Minnesota Capitol

Rotunda Ramblings: U of M Ag Heads Lead Discussion in St. Paul

Last week, the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association held their annual Hill Visits and capped the day with a legislative reception. These were two excellent events that allowed MSGA directors the opportunity to meet in small, focused groups with legislators. While the events were successful, it’s important to remember that the growers voice goes a long way when talking to our representatives.

University Agriculture Heads Lead Discussion on Research and Technology Transfer

Brian Buhr, Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), Bev Durgan, Dean of Extension, and Trevor Ames, Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine were invited to inform the Agriculture Finance committee about University initiatives in their respective areas.

Much of the discussion centered on funding sources for the various branches of the University. Dean Buhr broke down CFANS source of funds as follows: Federal government 4 percent, State Agriculture Special 17 percent, University General Operations and Maintenance Fund 25 percent, Tuition and Fees 22 percent, Sales and other resources 14 percent, Gifts 12 percent, and ICR 6 percent.

The state “Agriculture Special” is a legislative appropriation that supports the agricultural experiment stations and the Extension service. Sixty-three percent of the $43 million “Special” funds the experiment stations and the other 37 percent funds the Extension service.  “Special” funding has decreased by about $16 million per year since 2001. It is this shortfall that MSGA and others are trying to backfill through our research initiative this year. Because of the complexity of funding sources supporting CFANS, one of the biggest challenges will be to ensure that new funding through the initiative will supplement and increase total funding rather than supplant existing sources of funding. That is why the new funds would be tied to a separate board comprised of agricultural groups intended to have oversight of the new funds.  

The Dean pointed out that the only area of increased funding has been coming from gifts. The total dollar amount spent for the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources this year will be about $130 million. That amount supports 253 faculty,13 academic departments, 10 research and outreach centers, and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

Farm Credit Services addresses Agriculture Finance committee

Farm Credit Services presented an “Agriculture and Credit Economic Outlook” to the House Agriculture Finance Committee this past Tuesday. They told the committee that in the past three years, there existed the highest market year average for corn and soybean prices ever recorded, that there was a record high margin over feed cost for broilers, turkeys, hogs, beef and dairy, and that agriculture has the lowest aggregate farm debt-to- asset ratios since USDA started collecting the data in 1960, and that interest rates remain low.

They did however, indicate the following: that present price structures for corn and soybeans trail well behind the estimated $4.30 breakeven price for corn and the $12.00 breakeven price for soybeans, Minnesota land prices also dropped 8.7 percent in the third quarter of 2014, but delinquency rates on farm real estate loans are at a low point since year 2000.

MDA reports on Biodiesel, Representative Hamilton advances Biomass production incentive program

The House Agriculture policy committee heard a biodiesel report from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on Wednesday. They indicated that the existing B10 mandate has been working well but that biodiesel blends continue to be priced slightly higher than traditional diesel fuel.

The committee also heard Representative Hamilton’s bill that would provide incentives for advanced biomass production and uses. The bill, HF 536 would attempt to increase production of cellulosic ethanol. The bill provides incentive payments for cellulosic advanced biofuel production. The bill was supported by Minnesota Corn Growers and a coalition of several other entities. A number of environmental groups oppose the bill because of their contention that it will cause degradation of soil and waters by removal of organic matter from Minnesota cropland. The bill was passed and sent to the House Agriculture Finance committee. SF 517, the Senate companion bill also advanced from its primary committee. It is expected to have more difficulty in the Senate Environment committee.