MCGA to Gov. Dayton: Please sign the recently-passed tax bill into law

Noah Hultgren

MCGA Presidnet Noah Hultgren

A tax bill passed during the recently-concluded legislative session contains much-needed property tax relief for Minnesota farmers. Gov. Dayton has yet to sign the tax bill. Below is a letter sent to Gov. Dayton from Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) President Noah Hultgren. The letter was sent on behalf of MCGA’s 7,200 members.

Dear Governor Mark Dayton –

On behalf of Minnesota Corn’s over 7,200 members, we respectfully ask that you sign into law the omnibus tax bill passed at the end of session by the legislature. Contained in the tax bill is property tax relief that is desperately needed by Minnesota farmers.

Farmers are being asked to pay a disproportionate share of school bond levies for school buildings, due to their large amount of taxable farm land. Schools In our rural communities often struggle to pass referendums, because of the severe financial burden it places on farmers.

This bill represents thousands of dollars in tax relief for many farmers, and is crucial to their financial viability, particularly given current low commodity prices and a still struggling rural economy. For some of the rural school bond levies to have a chance at passing, this is absolutely essential. It also avoids shifting the tax burden on to our non-farming friends and neighbors.

We understand that signing the tax bill into law involves compromise. We urge you to sign the bill. We would be extremely grateful for the relief it would provide to us. We cannot wait for another year – another legislature – to address this crucial need. Farmers need to know relief is coming, and rural schools need to find ways to fund their building projects.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Noah Hultgren
President
Minnesota Corn Growers Association

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Answering farmers’ questions about Minnesota’s Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan

HarvestHave you read the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s 143-page Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan yet?

You haven’t? Well, what are you waiting for?

Just kidding. We don’t blame you if you think the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan is a little intimidating. It’s in-depth, it’s technical and it’s 143 pages. Who has the time to read a 143-page document these days?

However, the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan is something all Minnesota corn farmers should familiarize themselves with. The plan addresses the use of nitrogen fertilizer, something just about every corn farmer relies on to remain in business. The plan also addresses our state’s drinking water, something every farmer and non-farmer cares deeply about.

We’ve attempted to summarize the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan using a series of questions below. We don’t cover every nook and cranny of the plan, but we tried to hit the highlights, dispel some rumors, and answer various questions we’ve heard about the plan from corn farmers throughout the state.

Let’s do this:

What is the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP)?
It’s a plan put together by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), with input and comments from the agricultural community and organizations like the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA). The goal of the plan is to help prevent or minimize the impacts of nitrogen fertilizer on groundwater.

Is it new?
No. The plan has been around for a long time, but it was recently revised in March of 2015. MCGA, along with other agricultural organizations, provided input and comments during the revision period.

What’s the purpose of having a NFMP?
All of us — whether we’re farmers or non-farmers — value clean water and want to protect our drinking water resources. The NFMP provides a blueprint for MDA and farmers to work together toward the common goal of protecting our valuable drinking water resources from high levels of nitrate, some of which comes from nitrogen fertilizer, while also ensuring that Minnesota farmers are able to safely continue using inputs like nitrogen fertilizer to grow food, feed, fiber and fuel for the entire world.

Is groundwater contamination by nitrate a problem in Minnesota?
Tests on more than 7,300 wells in 60 townships between 2013-14 showed that 13 percent of those wells exceeded the health risk limit of 10 parts-per-million for nitrates. Eight community water systems tested high for nitrate, up from six systems in 2008. Private wells and water systems that exceed the standard can cause oxygen deficiency and death in infants and people with digestive problems. Once again, it should be everyone’s goal to reduce the number of wells and drinking water systems that exceed the nitrate concentration health risk limit. This is why MCGA invests nearly $4 million annually in valuable third-party research that focuses on conservation efforts and helping farmers better manage nitrogen fertilizer production inputs.

