Legislative Update: Drones, ethanol, transportation and more

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff, Senior Policy Director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA)

It sounds like Minnesota farmers are making great progress this planting season. As of last week, 45 percent of the state’s corn crop was in the ground, two weeks ahead of the five-year average.

As you continue making progress, we want to make sure you’re staying up to date on the latest agriculture legislative and policy happenings in Washington D.C. and St. Paul. This week’s update contains mostly federal items, so let’s get to it:


Reid Vapor Pressure
MCGA continues to work hard to allow the sale of higher blends of ethanol such as E15 during the summer months. Currently, Reid Vapor Pressure regulations unfairly force retailers to label blends like E15 “for flex-fuel vehicles only” during the summer months. Of course, this has a significant negative impact on sales. (Note: Reid Vapor Pressure rules are really confusing and hard to explain. Just know that it’s a silly and unnecessary regulation and we’re working hard to get it changed.)

Recently, MGCA’s marketing and biofuels director Mitch Coulter spent time in Washington D.C. visiting with legislators and policymakers to address the Reid Vapor Pressure issue. There are glimmers of hope for the future. A new piece of legislation would allow for the sale of higher blends of ethanol during the summer months. Here’s an audio clip of the new legislation.

Water Resources Development Act
The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) is basically the legislation in Congress that supports water infrastructure and policy on our waterways, harbors, channels,  locks, dams, etc.  The Senate recently released its version of the bill, which does not include lockage fees/tolls to finance Public Private Partnerships included in the bill. This is good news (MCGA had signed a letter urging that a lockage fee/tolling proposal for the Illinois Waterway not be included in WRDA). A similar letter went to the House side, but that bill has not yet been released.

As drones continue to become more popular, the Senate passed the FAA Reauthorization Act, which included provisions on drones. These included safety provisions so drones used in agriculture and airplanes don’t collide. The bill requires small towers to be safely marked so that agriculture applicators and drones can operate at low altitudes and be clearly identified.


Not much to report from the state legislative side this time around. The agriculture committees in the House & Senate have finished their work this session — most legislative action is now on the House and Senate floors and in conference committees. … We continue to work on securing property tax relief for farmers. … Gov. Dayton signed a new bill clarifying several items from last year’s buffer bill. We will have a blog post addressing both the old and new buffer bill later this week. … Meantime, if you need your buffer fix here is an interesting public television segment on buffers featuring Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR) Executive Director John Jaschke and Rep. Paul Torkelson, shot before the session. … Finally, we are preparing official comments on BWSR’s Buffer and Soil Loss program implementation.

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Attention farmers: MCGA is offering FREE nitrate screening to help you address water quality

Sam P3The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) is giving farmers the opportunity to have their well, ditch, stream and tile outlet water tested for nitrates. And it’s completely free.

UPDATE: We’ve added two additional screening opportunities in Crookston and Lamberton. See the updated schedule below.

The screening is completely confidential and takes about 20 minutes. Nitrate testing is an easy way for farmers to get a better idea about water conditions and nutrient loss on their own farms.

Collecting a sample for testing is simple:

  • To take a ditch, stream or tile water sample, collect 1 cup of water in a clean plastic or glass container. Freeze your sample and bring it in cool for testing.
  • For well water, run your cold tap for 5-10 minutes and collect 1 cup of water in a clean plastic or glass container. Freeze your sample and bring it in cool for testing.
  • If a sample is collected within 24 hours of testing, it does not need to be frozen, but should be kept refrigerated.

Current dates and locations for testing are listed below. We will be adding additional dates and locations throughout the state, so stay tuned. Each testing site will be open from 10 a.m — 2 p.m.

May 9 at the University of Minnesota Extension office, located at 1527 Prairie Drive.

Fergus Falls
May 12 at the West Otter Tail County University of Minnesota Extension office, located at 505 South Court St.

May 13 at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center, located at 46352 State Highway 329.

May 23 at the University of Minnesota Extension office, located at 863 30th Ave. SE.

May 24 at the Northwest Research and Outreach Center, located at 2900 University Ave.

May 26 at the Southwest Research and Outreach Center, located at 23669 130th St.

Again, we will be adding additional dates in the very near future. Keep checking back to see the date/location in your area. If you have any questions, you may contact Cara Soukup in the MCGA state office at (952) 233-0333.

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Fueling the truth: Taking down ethanol haters myth by misguided myth

If you have a friend who remains skeptical about ethanol’s air quality benefits, or you know a local mechanic who clings to the belief that ethanol damages engines, you’ll want to send them to FuelingTheTruth.com.

