Don't Forget Your Membership!If you are a current member, you should have recently received a letter in the mail asking you to renew your membership for 2013. Please be sure to send your dues in early so we can conserve important resources in not having to send out a reminder notice. If you did not receive a letter, or are interested in joining the MSCA, Click here for Application Form
The MSCA saw many successes in terms of our priority issues ranging from wolf management, expanded grazing access on conservation lands, reasonable animal identification requirements, opening up CRP and other conservation lands for emergency haying and grazing, and improving the environmental permitting process. Looking forward to 2013, the MSCA will be focused on many of the same issues, but we will also be closely monitoring the drought situation and work with state and federal governments to respond appropriately if drought conditions persist.
Forage Concerns Grow…Prevented Plant Acres in PlayThe MSCA has been fielding calls and are aware of severe alfalfa losses around the state coupled with the overall shortage of forage availability. Over the last month, MSCA has been building coalitions and reaching out to officials to see what options may be available to address the situation.
Two early options we have identified are opening up Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for emergency haying or grazing and allowing the planting and harvest of forage crops on prevented plant acres without penalty.
At this time, it appears that the situation will need to further deteriorate before CRP acres might be opened up, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture does have the ability to waive the November 1 restriction on haying or grazing cover crops planted on prevented plant acres.
On June 4, the MSCA participated in a meeting convened by State Conservationist Don Baloun that was attended by the Risk Management Agency (RMA), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Congressman Collin Peterson's office, Minnesota Milk Producers Association, and AgStar Financial Services.
- The USDA is not able to move the June 25 cover crop planting date on prevented plant acres, so farmers will need to wait until after that date if they wish to seed a cover crop.
- The USDA does have the option to waive the November 1 date to allow farmers to hay or graze cover crops at any time without any prevented plant payment reduction. Current policy is that if you hay or graze cover crops prior to November 1, you must surrender 65 percent of your prevented plant payment.
- The USDA-NRCS is exploring options to potentially make cost-share dollars available via the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help offset the cost of seeding a cover crop.
The MSCA joined other organizations in sending a coalition letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on June 5 requesting immediate action to waive the November 1 date related to RMA and FSA policies tied to prevented planting acres.
Farmers and ranchers should stay tuned over the next few weeks to see what action the Secretary may take, and if the NRCS is able to provide cost-share assistance with seeding. When an announcement is made on either front, your first action should be to contact your insurance agent to inform them of your intentions to plant a cover crop. The next step will be for you to communicate with your local FSA and NRCS office.
Appeals Court Dismisses Wolf CaseThe Minnesota Court of Appeals recently dismissed a petition filed by two advocacy groups, Howling for Wolves and the Center for Biological Diversity, aimed at blocking the State's ability to hold wolf hunting and trapping seasons. The appeals judges ruled the groups lacked sufficient legal standing to challenge the state Department of Natural Resources' process for establishing a wolf season, and found that the rulemaking process did not interfere with group's ability to provide comment.
The advocacy groups' efforts during the legislative session to reinstate a five year moratorium on the hunting and trapping of wolves were also unsuccessful. The DNR plans to make a decision about the 2013 hunting and trapping season sometime this summer, after they release their population survey which is currently underway.
On the federal front, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) continues to pursue legal action against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to return the wolf to the Endangered Species List. If the wolf is returned to the list, no hunting and trapping will be allowed, nor will ranchers be allowed to protect their livestock from wolf attacks. If HSUS is successful in securing federal protection for the wolf, the only solution left to settle the controversy will be for Congress to require delisting and blocking additional lawsuits as they have done in western states
Minnesota Legislative Wrap-UpThe Minnesota Legislature adjourned on Monday, May 20 just before their required midnight deadline, signifying the end of the Legislature's budget setting process. The Legislature will reconvene on February 25, 2014 when they will address many non-financial policy issues, decide how much to borrow for capital bonding projects, and revisit some budget items to address unexpected needs and ensure the budget is in balance, otherwise known as supplemental budgeting.
Following is summary of legislation impacting agriculture and rural Minnesota from the session.
Omnibus Agriculture & Environment Finance Bill
HF976 was signed by the Governor on May 23 and appropriates over $788 million over the next two years to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources ($478.2 million), Pollution Control Agency ($168.5 million), Department of Agriculture ($81 million), Board of Water and Soil Resources ($25.5 million), Board of Animal Health ($9.7 million), and Agriculture Research Utilization Institute ($5.3 million).
- Cuts wolf depredation program by $100,000, program will now only receive $25,000 per year.
- $20 million to MDA for the Agriculture Growth Research and Innovation Fund (AGRI), of which livestock investment grants will be funded. However, $2 million of this amount was earmarked for county fair arts programs, so there will only be $18 million for grants.
- $3.9 million to the MPCA for county feedlot program, and $400,000 dedicated to issue permits for farms over 1,000 animal units.
- $520,000 for BWSR to distribute feedlot water quality grants for feedlots under 300 animal units located in impaired watersheds.