Is the NFMP really a “plan,” or is it just an excuse to pass more burdensome regulations on Minnesota’s farmers?
MDA does have regulatory authority for nitrogen fertilizer practices. Currently, MDA is developing these regulations for nitrogen fertilizer, as described in the plan. While some type of regulations could be implemented (more on that later), generally, regulations would not happen until other voluntary options have been exhausted. It’s important to understand that agriculture and groups like MCGA have an ongoing voice in this process. Agriculture has played an important role in shaping the plan up to this point, and will continue to do so with the implementation of the plan — especially when the discussion turns to regulations.

Does the plan ban fall/winter application of nitrogen fertilizer?
No. But fall/winter application will be restricted in certain areas of the state vulnerable to groundwater contamination because of soil texture, geology, or documented elevated nitrate in local wells. Regulation of nitrogen fertilizer would likely only happen in about 10 percent of Minnesota townships.

What areas are “vulnerable” to groundwater contamination?
Any areas listed under “not recommended” for fall/winter nitrogen application in the University of Minnesota’s Best Management Practices for nitrogen fertilizer. Some specific areas of Minnesota have been identified and include: Portions of Dakota County, localized areas of the outwash plains, re-charge areas in Southwest Minnesota used for rural water systems, Karst regions of Southeast Minnesota and a small number of community water suppliers. Overall, very few areas of the state fall under the “not recommended” category.

Are there other situations when nitrogen fertilizer regulations can occur?
Yes. The NFMP introduces a phased approach to potential regulations. In the first two phases, farmers in in townships that are approaching or exceed acceptable nitrogen levels in area wells, are given the opportunity to voluntarily implement best management practices to mitigate the effects of nitrogen fertilizer. If farmers do not voluntarily adopt best management practices, phases three and four introduce regulatory action and restrictions.

How are townships subject to the mitigation process identified?
Wells in approximately 250-300 townships with row crop agriculture and vulnerable groundwater, or a history of high nitrate levels will be tested. Testing is currently ongoing and is expected to be completed by 2019. Townships with 5 percent or more of private wells above 10 parts-per-million for nitrates or 10 percent or more private wells above 7-10 parts-per-million for nitrates will enter the mitigation phase.  MCGA believes that dedicated monitoring wells should be used to verify the presence of elevated nitrate levels in groundwater because private well data may be confounded by construction issues. We made this concern clear to MDA in a NFMP letter send to the department in January.

As a farmer trying to remain profitable and sustainable during these challenging times, I am concerned about these restrictions and the potential for regulation. Can you explain when and where these restrictions would go into effect?
As stated previously, in areas that are vulnerable to groundwater contamination, fall/winter nitrogen fertilizer application will be restricted in certain parts of the state based on the University of Minnesota’s Best Management Practices.  In areas with documented nitrate problems in private wells, farmers will be given the opportunity to voluntarily implement best management practices (i.e. crop rotation, cover crops, removing land from production, etc.) to protect groundwater sources from nitrate contamination. If these practices are not adopted, site-specific regulations will be developed and executed by the MDA Commissioner’s office, following a consultation with a local advisory team that will likely include other farmers. In other words, restrictions will not happen unless farmers do not voluntarily implement best management practices in specific designated areas.

Again, regulation of nitrogen fertilizer would likely only happen in about 10 percent of Minnesota townships.

But it’s not just nitrogen fertilizer from farms that contaminates wells. Does the NFMP address other possible sources of pollution?
The NFMP only focuses on properly managing nitrogen fertilizer. However, if a well or water source tests high for nitrogen, information such as well type, depth and construction is collected to determine if that may be the cause of the problem instead of nitrogen fertilizer used by area farmers. Other tests include construction issues, septic sources, animal sources and other sources. Regulation action will not be taken unless the source of the nitrogen problem comes from nitrogen fertilizer.

It’s also important to point out that MCGA invests in research efforts to help corn farmers use nitrogen fertilizer and other inputs as efficiently as possible in order to maximize their bottom line and protect water quality.

