Minnesota Soybean Business

Session solutions: MSGA looks for Capitol inroads

January-February 2023

After millions of dollars spent on advertisements, polling and campaigning, the balance of power among the 201 seats in the Minnesota Legislature essentially came down to a single seat.

When the dust settled following the 2022 election, House Democrats retained their 70-64 margin and gained the crucial seat needed to flip the Senate in their favor to a 34-33 majority. With Gov. Tim Walz winning reelection, Democrats mostly defied expectations and regained complete control of the Legislature for the first time since 2014.

The scene has changed in St. Paul.

“The November election will have a drastic effect on the way St. Paul is going to be organized politically the next two to four years,” said Cory Bennett, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) lobbyist.

“To sum up the Minnesota election, it all came down to that one seat.” Bennett said voter turnout was a key factor in the unanticipated results, coming in as the second highest turnout in Minnesota history at 66.6%.

“Minnesotans were invigorated to vote,” Bennett said.

Bennett said this year’s session will be focused primarily on setting the 2024-2025 biannual budget, but he also anticipates a potential bonding bill, tax bill and other one-time “money” use.

“The potential for a recession will certainly be a conversation starter this session,” he said.

The DFL-controlled legislature began the 2023 session Jan. 3 at noon. For MSGA, 2023 could be a year of defending existing policies and pushing back against legislation that could hurt agriculture; however, policy opportunities remain.

“While the election didn’t turn out as the experts thought, we (MSGA) are a nonpartisan organization,” said Joe Smentek, MSGA executive director. “MSGA will still continue to work hard to further our agenda for Minnesota soybean farmers, find opportunities and do our best with the cards we’re dealt.”

Smentek added 68 new legislators arrived to St. Paul in January for the 2023 session.

“That’s over one-third of our entire legislature. That’s a tremendous turnover,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we don’t get to choose who they send to work with us. We have to be ready to work with both sides of the aisle.”

Dividing lines

The chairs for the House and Senate ag committees have been selected, but due to the stark urban-rural divide between Democrats and Republicans, both chairs – Rep. Samantha Vang and Sen. Aric Putnam – do not stem from rural Minnesota.

“The House ag chair is from Brooklyn Center and the Senate ag chair is from St. Cloud,” Bennett said. “But you cannot blame the majority for this. We have a very rural-urban divide, and that’s just where the seats are coming from.”

MSGA President Bob Worth is hopeful that Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, who was appointed for another term by Gov. Walz, will help serve as a liaison between farmers and lawmakers.

“We’re so fortunate that we have a commissioner that is so willing to work with us,” said Worth, who farms by Lake Benton. “There are a lot of states that don’t have the privilege that we do. We are so honored to have that relationship with Commissioner Petersen and know he will be an advocate for rural Minnesota and soybean farmers.”

Smentek said the longstanding relationship with Petersen will also be important as MSGA sets its eyes on a record $17.6 billion dollar surplus, which is expected to increase and will surely play large role in the tone of the 2023 Legislative Session.

“Looking at our offense, MSGA will be looking at opportunities for valueadded agriculture,” Smentek said. “With the size of the surplus, we see this as an opportunity to showcase the investments our farmers make in value-added.”

Other MSGA priorities for the 2023 Legislative Session include farmer tax relief; combating pesticide restrictions and regulatory overreach; increased funding for international export marketing programs; easing weight restrictions on state roads; and upgrading infrastructure across Greater Minnesota.

“Every legislative session comes with its own set of challenges and opportunities,” Worth said. “MSGA has a strong membership base, dedicated farmer-leaders, and expert lobbyists and staff. We’re ready to find policy solutions where we can find them, and do our best to protect the interest of our state’s soybean farmers.”

In late December 2022, MSGA’s governing board met for the first time in MSGA’s new conference room at its Mankato headquarters. Later that night, the board and delegates from across the state discussed policy resolutions, including new proposals related to:

  • Expanding the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s export promotions department
  • Tax relief for farmers enrolled in voluntary agricultural risk management programs
  • Crop insurance
  • Creating an indemnity fund for crop damage from white tailed deer
  • Opposing environmental social and governance (ESG) benchmark systems

MSGA’s board meets again on Thursday, Jan. 19 at MN AG EXPO for its Annual Meeting and Delegate Session. All current members members are welcome to attend. In March, MSGA will resume its annual Hill Visit and Legislative Reception in St. Paul.


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