The new website from the Urban Air Initiative cuts through all the myths, misinformation and confusion put out there by ethanol’s critics and gets right down to the facts.

You want videos? FuelingTheTruth.com has plenty of videos. You want FAQs? FueltingTheTruth.com has you covered. You want complex information about ethanol and gasoline broken down into easy-to-understand paragraphs? Yup, FuelingTheTruth.com does that, too.

Here’s an example of a video:


Here’s and example of a FAQ and response:

Why is ethanol considered a clean octane?

Lead was once the main source of octane in gasoline. When refineries were required to stop using lead because of the health problems it posed, they started adding benzene and toluene instead. These are toxic aromatic compounds that are known and suspected carcinogens.

Ethanol, on the other hand, is a natural product. It can provide a clean octane source to gasoline, reducing the need for toxic aromatics. Ethanol offers twice the octane increase when simply added to gasoline compared to any other gasoline component, making it the most economical choice.

The site even has numerous other resources you can turn to for your ethanol inquiries.

Ok, enough reading about the site. Go to FuelingTheTruth.com and check the site out for yourself. More importantly, send the ethanol skeptics in your family or friend circle to the site.

Their minds will be blown.

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Legislative update: What’s happening in St. Paul and Washington D.C. while farmers are planting?

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

It sounds like planting progress is moving full speed ahead out in farm country. In St. Paul, the legislative session also continues churning forward. Here is a quick farm-focused legislative update to peruse while you’re in the tractor planting.

Buffer bill passes
Last week the House voted to pass a bill that clarifies several items in the buffer bill passed last year. The bill already unanimously passed the Senate, and is awaiting Gov. Dayton’s signature. He’s said that he will sign the bill. The House passed it 105-24.

This Pioneer Press story has more information on what was clarified in the new buffer bill. It also has a map on how each state representative voted. Keep checking MinnesotaCornerstone.com throughout the week. We’ll have our own post that (hopefully) answer farmers’ questions about the original buffer bill last session and the buffer clarification bill passed last week.

Property taxes
Nothing new to report here. There is still bi-partisan support to pass a tax bill this session that contains property tax relief for farmers. Now it’s just a matter of getting it done.

Ag and Environment bills
The Agriculture and Environment supplemental budget bills are winding their way through the legislative process. In the House ag bill, some adjustments are made to avian flu funding. Other pending measures include funding for an agriculture emergency fund, new equipment and instruments for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, $1.8 million to the University of Minnesota to assist veterinarians with disease testing, and $250,000 for a pilot tractor rollover protection program.

These aren’t major provisions or changes, but we monitor and track anything and everything related to agriculture here at MCGA. If necessary, we speak up to ensure that provisions in a bill like this one are best for Minnesota corn farmers and all of agriculture. 

Once again, broadband received a fair amount of attention last week. Of course, democrats and republicans have differing views on what will be best for rural Minnesota when it comes to broadband. Republicans are proposing $35 million to fund broadband hot spots for students and leverage federal grants to reach underserved areas. Democrats have targeted $85 million to address broadband issues.

More on the broadband discussion can be read in this AP story.

Thoughts on the current session
Most legislative sessions don’t resolve the large ticket items (think property taxes and transportation) until the final days, as agreement on these subjects become a larger overall deal reached by legislative leaders and the Governor. A tax bill and transportation bill aren’t something that they “have” to pass in order to keep the government running, but one could argue that the public and legislators expect these items from the legislature this year.

As we go into an election year where the entire House and Senate are up for reelection, we’ll see how much compromise the House GOP majority, the Senate DFL, and Governor Dayton can find in the last 30 days or so of the legislative session.

WOTUS legal battle
On the federal side, the Senate again attempted to pass a Waters of the United States (WOTUS) amendment that would have prohibited the use of funds by the Army Corps of Engineers for activities related to the WOTUS rule. It failed by four votes.

Also last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals denied petitions for a rehearing submitted by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and others. The cases against WOTUS will remain in the 6th Circuit, and the court’s injunction against the rule remains in place. NCGA is reviewing its options with the attorneys in terms of proceeding with the case, or petitioning the Supreme Court for final word on where cases against WOTUS belong.

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Grant helps farmers use innovative irrigation system to reduce nutrient loss

MCGA.2013-0089Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

When Chad Davison, 34, came home to the farm from a business career at Target Corporation he brought with him a love of logistics and technological innovation — he had most recently managed the shelf inventory of brand name coffee at all the Targets in North America.

