Grower leaders talk issues with lawmakers during 2012 Day on the Hill

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Biofuels and water quality rules. These are two issues dealing the highest impact to farmers and rural communities in Minnesota and so farmers went to the Minnesota State Legislature to attend hearings and speak with lawmakers and ask their support for the farmers’ positions on several key pieces of legislation in these areas.

An MCGA delegation headed up by MCGA President John Mages of Belgrade (Stearns County) attended a hearing on biofuels legislation to support the Ethanol Requirement Extension (HF2741), which extends Minnesota’s ethanol 20% ethanol requirement by 3 years.  Without this change, the requirement will expire, perhaps before federal approval can be gained for E20 as a standard gasoline blend. Rep. Paul Anderson, author of the bill, spoke at the hearing and Mages also offered testimony. Representatives from the biobutanol industry were seeking a change in Anderson’s bill to include the new biofuel, also produced from corn. Mages offered the MCGA position that it would be better to hold off-session hearings with all the stakeholders rather than changing the language of the extension bill right now.

“It was helpful that we had 15 people in the room,” said Elizabeth Tanner, director of advocacy and strategic partnerships for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. If you do have good representation at a hearing it does help your cause.”

The delegation included several staff, three student ‘agvocates’ and a dozen MCGA grower leaders.

“MCGA Day on the Hill went really well,” said Tanner. “It’s about making connections and those connections lead to more connections–this is the way you let your representatives know that you know what’s happening and that you follow what they are doing. Senator (Julie) Rosen bumped into us, and said she really liked seeing our group up there at the capital. She chatted with us, gave us a quick update, and listened to our concerns, and then she went back to the session. She let another senator on the floor know that one of our grower leaders, a constituent of his, was waiting out in the hall, so that senator came right out and talked to us.”

Another important element of Day on the Hill is educating grower leaders about the legislative process and about the work that political advocates are carrying forward on behalf of MCGA.

“We employ full time lobbyists and it’s important for the grower leaders to see how that investment is paying off for the group’s 6,000 farmer members across the state,” said Tanner.

The group also spoke to their home legislators in support of two bills having to do with wetlands, introduced by Senator Gary Dahms: a Wetlands Bill (SF2072) to increase the size of land eligible for the de minimis exemptions for class 1, 2, 6, and 7 wetlands and another bill to exempt farmers from the Wetlands Conservation Act if they are complying with the federal wetlands protection laws known as Swampbuster. (SF2042, Sponsor: Dahms).

Another highlight of the day was an hour long briefing with State Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. The Minnesota Corn organizations’ board and council had met with Frederickson the day before, but this session proved to be a valuable follow up. The commissioner and the leaders held a lengthy discussion about the Memo of Understanding between the state of Minnesota and the Federal EPA and USDA to launch a pilot conservation program geared to water quality outcomes where Frederickson assured them that “we don’t want to cause economic pain with this program–if there is pain here we want to get rid of it. At the end of the day everybody’s got to earn a living. We just want to identify best management practices” in order to reward those through this program.

Former MCGA president Doug Albin said, “This is a good time for farmers to look at conservation practices. We have money to spend and we are willing to spend it.”

Former NCGA and MCGA President Gerald Tumbleson said, “America was built on one word. Innovation… We are just concerned that whatever program is put in place, we are allowed the room to change and grow. We don’t know what tomorrow’s best management practices will be, and trying new things is the only way to find out.”

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