Sound strategies: MSGA directors promote, defend policies during Hill Visits

Strategy is a vital component of farming. Imagine a farmer forgetting to purchase their fertilizer before spring planting, realizing they forgot to grease a bearing after it goes out, or even worse, leaving their cooler at home during a long day in the tractor. The days that lack strategy just don’t go smoothly.  

Farmers’ strategizing doesn’t end at the county line. It extends all the way to the legislative arena. Directors from the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) traveled to St. Paul to implement their policy strategy as part of MSGA’s annual legislative reception and Hill Visits.

The reception, which was sponsored by Bayer, gave MSGA board members the opportunity to speak with legislators in a relaxed environment and cultivate personal relationships with the lawmakers tasked with writing public policy in Minnesota.

“Sometimes our best opportunity to have meaningful conversations with legislators isn’t always when we’re sitting across the desk from them,” MSGA President Bob Worth said. “The legislative reception, made possible by Bayer, is our opportunity to talk to our representatives in a different atmosphere to help build better connections.”

MSGA President Bob Worth (left) and Executive Director Joe Smentek (middle) visit with MDA Commissioner Thom Petersen during a visit to the Capitol on March 22, 2023.

MSGA began its meetings with legislators bright and early on March 22. After joining several advocacy groups in a lawsuit against the state of Minnesota a week prior, MSGA navigated a different legislative environment during this year’s Hill Visits.

The lawsuit challenges the legality of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency rules requiring that new cars, light-duty trucks and medium-duty vehicles in the state meet emission limits set by California and match California’s requirements for the sale of a certain percentage of zero-emission vehicles. 

The ongoing litigation was a big top of discussions during the visits.

“We have been a leader in biodiesel for the last twenty years. There is some trouble with clean cars and following a different state’s initiate,” said MSGA Secretary Brad Hovel. “We want to be sure we have it built in and have a seat at the table. We want to ensure there is a commonsense approach to be sure we are taking the right path and not one path right away.”

MSGA continues its defense of protecting pesticides this legislative session. Without tools and innovation, farmers wouldn’t be successful in today’s atmosphere. Neonicotinoids are one of the innovative tools that farmers use to responsibly control harmful insects and allows them to produce more crop on fewer acres. Proposed bills in the Minnesota legislature could jeopardize the use of these tools, which would severely impact farmers’ ability to fight pests and could drastically reduce yield. 

“That type of seed treatment grows along with the plant and prevents insects from eating or feeding on those plants in the future,” MSGA Vice President Darin Johnson said.. “We just want to make sure that we can use products when we need them. And we don’t use them if we don’t have to because they’re costly and we care about our land.” 

Not everything was doom and gloom. Last week, the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee approved the grain indemnity fund bill under which the grain indemnity fund would receive $5 million from the General Fund. Premiums of up to 0.2% on grain sales would be paid until the fund reaches $15 million and would cease until the fund falls below $9 million.  

Because safety nets are important for farmers, MSGA endorses the grain indemnity fund bill with the hopes that it would protect farmers who’ve delivered their soybeans to an elevator if it went bankrupt prior to the farmer receiving payment.

“We want to ensure the grain indemnity bill stays funded at $15 million, so that if something happens to an elevator, its patrons will get 90% paid back to them,” said Johnson. “We want to make sure we start this correctly. There hasn’t been much coverage for the last few years, and we need it fully funded to have that protection.” 

Sen. Gene Dornick, who represents District 23 in southern Minnesota, vocalized his support for a grain indemnity bill and has been looking toward the Iowa model for inspiration. 

MSGA also advocated in support of raising the Ag Homestead Tax credit to $3.5 million, which would help keep the next generation of farmers on the land.

“Acres are shrinking because the values are going up so much,” Johnson told Sen. Dornick.

Toward the end of the day, Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Commissioner Thom Petersen visited with Worth and Executive Director Joe Smentek to hear MSGA’s thoughts on the legislative session thus far and its hopes for the remainder of the session, which runs through May 22.  

Petersen commended MSGA for its work with expanding the Minnesota Trade Office.

“I want to thank the soybean growers for working on our Trade Office,” said Petersen. “We see a lot of advantages and options in that. If we could get even one more, we’d be crushing it.”

Earlier in the legislative session, MSGA proposed a bill to the Senate Ag Committee that would appropriate an additional $500,000 per biennium to MDA’s Trade Office to develop international marketing opportunities for farmers and value-added processors. 

MSGA Director Jeff Sorenson (right) and Secretary Brad Hovel (middle) promote grain exports via the Port of Duluth during a conversation with Rep. Paul Torkelson.

“We need to get more funds to get people hired to provide more opportunities,” MSGA Director Jeff Sorenson said. “Wisconsin has five people providing these resources, and we only have one.” 

The Port of Duluth was another common topic introduced during trade discussions. Rep. Paul Torkelson was excited for the opportunities that Duluth presents to Minnesota. 

“I am a big fan of the Duluth port. It is a great asset to Minnesota,” he said. “The opportunities for  shipments are big.” 

Throughout the visits, MSGA impressed upon legislators that Minnesota farmers are stewards of the land. When bills are introduced that place more regulations upon them, farmers are hindered from focusing on growing the crops that provide essential resources to the world.

“These bills have real consequences,” said MSGA director Jamie Beyer.

MSGA’s worked hard to showcase the impact these bills have on their farms and displayed that farming is more than a profession; it’s a legacy pass down through generations.

“We work tirelessly to leave our operations, including our land, better than they found it for the next generation,” Worth said. “These Hill Visits give us the ability to tell legislators how their decisions have direct impact to what we do and our livelihood.

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