His dad made the family farm run on hard-won agronomic know-how.

Where the two overlapped was in a love of land stewardship and the rewards precision agriculture can offer — especially in a 4,500 acre row-crop farm in the Red River Valley town of Tintah, Minn.

This year, the Davisons decided they could use a newly installed water system to measure the volume of nutrients like nitrogen fertilizer flowing out of tile drainage lines and off the farm into the environment beyond their fields.

Using a Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) Conservation Innovation Grant, the Davisons purchased a field-edge monitor that measures nutrients and sediment in the water flowing through their tile lines. The grant also helps pay for the technical assistance needed for collection and processing of samples and tabulating data.

“Losing nitrogen off the farm is something we hate to see because we want the natural environment around us to be as pristine as possible,” Chad Davision said. “But for the farmer, that nutrient loss is also an economic loss, because if that fertilizer we paid for is moving off the field, then it isn’t helping the crop and we’re producing less and losing money.”

What makes this project especially exciting is that the Davisons can use a their state-of-the-art sub-irrigation system in one section of the farm to measure how water levels and nutrient loss interact.

Several years ago, Chad became intrigued with the idea of using sub-irrigation to tackle one of the thorniest problems that has challenged the valley recently. Sub-irrigation is a system that retains water in the soil profile through the use of boards set part way across tile drainage outlets. Such a set-up releases water down to top of the board and then retains the water that won’t pass the board.

Heavy spring rains in the Red River Valley can often carry away topsoil and nutrients like nitrogen fertilizer, and sometimes overrun the banks and cause devastating floods. Ironically, since drought often follows flooding in the same year, by late July, the smallest hint of moisture has all but disappeared.

By using sub-irrigation Chad believes they can increase the water-holding capacity of the land while also assuring that rain water wouldn’t pond up and drown the young crops.

Working with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Davisons hired tile drainage engineers at Ellingson Tiling Company to design and install their sub-irrigation system last year. The family converted an existing well into a water retention device to hold all of the overflow. This extra supply of water could then be pumped back through the tile drains to raise the water table later in the summer, when dry weather and a lack of moisture often stresses and damages the crops.

“Our sub-irrigation system has three separate zones in a field that totals a little over 200 acres,” says Chad Davison. “One is 150 acres, one is 50 acres and one is about 10-20 acres. Because we have the three distinct zones, we can set each one to keep the water table at a different depth. We can then see if this impacts the volume of the nitrates flowing out of each to the wells, to see if there is an optimal water level. As a bonus, we will be tracking how the water level impacts the yield in each of the three zones.”

Be sure to check MinnesotaCornerstone.com in the coming weeks for additional feature stories on Conservation Innovation Grant recipients. Click here to read a story on grant recipient Keith Hartmann. Here is a story on grant recipient Wayne Dewall. MCGA expects to announce another round of Conservation Innovation Grant funding this fall or winter.

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MCGA regional representative to be inducted into FFA Hall of Fame

Dale Bush was a longtime agricultural education teacher and currently serves as a MCGA regional representative. Busch will be inducted into the FFA Hall of Fame next week. (Photo from the St. James Plain Dealer website.)

Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) regional representative and longtime agriculture teacher and advocate Dale Busch will be inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame on April 25.

An agriculture teacher for 31 years in St. James and four years in Tracy, Busch impacted thousands of students and played an important role in developing multiple generations of farming leaders. Through his work with MCGA, Busch continues to be a strong voice for Minnesota agriculture.

“Even though Dale has been retired from teaching for 17 years, his impact continues to resonate throughout Minnesota’s agricultural community,” said Dr. Adam Birr, MCGA Executive Director. “His voice is credible and trustworthy to both farmers and non-farming consumers. We can’t thank Dale enough for his work with FFA, developing up-and-coming agricultural leaders, and his ongoing work with MCGA.”

During his career, Busch advised 204 state FFA degree recipients, 17 state proficiency recipients, 12 American FFA degree recipients, nine state FFA officers and four state judging teams. As an agriculture teacher, Busch worked to add horticulture, natural resources and agricultural science to the curriculum. He also worked to include females and non-farming students into agriculture-focused programs.

As an MCGA regional representative, Busch works as a liason between MCGA’s state office in Shakopee and seven local county corn and soybean associations in South Central Minnesota. He’s also a leading membership recruiter and can be heard on local radio and television stations talking food, farming and ethanol fuel.