Bottom line: As a farmer, should I be concerned about the possibility of overregulation and restrictions on nitrogen fertilizer use as a result of this plan?
Naturally, overregulation is a concern for any business, whether it’s in the agricultural sector or not. Rest assured, MCGA and other agriculture organizations are working hard on your behalf to ensure that the goal of the NFMP remains to protect our drinking water sources, not introduce unnecessary regulations onto Minnesota’s farmers. We appreciate the efforts of MDA to work with the agriculture community on this plan as we all strive to improve our state’s water quality. Will there be disagreements and concerns? Of course. But the voices of farmers are being heard as the NFMP undergoes its latest revision.

One final note: MDA’s authority does not extend to regulating manure, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency could incorporate similar restrictions into livestock permits and feedlot rules.

I want to continue to monitor the NFMP as the latest revision is finalized. How can I track the plan’s progress?
You can sign up for updates directly through MDA here. You can also contact MCGA’s Policy Director Anna Boroff for updates. Finally, Warren Formo with the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center is also an excellent resource.

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Study: Corn exports add $74.7 billion to the U.S. economy

Exporting corn and corn products doesn’t just help improve a farmer’s bottom line, it provides a jolt to the entire U.S. economy. A new study from Informa Economics concluded that the export of U.S. corn and corn products generated $74.7 billion in annual economic output in 2014.

Sales of all U.S. grain feed products contributed $82 billion. The U.S. gross domestic product was boosted by $29.8 billion thanks to the export of corn and corn co-products. Full-time jobs linked directly or indirectly to corn exports totaled more than 371,000.

Here’s National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling commenting on the study:

“Corn – whether in the form of feed, ethanol, or meat and dairy – is a major driver of the U.S. farm economy. Exports impact not just farmers and ranchers, but the entire U.S. economy,” said National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling, a farmer from Newburg, Maryland. “That’s why it’s so important that farmers and ranchers have access to international markets, and why we need global trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership that give us a chance to compete.”

The full study can be viewed here. A news release from the U.S. Grains Council examining the study can be viewed here.

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Legislative Update: What farmers need to know about the recently completed session

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff, Public Policy Director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association

Another Minnesota legislative session has come and gone. Like other recent sessions, this one featured a flurry of activity toward the end, resulting in some bills getting passed, and some left on the table unfinished.

Let’s take a quick look at some key items from this legislative session that Minnesota corn farmers should be aware of:

Property tax relief
The No. 1 priority of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association this legislative session was to get some much-needed property tax relief for farmers passed. Great news -– legislators heard you, and included $90 million dollars in the tax bill for agricultural property tax relief.

Starting with tax year 2017, farmers will receive a 40 percent credit for taxes owed for school bond payments. The relief applies to both existing school levies and future voter-approved bonding debt for schools. I’ve seen estimates that farmers can expect to see a tax reduction between $281-$700 per $1 million of the estimated market value of land. The tax reduction applies to agricultural acres (excluding house, garage and one acre).

Here is a story from the Mankato Free Press with more details. The relief was part of a $259 million tax package that Gov. Dayton still needs to sign.

Buffers
Our second priority this session, a buffer clarification bill which exempts private ditches from the new buffer law, was passed earlier in the session and signed into law. The tax bill passed at the end of session included $11 million for counties to enforce the new buffer law. MCGA favors local enforcement of the buffer law, so this was welcome news. Each county should receive between $45,000 — $200,000 depending on how much work they have to do. More info on this legislation and buffers in general can be found here.

Don’t forget: Farmers have until the end of this month to send in comments on preliminary buffer maps. To view the maps, head to your local Soil & Water Conservation District office. More details on submitting comments can be found here.

Pollinators
MCGA supported the only stand-alone pollinator legislation to pass this year. The first-of-its-kind in the United States legislation would permit owners of solar power sites to publicly declare them beneficial to pollinating insects like bees and butterflies. Adherence to the pollinator-friendly guidelines is voluntary and monitored by the Minnesota Board of Soil & Water Resources pollinator plan.

MCGA is committed to increasing pollinator habitat in ways that fit in with Minnesota’s agricultural landscape. This bill is another way to support those efforts.

More on the bill can be found here. Gov. Dayton is expected to sign it into law.