- No increased water usage fees, but DNR receives additional authorities to require groundwater permits and establish management areas. The DNR also received an additional $6 million for increased groundwater monitoring.
- The MDA receives authority to develop agriculture water quality certification program, and received $3 million in funding via the dedicated sales tax (legacy) bill.
Wolf Depredation Funding Cut…Hunting and Trapping Preserved
Despite efforts by some legislators and activist groups, no legislation was passed to eliminate the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) ability to hold hunting and trapping seasons for wolves.
Unfortunately, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), in conjunction with conference committee members, decided to single out the wolf depredation program for a $100,000 cut in order to pay for increased groundwater monitoring around the state. This cut was made in the last hours of the conference committee in behind-closed doors meetings between top ranking MDA officials and conferees. The MSCA is extremely disappointed in the MDA and conferees for singling out this important program for cuts when other MDA programs and appropriations went unscathed or received increased funding. Furthermore, there was never any open discussion of cutting this program throughout the session, so these cuts came at a great surprise.
The MSCA does not believe $25,000 per year in wolf compensation is adequate to pay for cattle losses due to wolf attacks, especially when there is already a backlog of claims waiting to be paid by the MDA. The MSCA will be working next session to restore and enhance funding. In the coming months, you are encouraged to contact MDA Commissioner Dave Frederickson and your State Representative and Senator and encourage them to support restored and enhanced funding.
LCCMR Grazing Provisions Signed by Governor
Despite efforts earlier by some state legislators to strip out language to invest in perimeter fencing of state lands, Governor Mark Dayton signed HF1113 which appropriates $600,000 to the DNR to develop plans and provide infrastructure to support conservation grazing on 10,000 acres of targeted wildlife management areas.
The overall bill appropriated around $38 million for several natural resource projects recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). Money for these projects comes from the Natural Resources Trust Fund, which was created by constitutional amendment in 1988 using money generated by the Minnesota State Lottery.
Also included in the bill is $190,000 to U of M to evaluate woodland grazing and $52,000 to DNR and Hiawatha Valley RC&D to develop BMPs to control invasive species through planned grazing.
Tax Bill…New Tax on Farm Equipment Repair
With little time to spare, the Senate passed HF677 the final tax conference committee report in the closing hours of the session. The bill was signed by the Governor on May 23. The final bill generates $2.1 billion in new revenue via increased taxes, primarily by establishing a new 9.85 percent income tax rate for taxable income of more than $150,000 for singles and $250,000 for couples. The new revenue is anticipated to close the $627 million projected deficit, provide $735 million in new education funding, and $441 million in property tax relief.
- Expands sales tax to farm equipment repairs (equipment purchases and parts are still exempt), and expands sales tax for warehousing and storage. It is unknown at this time if storage of agricultural commodities will be subject to the sales tax.
- Starting July 1, a new state 10 percent gift tax will be levied against individuals who gift more than $1 million in their lifetime.
- Clarifies that all farms in Minnesota, regardless of how they are organized, are eligible for the $5 million state estate tax exemption.
- Exempts cities and counties from paying state sales taxes and increases local government aid by $130 million, and limits local property tax levies to 3 percent.
Considering all the tax changes that have been made, the Minnesota Department of Revenue will release new information every Thursday. If you are interested in receiving email alerts on changes you can sign up via the Department website.
Minimum Wage and Overtime
Despite efforts to raise the minimum wage and lower the hours when overtime must be paid, the House and Senate were unable to reconcile their differences (House was at $9.50 and Senate at $7.75 per hour). Note: If you are employing an individual on your farm on an hourly basis, you are currently required to pay overtime after 48 hours.
Legacy Bill (Dedicated Sales Tax)
HF1183 was signed by the Governor on May 23 and appropriates $496.1 million to fund four funds endowed by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed by voters in 2008. The appropriations, by fund, are: Clean Water Fund - $194.9 million; Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund - $115.9 million; Outdoor Heritage Fund - $100.05 million; Parks and Trails Fund - $85.1 million.
- $14.8 million to MDA, of which $5 million is earmarked for water monitoring of nitrates, $3 million to establish and implement a water quality certification program, and $2 million for research.
- Over $100 million to BWSR, of which over $53 million is to acquire conservation easements, and $47.7 million for a variety of grants primarily to local governments.
- Over $71 million to DNR for 24 land acquisition or restoration projects.
- $15.2 million for the MPCA to complete 20 percent of the statewide assessments of surface water quality and trends and $18.8 million to develop total maximum daily load plans.
- $4 million to DNR for stream flow monitoring, and $3 million to designate groundwater management areas
Legislative Audit Commission
The Minnesota Legislative Audit Commission has directed the Minnesota Legislative Auditor to examine the state's 13 agricultural commodity councils. Possible evaluation issues include: how much money has been collected through the agricultural commodity check-off program; how has the money been spent; what types of oversight and accountability are provided relative to these funds; what extent do the commodity councils measure their effectiveness; and how effective have the councils been in meeting their goals?