Dale Busch

Dale Busch

Busch has both a Bachelor’s and Masters degree from the University of Minnesota. Earlier this week, Busch was back on the U of M campus for Ag Awareness Day, staffing the MCGA booth and answering food and farming questions from college students and faculty.

You can read more about Busch in this story from the St. James Plain Dealer.

From all of us at MCGA: Congratulations, Dale, on your induction into the FFA Hall of Fame. Thank you for all you have done, and continue to do, to promote agriculture in Minnesota.

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Through research, farmer hopes to find the ‘Goldilock’s rate’ of nitrogen fertilizer

Patsche-1370Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Surrounded by the natural beauty of the Root River watershed in southeast Minnesota, farmer Wayne Dewall has always been conscious of conservation and land stewardship.

That’s why he jumped at the chance six years ago to take part in the innovative Root River Field To Stream Partnership. For six years now, the program has monitored the loss of soil and nutrients from farm fields. That data shows Dewall is losing an average of 51 pounds of nitrogen per acre each year — it’s a loss that the neither the natural environment nor Dewall’s wallet can afford.

With five years of data under his belt, Dewall feels like he has a greater understanding of how different weather patterns affect nutrient loss.

To really put that knowledge into action, Dwall decided to set up test plots on his land that should reveal the optimal rate of nitrogen to apply for his crops.

“You want to apply just enough so the plant has what it can make use of, and nothing extra that might get lost either in surface water or leach away into groundwater,” Dewall said.

To underwrite the necessary technical help and laboratory testing, Dewall applied for and receive a Conservation Innovation Grant from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA). The grants are funded through Minnesota’s corn check-off, which is entirely derived from farmers’ grain sales.

At age 52, this year will be Dewall’s 31st crop. He raises corn and soybeans in a 50-50 rotation.

“It’s always good to get an optimal fertilizer rate to maximize the economics of your farm,” Dewall said. “Up to now, I usually put on all my fertilizer before planting, but this research project will also look at split application: we’ll try 80 pounds before planting and then another 50 pounds of nitrogen fertilizer when the corn plants are growing — when the plants need the food — to see if that reduces nitrogen loss.”

Agronomists estimate that nitrogen flowing off farm fields or leaching away adds up to an economic loss of between $50-60 dollars per acre. Both Dewall and MCGA hope the research carried out on Dewall’s farm will be useful for many farmers to help cut down on the economic and environmental impact of nitrogen loss.

Be sure to check MinnesotaCornerstone.com in the coming weeks for additional feature stories on Conservation Innovation Grant recipients. Click here to read a story on grant recipient Keith Hartmann. MCGA expects to announce another round of Conservation Innovation Grant funding this fall or winter.

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Corn planted so far in Minnesota would cover 757,575 football fields

Pestorious.2015-0693According to the latest USDA crop progress report, Minnesota had 5.1 days suitable for field work last week. Minnesota farmers wasted no time in taking advantage of the warm and dry weather to start planting corn — corn that will put food on our plates, fuel in our vehicle’s tanks and used as an input in thousands of consumer products such as tennis shoes and sun screen.

Thirteen percent of Minnesota’s corn crop — or over 1 million acres — was planted by the end of last week. That’s eight days ahead of the five-year average and three days ahead of last year’s pace. Iowa is also at 13 percent while Illinois stands at 12 percent.

The amount of corn planted so far in Minnesota this spring would cover approximately 757,575 football fields. In baseball terms, the amount of Minnesota corn already in the ground would fill up all of Target Field — including dugouts and bleachers — more than 95,238 times.

Minnesota farmers are expected to plant 8.2 million acres of corn this spring, which would be a 100,000-acre increase over last year. Of course, weather and other factors in the coming weeks will impact what the actual planting numbers turn out to be.

From all of us at the Minnesota Corn Growers Association: Best of luck to all farmers this planting season and thank you for growing food, feed, fiber and fuel for an increasing world population. Stay safe this spring and here’s to another bumper crop!

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Reduced-fat distillers grains…a new way to grow a dairy heifer

These cows look hungry for some distillers dried grains, a co-product of the ethanol-making process.

These cows look hungry for some distillers dried grains, a co-product of the ethanol-making process.

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Research sponsored by Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCRPC) and Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) indicates rations high in reduced-fat distillers grains (the high protein ethanol co-product) fill the bill as a feed for young dairy heifers. It’s economical, it’s efficient,
and dairy producers end up with a sturdy, lean replacement heifer.