Working lands watershed restoration program
A further look at an idea called working lands” (supported by MCGA) was included in the supplemental budget agreement and funded. The bill provides for the development of a detailed plan to implement a program to incentivize the establishment and maintenance of perennial crops.

We believe this could be an option to help farmers who are considering additional cover crops to take another step forward in striking that balance between maintaining a profitable farm operation and protecting our water and soil resources. The feasibility study and program plan must be completed by 2018.  

The supplemental budget bill is awaiting Gov. Dayton’s signature.

Other items
Also in the supplemental budget agreement was $35 million for rural broadband. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Water Certification program was funded at $2.5 million in a bill that funds the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. 

Both bills are awaiting Gov. Dayton’s signature.

What didn’t get done?
A bonding bill and a transportation bill were left unfinished. Not having a transportation bill is unfortunate given all the needs for roads and transportation infrastructure improvements in Greater Minnesota. A special session to address these two items appear unlikely in an election year, but we all know that Minnesota politics are unpredictable.

Final thoughts
Overall, I am pleased with the way this session turned out for Minnesota corn farmers. We worked to pass some long-overdue property tax relief, we cleared up several contentious items from last year’s buffer bill and we supported bills that benefit pollinator habitat and water quality.

Thank you to all the farmer-leaders who spent time at the Capitol this session visiting with lawmakers. And thank you to all the farmers who didn’t make it to the Capitol this session, but still reached out to their legislators to discuss issues important to Minnesota agriculture.

You all made your voices heard this session, and we were able to accomplish a lot. It’s been my pleasure to represent Minnesota Corn farmers at the Capitol this year.

Please contact me with any questions you might have about any of these legislative items, or others I didn’t mention this time.

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Bigger and better corn foul poles return to St. Paul Saints’ CHS Field this season

The St. Paul Saints opened their 2016 season on Thursday night at CHS Field with an 8-3 win over the Gary Southshore Railcats. Once again this season, Minnesota’s corn farmers have a prominent place at CHS Field — a ballpark where farm field meets ball field.

foul poles

Like they were last season, the foul poles down the right- and left-field lines feature an eye-catching corn design. This season’s design is a little bit bigger, a little bit flashier, and another great way to promote the work of Minnesota’s corn farmers to grow food, feed, fiber and fuel for the entire world.

foul poles 2

Corn-themed foul poles aren’t the only thing the Minnesota Corn Growers have going on at CHS Field this season. The world’s largest game of corn toss is played between innings at every other home game. July 24 is Minnesota Corn Day at the stadium: The first 1,000 fans receive a mini-bat, which is great to add to your souvenir collection, but not so great if you’re trying to hit a home run off one of the corn foul poles.

foul poles 3Partnering with the Saints is a great way to reach an urban audience in the growing area of Lowertown St. Paul with a positive message about the work being done on corn farms throughout Minnesota. Be sure to get to a game this season (Reminder: July 24 is Minnesota Corn Day), admire the corn-themed foul poles, and cheer on the Saints to victory.

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Reaction to EPA’s 2017 RFS proposal

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a proposed rule to set Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for 2017. EPA proposed a total renewable fuel volume of 18.8 billion gallons, including 14.8 billion for corn ethanol.

The numbers are an increase from 2016 RVO levels, but still fall short of the numbers set by Congress in the RFS, which is legislation that sets annual targets for the amount of cleaner-burning biofuels like corn ethanol blended into our fuel supply.

Below are reactions to EPA’s announcement from national leaders in biofuels and agriculture:

NCGA President Chip Bowling

From Maryland farmer and National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling:

“EPA has moved in a better direction, but we are disappointed that they set the ethanol number below statute. The Renewable Fuel Standard is working for America. It has made our air cleaner. It has spurred investment in rural communities and created high-tech jobs. It has given drivers more choices at the gas pump. And it has reduced our dependency on foreign oil. Any reduction in the statutory amount takes America backward – destabilizing our environment, our economy, and our energy security.

