Minnesota Capitol

Rotunda Ramblings: Ag Funding Research Bill to be Introduced

Since the beginning of session, MSGA, working with several other farm groups, has been working to bring coalescence around a funding research bill for agriculture. After several meetings of 11 commodity groups, the Agri-growth Council and the Farm Bureau, an agenda was agreed to by all parties that included a three point funding agenda that emphasized a rebuilding of human infrastructure resources for agricultural research and technology transfer, increased funding for a rapid response system for emerging plant and animal diseases, and efforts to expand and retain agricultural education in Minnesota.

The proposal creates the Agriculture Research, Education, and Technology Transfer Board to prioritize the funding. In addition to the original coalition, bill development has been shared with the Farmers Union lobby, The Veterinarian association, a lobbyist representative of the Chamber of Commerce, and the Minnesota Association of Agriculture Educators (MAAE). MAAE has passed a motion of support and the Vet association is expected soon.

 The MSGA lobby has also participated in several meetings with University of Minnesota representatives and representatives from the Minnesota State College and University System to gain their input.

Original language has been reworked to address concerns of several of those involved and a final bill draft was created. The bill language draft has now moved through the research process, the wordsmithing process and has made it through the Revisor of Statutes office. The result is that final bill jackets were released by the Revisor of Statutes office on Thursday and the process of gaining bill authors has begun. Senator Sparks has agreed to be the chief author in the Senate. Representative Hamilton is expected to chief author in the House.

Many meetings have been held with Senators and Representatives on the coalitions’ agenda and that work proceeds. Your MSGA lobbyist presented the package to the House and Senate Republican caucus last Tuesday. A scheduled presentation to the rural Senate Democrat caucus has been rescheduled for one week from this coming Tuesday. Additionally, Speaker Daudt, House Ways and Means Chair Jim Knoblach, and Minority Leader Paul Thissen have been informed of the funding request. This week a shift to Senate leadership will take place, including scheduled meetings with Finance Chair Dick Cohen and Environment and Finance Chair Dave Tommasoni.  There may be a bigger challenge in the Senate and a call to action by our membership is vital. We need contacts to our rural Senators. The next critical step is to get the leadership of the House and Senate to create a place for this request in their fiscal targets. Targets are the designated dollars delegated to each Finance division. They are the budget allocation used by each committee. They cannot spend more than their target.

The push is especially critical in the Senate. The Senate has a smaller percentage of their caucus from rural Minnesota, particularly agricultural areas. Targets for rural initiatives must be approved by leadership of the majority party. That will only happen if rural DFL Senators push on their leadership, since, in the Senate, the DFL controls. Timing is critical. Feb. 27 is the date for the revised budget forecast. Soon after final decisions will be made regarding targets. Without a large enough target our initiative will die. Now is the time to strengthen your advocacy from back home.

 Informational hearings back funding request, hear about AFREC

This past week informational hearings in the House Ag Policy committee included a presentation by the Minnesota Milk Producers. Part of their presentation included a discussion of their support for the coalition funding proposal. There was significant discussion of the proposal in that hearing. A second informational hearing was held in the House Ag Finance committee. The Turkey growers and the Chicken and Egg council presented their proposals there. They too brought the coalition message to the committee. Several Representatives spoke positively about portions of the proposal.

In the same hearing, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture gave their annual report on the Agricultural Fertilizer Research and Education Council. Your MSGA lobbyist planted some questions with committee members regarding the uses of fertilizer fees that were intended to go for research. A few years ago, an increase in fertilizer fees was supported by MSGA and others in order to create the council on soil fertility research. It was revealed that of the $1.2 million collected last year that $800,000 was used for research, but that $400,000 was used by MDA in the fertilizer inspection program and indirect administrative costs by the agency, even though an 8 percent cap for administration had applied to the original appropriation. Although legal, this was not the intent of the legislation as viewed by many. MDA was instructed by legislators to work with stakeholders to resolve the situation. 

Funding Request backed by Data

A legislative appropriation known as the “Agricultural Special” has provided primary funding for Agricultural Research and Extension for over 40 years. It is a general fund appropriation to the University of Minnesota. The 2001 year appropriation was $58,838,000.  The 2014 year appropriation was $42,922,000. This represents a decline of almost $16 million per year over a 14 year period.

This is at a time when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) anticipate food demand will double by 2050. With arable land a limiting factor, increased production will need to come from increased productivity. Additionally, environmental and population shift demands will require more efficient use of water, land, fertilizer and other inputs.

Historical data shows that agricultural research gives a solid return to the states investment. Estimates by the University of Minnesota demonstrate a 9-10 percent annualized economic return to increased productivity as a result of agricultural research.

Growth rate for Ag R&D has decreased for state, federal and industry since the 1970s. The growth rate for State support for ag research increased over 4 percent during the 1970s and 1980s, was relatively flat during the 1990s, but decreased almost 4 percent in the 2000s.

Minnesota support of public agricultural research is needed to keep us competitive in the world market. In 1970, public agricultural R&D spending in in the United States made up approximately 18 percent of the global share. In 1970 Brazil, India and China made up about 10 percent. In 2009, the United States share had declined to 14 percent whereas Brazil, India and China have increased to approximately 32 percent.