Jill Anderson, a dairy scientist at South Dakota State University, Brookings, conducted a study with graduate student Angela Manthey in which they fed 48 dairy heifers three different levels of distillers grains rations: 30 percent, 40 percent and 50 percent. The remaining diet was a simple mixture of grass and hay, with added vitamins and minerals. Rations were limit-fed to target required nutrient intakes. The heifers were fed for the four months critical in the development of a dairy cow: from six-and-a-half months to ten-and-a-half months old.

“We found that by increasing the level of distillers grains and using this feeding strategy we were really able to increase the feed efficiency of these heifers,” Anderson said. “We also improved the digestibility — they had higher digestibility of the proteins and dry matter as inclusion of distillers grains increased. Although we did cause some shifts in metabolic profile, the heifer’s body condition did not change. One big thing, however, is that we didn’t change the heifer’s body condition. This is very important.

“Even though we were feeding the animals more distillers grains we didn’t cause the animals to get over conditioned. With dairy heifers, you don’t want them to put on fat, you want them to put on lean muscle and frame size. It’s kind of exciting because we were able to do that with these diets, which were fairly simple diets.”

The interest in the fat level of the distillers grains derives from the increasingly common ethanol industry practice of drawing oils from the distillers grains to sell as a separate value-added product. This reduces the fat content from a high range of 10-15 percent down to a middle range of five to ten percent. It may become more common to offer distillers grains below five percent fat, says Anderson.

“Jill Anderson’s research is valuable for Minnesota’s corn producers,” said Dr. Paul Meints, MCR&PC Research Director. “Jill produced some very good results, and this will help farmers develop better markets for their corn.”

“The project is a perfect example of the collaboration between AURI and Minnesota’s corn organizations,” said Randy Hilliard, who acted as the AURI project manager for Anderson’s research project. “This project fits our core mission at AURI.”

Anderson sees her findings as a win-win — demonstrating that ethanol plants can grow this particular market for their feed products, while livestock producers get a simple,
low-cost, effective feed ration.

“The big thing I learned from this research is there is a lot more flexibility in using distillers in heifer diets, than maybe most dairy producers realize,” Anderson said. “You can really tailor it to feeds you have on hand. Traditionally, people have said, ‘Oh, you don’t feed more than 10 or 20 percent distillers grains in the diet of dairy animals,’ but this research blew the roof off that previous inclusion rate recommendation.

“This research shows that you can go to 30 or 40 or 50 percent. If I were making recommendations to a producer I would say, go with 40 percent. It’s a good level to feed. We get concerned with the nitrogen load when you get up to the 50 percent distillers diet, but you can still feed it at 50 percent in a lot of circumstances — if you have a year when you don’t have a lot of forage on hand.”


This story originally appeared in AURI’s Ag Innovation News publication.

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Renville County farmer Gerald Mulder honored with special House resolution

Connie Mulder, Gerald Mulder and Rep. Tim Miller following a ceremony in the House Agriculture Finance Committee honoring Gerald Mulder for his contributions to Minnesota agriculture.

Connie Mulder, Gerald Mulder and Rep. Tim Miller following a ceremony in the House Agriculture Finance Committee honoring Gerald Mulder for his contributions to Minnesota agriculture.

A special resolution in the Minnesota House of Representatives honored Renville County family farmer Gerald Mulder on April 14 for his outstanding contributions to Minnesota agriculture.

Mulder has been farming for 43 years and has served on the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) board of directors for seven years. Mulder has also served on the Renville County 4-H board for 20 years and on the Renville County Farm Bureau board.

“I’m passionate about farming and working to give farmers a strong voice on important issues,” Mulder said. “It was truly an honor to be recognized today in the Minnesota House. As a family farmer, I’ve worked hard to grow food, feed, fiber and fuel for the entire world while preserving the land for the next generation. I’m also proud to see my daughter, son-in-law and three grandsons become active on the family farm. We have a vision for the future of our farm, and we’re hoping that one day our 1-year-old grandson becoming the sixth generation to farm our land.”

Through his service on the MCGA board, Mulder has helped expand research efforts to better equip corn farmers to protect water quality, expanded the use of homegrown ethanol and provided a voice for corn farmers in St. Paul and Washington D.C.

The resolution was requested by Rep. Tim Miller and was read in the House Agriculture Finance Committee.

From all of us at MCGA: congratulations, Gerald! This honor was truly deserved and we can’t thank you enough for your service to MCGA and the entire agriculture community.

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