“In the past, the EPA has cited a lack of fuel infrastructure as one reason for failing to follow statute. Our corn farmers and the ethanol industry have responded. Over the past year, we’ve invested millions of dollars along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership to accelerate public and private investment in new ethanol pumps and fuel infrastructure. The fact is, today’s driver has more access than ever to renewable fuel choices.

“America’s corn farmers and the ethanol industry have done their job. NCGA will continue fighting to hold the government accountable for its promises. We call on the EPA to follow the law, and raise the ethanol volume to statute.

“In the coming weeks, the EPA needs to hear from all of us: farmers, neighbors, community leaders and anyone who cares about stability for our rural economy. If you want clean air, a strong economy and vibrant rural communities, and energy independence, we need you to help stand up for the Renewable Fuel Standard. Ask the EPA to raise the RVO to statute.”

Brian Jennings, American Coalition for Ethanol

From Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE):

“A top excuse EPA has used to rein-in the RFS is data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) which indicate falling gasoline consumption.  EPA has claimed they can’t require oil companies to add more ethanol to a shrinking gasoline pool because of the so-called E10 blend wall,” said Jennings.  “Under that logic, EPA’s ethanol blending volumes for 2017 should increase to statutory levels because gasoline use is on a steady rise and will set a new record this year.”

According to EIA, gasoline use rose to 9.2 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2015 – just shy of the 2007 record of 9.29 million bpd.  In 2016, EIA predicts a new gasoline use record of 9.3 million bpd will be set and that trend will continue into 2017.

“While we are pleased that EPA’s 2017 proposal increases ethanol blending levels from 2016, we remain disappointed that EPA falls back on the questionable E10 blend wall methodology which has disrupted implementation of the RFS for more than a year,” said Jennings.  “Our priority is to ensure EPA holds oil companies legally responsible under the RFS for making cleaner and less expensive fuel choices, such as E15 and flex fuels, available to consumers.  We will provide ACE members with a platform to once again submit comments to EPA so we can work to improve upon this proposal in advance of the final rule which will be issued on November 30.”

Infrastructure constraint excuses don’t hold water either.  In 2015 the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory issued a report confirming that most retail infrastructure is already compatible with E15.  The majority of cars on the road are approved to use E15.

From Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) President Bob Dineen:

“For months, EPA has been saying it plans to put the program ‘back on track.’ Today’s proposal fails to do that. The agency continues to cater to the oil industry by relying upon an illegal interpretation of its waiver authority and concern over a blend wall that the oil industry itself is creating. As a consequence, consumers are being denied higher octane, lower cost renewable fuels. Investments in new technology and advanced biofuels will continue to languish and greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles will be unnecessarily higher.

“The real frustration is that EPA seems to be artificially constraining this market. The RFA has demonstrated just how easy it would be for obligated parties to reach the 15 billion gallon statutory volume for conventional biofuels next year. The fact is with rising gasoline demand, increased E15 and E85 use made possible by USDA’s infrastructure grant program, continued use of renewable diesel and conventional biodiesel that also generate D6 RINs (renewable identification numbers), well more than 15 billion gallons will be used next year. All of that is in addition to the 2 billion surplus RINs available to refiners due to EPA’s tepid enforcement of the RFS in the past.

“EPA can be given credit for two things—getting the proposal out in a timely fashion and at least coming within a mere 200 million gallons of the statutory level of 15 billion gallons for conventional biofuels. As this process continues, we intend to work to encourage a final rule that truly puts the RFS ‘back on track.’ As it is, today’s proposal is a lost opportunity for this administration to cement its legacy in clean fuels, advanced biofuel and climate change.”

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Miss America visited a Minnesota corn farm last week

MissAmerica 1

Miss America Betty Cantrell with Bruce and Carol Peterson.

With planting season winding down, Bruce and Carol Peterson welcomed a special guest to their family farm in Northfield, Minn., last week: Miss America 2016 Betty Cantrell.

Yes, Miss America visited a Minnesota corn farm last week. And it was awesome.

