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Minnesota Soybean Business

MSGA Did You Know: Y2K

May-June 2020

In 2000, the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association entered the 21st century – and its fifth decade of operations. MSGA saw the new millennium begin with Rep. Torrey Westrom’s introduction of biodiesel (B5) legislation in the House of Representatives. Sen. Jim Vickerman introduced a companion bill in the Senate bill. The bills languished during the regular session, but a House Ag Policy Committee field hearing was held in September in Le Sueur.

The biodiesel team – led by MSGA directors – faced opposition from a bevy of directions in the petroleum and trucking industries. Some Republicans in the Legislature were against biodiesel mostly because of the law’s wording.

“They were good guys, but they just didn’t believe in a mandate,” said former MSGA Director Ed Hegland.”

In 2001, biodiesel was MSGA’s top policy priority. By 2002, B2 (2 percent biodiesel) passed legislation. Gov. Jesse Ventura declined to sign-off on the mandate, but through a series of measures, B2 became the law of the land in Minnesota.

“We weren’t going to fold,” Hegland says.

Today, biodiesel in Minnesota has graduated to a 20 percent blend in the summer months. Recognized by the EPA as an Advanced Fuel, biodiesel contributes nearly $1.7 billion to Minnesota’s economy and adds approximately 5,400 jobs to the state. The homegrown fuel adds up to $1 to each bushel of soybeans and increases demand for soybeans by 13 percent.

“What MSGA did helped inspire other states to do similar legislation,” said Tom Verry, director of outreach and development with the National Biodiesel Board. “We learned so much as an industry from Minnesota.”

The USDA also promoted renewables in 2000 by announcing it would blend B5 with heating oil at its Beltsville, Md., facility to alleviate a fuel shortage. USDA also launched a $300 million renewable fuels program designed to increase the production of both biodiesel and ethanol. Close to home, the Minnesota Soybean Processors held their first open house at their biodiesel facility in Brewster. The company began operation in 2003, and now produces 40.5 million gallons of biodiesel each year.

A brand new day

MSGA advocated for more than just biodiesel in 2000. Along with the American Soybean Association, MSGA saw the long game and pressed legislators in Washington, D.C. to support Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) with China. MSGA directors met with Gov. Ventura to discuss PNTR and – with uncanny foresight – explained to the governor the importance of increasing ag exports to China. President Clinton tapped Ventura as a spokesman for PNTR. On May 12, 2000, the president promoted PNTR during a speech at soybean farmer Terry Hauer’s operation in Shakopee.

“I wanted to come here to talk about expanding trade in China, what it means for farmers like you, for states like Minnesota, and, even more important than that, for the future of our children and America in this new century,” Clinton said.

In 1998, Minnesota exported $2.4 billion in total agricultural
products and $316 million to China, doubling the total from when Clinton was inaugurated in 1993. Prior to the U.S.-China trade war, Minnesota exported more than $2 billion in soybeans alone in 2017, equating to 30 percent of Minnesota’s total agricultural exports.

“The Chinese market virtually defies the imagination,” the president said. “You know, we get frustrated, but China is an old country, and it’s changing fast. … We ought to give this a chance. We ought to give the future a chance to work.”

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