With all 201 seats up for election this fall, state legislators were hoping to finish the 2012 session by end of April. However, debates and votes on the Vikings stadium issue kept them in St. Paul throughout most of May.
Those lawmakers with agricultural ties noted that they came together early in the session and agreed on a number of issues. They hoped to set the tone for rest of the legislative body, but football claimed the field. The marching Wilfs refused to yield, forcing lawmakers to strike a deal; the day, the NLF cried (apologies to Don McLean).
Here's the recap from the four participating lawmakers who are listed with their committee assignments:
-Rep. Paul Anderson, R-District 13A, Starbuck; farmer; Vice-Chair: Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance; Education Finance; Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance
-Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-District 23A, St. Peter; Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance; Higher Education Policy and Finance; Transportation Policy and Finance
-Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton; District 22; farmer; chair of the Agriculture and Rural Economies Committee; Committees for Capital Investment, Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications and Finance
-Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-District 02; Clearbrook; farmer; Agriculture and Rural Economies; Environment and Natural Resources; Taxes
Magnus: Minnesota agriculture continues to be one of the economic bright spots. State ag exports rank sixth in the U.S. with more than $6 billion in value. "We've tripled our export value in 12 years," he added.
Energy is another vital area with growing technologies in ethanol pushing our foreign oil dependence from 60% in 2005 to 45% now. The first commercial isobutanol plant in the world recently fired up in Luverne by Gevo. Isobutanol, also made from corn, reportedly has more uses than ethanol, contains more energy per gallon, is less corrosive to pipes and can be blended with fuel in conventional engines at higher concentrations. A second plant will open in North Dakota by end of the year. "This is the next generation of biofuels," Magnus said. However, he sees challenges ahead in Washington, D.C., for biofuels. "We're seeing less support for biofuels," he added. "Natural gas is so cheap they're burning it off to get rid of it. That's not good."
Magnus said the efforts must be made to keep biotech and consumer food preferences as priority issues.
"We took biotech for granted and we can't any more. Consumers still have concerns about GMOs," he said. Communication with anti-animal groups and environmentalists must continue with farmers at the table. He noted that movement ahead on the Dairy Research, Teaching and Consumer Education Authority, which was enacted as part of the Agriculture Policy bill, will help. The authority's board has the responsibility of identifying and acquiring a site to accommodate the new Dairy Research facility approved last session.
Skoe: After reviewing some general ag issues and the farm bill, Skoe cut to the chase. "Minnesota farmers need to be more proactive on water and TMDLs," he said. "We've got to get our message out there about the good things we're doing… It will be better done by ourselves than having it thrust upon us." He specifically mentioned best management practices as an area that need farmer attention.
And when it comes to handling water, Skoe said tiling is a solution, not a problem. "In the Red River Valley, tiling is the best thing that could have happened there," he said. "Tiled field can hold more water than saturated soils." He added, though, that surface drains need a second look, and probably should be removed.
Taxes issues will come up next session with value exclusion issue needed more work. Property taxes, sales tax, sales tax exemptions and the mortgage deduction will be up for further discussion, too, Skoe said.
Anderson: He is encouraged by the enthusiasm by young people in agriculture and the dairy research and teaching portion the ag bill. "It's a great time in agriculture now," he said.
Morrow: He reported that he has heard from some folks whose property taxes have gone up 18% to 20%. Accordingly, he expects taxes to be a major issue next session.
Moderator Cory Bennett asked a few follow-up questions. Here is one that he posed:
-How was this last session different from the previous one?
Morrow: "There was more manure in the [Vikings] stadium issue than in ag. The session was taken over by the stadium issue."
Anderson: "We shot past our goal of an April 30 adjournment. The bonding bill was big. The Republicans don't like it, but the funding was important for rural Minnesota so we needed some of that half-billion dollars this year and another half billion last year."
Magnus: "Go back to December 2010 when the forecast said the state would be $6 billion short. That set the tone for 2011 budgeting. It was a daunting task for everyone, but we got it under control."
Skoe: "The one thing that didn't change either year was that the ag committee was bipartisan and worked together to get things done."