Cantrell, who is from Georgia, was in Northfield to promote the First Peas to the Table Contest, which is new national school competition that encourages children in kindergarten through fifth grade to plant, raise and harvest peas this spring. The contest is being run as a partnership between Miss America and the American Farm Bureau Foundation.

Before visiting the Peterson’s farm, Cantrell stopped by Sibley Elementary in Northfield, which is participating in the contest.

MissAmerica 2On the agenda at the Peterson’s farm was a discussion of raising corn and soybeans, pigs and cattle. Cantrell also learned more about renewable fuels like homegrown ethanol made from corn grown right here in Minnesota.

“We were honored to have Miss America on our farm,” said Bruce, who is past president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and continues to serve on the board of directors. “The work done on family farms throughout Minnesota makes an impact throughout the entire United States and the whole world. It was fitting to have Miss America out here, walking our fields, posing for photos with our tractors and learning more about life on the farm.”

Miss America Betty Cantrell promoting the First Peas to Table Contest on the Peterson's farm.

Miss America Betty Cantrell promoting the First Peas to the Table Contest on the Peterson’s farm.

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Ethanol-fueled “Tasseldega Nights” coming to Elko Speedway and Deer Creek Speedway

Ted Tassel wants to see you at "Tasseldega Nights" this summer.

Ted Tassel wants to see you at “Tasseldega Nights” this summer.

For the third consecutive year, racing fans at Elko Speedway and Deer Creek Speedway will receive free admission during “Tasseldega Nights,” a special family event brought to you by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) to promote clean, renewable, homegrown ethanol fuel.

Gates open at 5 p.m. and racing starts at 7 p.m. on June 4 at Elko Speedway. On July 16 at Deer Creek Speedway near Rochester, gates open at 2 p.m. for music and other family activities, with racing kicking off at 6 p.m.

Admission to both “Tasseldega Nights” races is free. In addition to a night of free racing, fans can play games, try and catch a commemorative “Tasseldega Nights” T-shirt from the T-shirt cannon, win free ethanol-blended fuel, and support Minnesota corn farmers.

Fans can also stroll through the 45-foot long Biofuels Mobile Education Center at each race, get a pre-race picture in Jonathan Olmscheid’s ethanol-powered race car and visit the American Lung Association in Minnesota booth to learn more about the air quality benefits of ethanol.

Fans at Deer Creek can purchase special “Tasseldega Nights” T-shirts in the weeks leading up to the big event. All proceeds from “Tasseldega Nights” T-shirt sales will be donated to a local charity.

“We had more than 10,000 people at last year’s ‘Tasseldega Nights’ races and we hope to top that this year,” said Noah Hultgren, MCGA president and a family farmer in Raymond, Minn. “Racing events are a great way to reach large audiences with a  positive message about ethanol, a fuel made from corn grown right here in rural Minnesota.”

For more details on “Tasseldega Nights,” go to www.mncorn.org, www.elkospeedway.com or www.deercreekspeedway.com.

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Legislative Update: Getting down to crunch time

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff, Minnesota Corn Growers Association Senior Public Policy Director

With less than two weeks remaining before the current Minnesota legislative session is constitutionally required to end (on May 23), we’re coming up on crunch time to reach deals on a bonding bill, transportation and property tax relief.

Here’s a real quick update on where a few things stand at the moment:

Property taxes
No new developments to report. However, be sure to watch the below news segment from KAAL-TV in Rochester on agricultural property taxes. It’s more than worth your time.

Transportation
Both republicans and democrats appeared to have tentatively agreed on a dollar amount for a transportation bill: $600 million. How it will be funded is still up in the air.

Senate democrats say that they have conceded some on a gas tax. Instead of a tax on the cost of gas, they favor a straight gas tax that would rise over three years. Republicans say they will accept a metro sales tax to fund mass transit, if there are some reforms made to the Met Council. A counter offer from the House could come later this week.

Bonding
The Senate tried to pass a $1.5 billion bonding bill last week, but it failed. We have yet to see a House bonding bill, but republican House leaders have moved away from their previous position of a $600 million bill, saying that they know there aren’t enough votes to pass a bill at that number.

