the total check off to $1.50, but 50 cents would stay in the state. However, he notes, the state check off would be refundable.
Missouri Corn Growers
Shane Kinne, Director of Public Policy
Bringing E15 to state. "We are getting closer," Kinne says. Last year, Missouri lawmakers blocked a proposal that would have allowed stations to sell fuel containing 15% ethanol. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules halted the proposed rule change by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Kinne says the full legislature can decide whether permanently to block the rule. But the department can withdraw the proposed rule change. Kinne says MCGA is working with legislators and the department to keep E15 moving forward in the state.
Hold the line on property taxes on agricultural land. Every two years, the Missouri State Tax Commission reviews the productivity value used for property tax assessment. Missouri law states that ag land will be assessed on productivity not market value. This allows ag land to be valued for production rather than development or other purposes. Kinne says the MCGA will work with the commission to ensure fair tax rates on agricultural land.
Increasing transportation weight limits. "We need to level the playing field for our producers," Kinne says. He notes that increased weight limits to 85,500 pounds will help the state's grain and ethanol co-product haulers. MCGA would like increased limits to be in place beyond just harvest. "Grain and commodities are moved all year round today," he adds. "We need a law that reflects the needs of grain farmers and the ethanol industry moving forward." MCGA plans to join voices with the MCA in this fight to increase transportation weight limits.
Missouri Farm Bureau
Leslie Holloway, Director of State and Local Government Affairs
Increasing transportation sales tax. Conditions of the roads in outstate Missouri are deteriorating and bridges need work, Holloway says. MFB is looking at placing a one-cent sales tax on the ballot. However, the group will not endorse the proposal until the organization can see how the Missouri Department of Transportation will allocate the additional funds. Holloway says MFB need to be sure that funds will be directed to rural roads. "It is not just agriculture using the roads," she says. "There is a lot more vehicle traffic everywhere." She says there is a need for improvement to the states road infrastructure in rural areas.
Foreign ownership of farmland. In a special session last September, the law on foreign ownership of farmland was changed to set a 1% cap on farmland owned by foreign entities. "We opposed that language," Holloway explains. "Our concern is once you start down this road of percent, it is easy to change that." MFB supports prohibiting foreign ownership of farmland, pointing to concerns over the rising interest from countries like China in agriculture enterprises like Smithfield. "Agriculture is global in nature," she adds. "But we need to make sure that Missouri farmers and ranchers have access to farmland because there isn't any more of it."
Flexible Term limits. Currently in Missouri, an individual can serve a total of 16 years in the General Assembly, but is limited to eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate. MFB is backing a measure to change the term limits to allow a person to serve 16 years total, but remove the limit of eight years in each body. Holloway says the MFB backs this measure because Missouri, like other states, is seeing fewer legislators with a working knowledge of agriculture. "It is difficult to get them up to speed on the issues and the process," she says. Legislators may choose to serve more years in the House, providing a greater understanding of ag issues and the law making process.