Hill matters: MSGA returns to Capitol

Although soybean prices have reached highs not seen in a decade, skyrocketing fertilizer prices and supply chain wrenches are leaving farmers in a bind on the eve of planting season, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) directors told legislative leaders during the return of Hill Visits in St. Paul.

“Our fertilizer prices are three times as high as normal,” MSGA Vice President Bob Worth, who has farmed for more than 50 years, told Sen. Bill Weber. “Prices are good, but input costs are off the charts. I’ve never seen inputs this high.” 

MSGA returned to the Hill for the first time since March 10, 2020, just days before access to the Capitol became restricted. About a dozen farmers gathered in St. Paul this year to advocate for MSGA’s 2022 policy priorities, from property tax relief to funding for the Ag Innovation Campus. In total, MSGA met with more than 20 legislators from both parties and chambers.

“It can’t be said enough: Nothing beats face to face engagement with policymakers,” President Mike Skaug said. “We had a great day on the Hill. I felt we really drove home where we’re facing challenges, and how we can work with the Legislature to find policy solutions.”

House Speaker Melissa Hortman met with farmers and said that, while their options are limited, the Legislature will do all it can to help farmers navigate turbulent markets.

“We’re such an ag-dependent state,” she told President Mike Skaug. “Your health and our health are intertwined. … Hopefully things settle down.”

Skaug met with state Sen. Mark Johnson to discuss the latest developments of the Ag Innovation Campus. Throughout the day, MSGA leaders spoke with elected officials about the building-cost increases related to the pandemic. Since the pandemic began, construction costs have increased by at least 35%. The AIC continues construction this spring, with plans to begin production in early 2023.

MSGA directors visit with MDA Commissioner Thom Petersen during a meeting in the Senate Office Building in St. Paul.

“It’s a project I believe in 100 percent,” said Sen. Johnson, one of the first legislators to support the project. “The research that’s going to come out of the facility is fantastic.”

Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Commissioner Thom Petersen also met with MSGA’s leadership during lunch and outlined MDA’s initiatives for 2022, and thanked farmers for their leadership on dicamba.

“The Drift Task Force’s recommendation were very helpful in determining our guidelines for dicamba,” Petersen said.

On National Ag Day, Petersen emphasized the importance of agriculture on Minnesota’s economy. Agriculture contributes between 25 and 30% toward Minnesota’s GDP.

“During the last big recession we had, agriculture really saved Minnesota’s economy,” he said.

With agricultural land value increasing, raising the ag homestead exemption to $2.5 million, this was another big topic during the Hill Visit. Last week, MSGA Secretary Ryan Mackenthun testified in support of the bill – sponsored by Sen. Weber – which could provide farmers more than $1 billion in property tax relief.

“The transition from one generation to the next is one of the biggest problems we have,” Weber said.

During a meeting with Senate Democrats, MSGA farmer leaders advocated for improvements to rural infrastructure and broadband access.

“The cell phone coverage in rural areas is very spotty,” Director Brad Hovel said. “We’ve seen in the past two years the need for good broadband, good roads and good infrastructure.”

Later in the afternoon, Executive Director Joe Smentek and Worth visited with Gov. Tim Walz to further discuss MSGA’s legislative priorities. Walz and MSGA discussed the AIC, tax relief, rural health care and biofuels.

“We can be the state that figures out the middle ground and I think there’s a place for biofuels,” Gov. Walz said. 

Skaug, who farms in Beltrami, said MSGA will continue promoting its priorities throughout the rest of the session, which ends May 17.

“We had a lot of good conversations with leaders from both parties and we’re full steam ahead toward achieving our goals for 2022,” Skaug said.

At the close of the Hill Visits, MSGA leaders gathered with elected officials and agency leaders at the 2022 Legislative Reception, sponsored by Bayer.

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