Buffers
It wouldn’t be a Minnesota Corn legislative update without mentioning buffers. If you missed it earlier this week, be sure to read our blog post on everything buffers. We did our best to answer farmers’ questions about last year’s law and the clarification bill passed during the current session.

Ag Take
I wanted to close this post by giving a quick plug to “Ag Take,” a e-publication compiled by Blois Olson that focuses on news and policy developments from the world of Minnesota agriculture. It’s a must-read if you’re a busy farmer trying to keep up with the world of agriculture politics and news.

You can subscribe to AgTake and read past issues here.

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Farmer works to protect water quality by turning something old into something new

 

Conservation Innovation grant recipient Lee Thompson, left, with his son-in-law/agronomist Dan Coffman.

Conservation Innovation grant recipient Lee Thompson, left, with his son-in-law/agronomist Dan Coffman.

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Lee Thompson, 52, has made gutsy decisions on his farm. He and his brother Rick decided to sell the dairy herd four years ago.

He’s also made some easy decisions. Since he started working with his son-in-law Dan Coffman as his agronomist three years ago, Lee has tried lots of small experiments, incremental changes, to try to improve yield and return on the farm in Nicollet, Minn. The farm has been in the family for generations, and recently earned its ‘century farm’ designation, so they want to do what they can to keep the land productive and healthy.

Now, with the help of a Conservation Innovation grant from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), Lee and Dan are hoping to turn a simple cultivator bar into a tool that will help the environment, and improve returns for the farm.

By welding a granular seeder and a flow meter onto a cultivator bar, Coffman will create a piece of equipment that can plant a cover crop seed mixture between the rows of foot-tall corn while at the same time making a side-dress application of nitrogen fertilizer that can feed the young corn plants.

“There have been a fair number of years in Lee’s career, and you could probably safely say this about farmers in general, you put your nitrogen on in the fall, or as a pre-plant application (in spring), and come June everybody’s got yellow (nutrient deficient) corn because of all the spring rains,” Coffman said. “Around here, 2013 was a great example, and even 2014, we had the heavy rains early on, and that tends to leach out our nitrogen, because the nitrogen is a mobile nutrient in the soil. That’s a concern from Lee’s standpoint, as a farmer, just seeing his fertilizer investment get washed away. And from an environmental standpoint that’s not good.”

Many farmers are now recognizing the benefits of breaking up the feeding of the crop into several smaller applications that add up to the same or even a little less nitrogen. The scale and speed of planting make split applications more feasible than they ever were before.

“Split applications is a topic of discussion in almost all the farm magazines now,” Thompson said. “Splitting the nitrogen is the big thing. You combine it with tissue testing, going out and sampling the corn leaf so that you can tell, instead of guessing, if nitrogen is needed and how much. It’s better for the environment. It’s better for your checkbook. To complete the picture you put in cover crops that can take up any excess nitrogen so that it doesn’t get into the lakes. When the covers breakdown it adds organic matter and releases nitrogen the crop can use.”

The idea behind using a simple, popular piece of farm equipment in their experiment is being done with an eye to the future.

“We chose a cultivator bar because basically every farm has a cultivator sitting in their shed, or in the grove,” Coffman says. “So if this system works, more farmers might be apt to adopt it, just because they have part of the equipment right there on the farm close to hand.”

According to Coffman, they will use a 60-acre field so they can do a side-by-side comparison. Thirty acres will be planted and tended in the same fashion that Thompson has done for a number of years, while on the other thirty they will do the split application of nitrogen fertilizer and the cover crops.

Being a good land steward is very important to Thompson, who has loved working outdoors all his life, and enjoys wilderness recreation: “My wife’s a big horse enthusiast, so we go out horse camping at Fort Ridgley State Park and places like Zumbro Bottoms and Forestville Park, a really pretty place down by the Iowa border…we’ve got to all work together to keep these places healthy and beautiful so we can enjoy them for a long time to come.”

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