Capitol Comments

CSG Midwest
To get three major pieces of legislation passed with unanimous or near-unanimous votes can be a challenge at any time. In Minnesota this year, lawmakers found a way to get that done in agriculture policy under some unforeseen, exceptional circumstances — having to conduct business remotely, and in a Legislature where partisan control is split.
“By building relationships across the aisle, in the other chamber and with staff, we were able to identify everyone’s priorities and get to the right end results,” says Rep. Jeanne Poppe, who serves as the chair of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy.
Perhaps the most impactful and unique piece of legislation — especially considering economic conditions in the agricultural sector — was a modification of Minnesota’s Farmer-Lender Mediation Act. This law dates back to 1986, and it gives farmers the opportunity to renegotiate, restructure or resolve farm debt through mediation.
CSG Midwest
Name the commodity critical to the Midwest’s agricultural producers and rural communities, and evidence of the devastating, immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is plain to see. Futures prices for hogs and feeder cattle? Down 53 percent and 25 percent, respectively, between the start of this year and beginning of April, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Over that same time period, futures prices fell for ethanol (-33 percent), corn (-20 percent), soybeans (-13 percent), Class III milk (-22 percent) and wheat (-4 percent).
“We are definitely living in uncertain times, with every aspect of our economy affected,” Minnesota Rep. Paul Anderson said in April during a webinar hosted by The Council of State Governments’ Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee. “Agriculture has taken a big hit from the pandemic, and it will take many months, if not years, to recover.”
One of the takeaways from that webinar: State legislatures can play a central role in helping the Midwest’s farm operations and other rural businesses survive, and recover.
CSG Midwest
Starting in 2025, all egg-laying hens in Michigan will be cage-free, the result of legislation signed into law late last year after negotiations among lawmakers, industry leaders and animal-rights groups. “[It] synchronizes Michigan’s hen-housing law with state and national retail and restaurant commitments of only buying eggs from 100 percent cage-free farms by 2025,” says Sen. Kevin Daley, the sponsor of SB 174.
Under the law, retailers can only sell eggs from hens in a “cage-free housing system”; to qualify as cage-free, the housing must “provide enrichments that allow the hens to exhibit natural behaviors” — for example, scratch areas, perches, nest boxes and dust bathing areas.
Michigan is the first Midwestern state with a cage-free law, and now the largest egg-producing state that dictates hen housing. Outside the region, California, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon and Rhode Island already have such laws. In October 2019, the North American Meat Institute filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of California’s voter-approved animal-confinement rules.
CSG Midwest
For lawmakers, the results of some legislative actions can be seen almost immediately — allocate funding to repair a road, for example, and it’s likely to get fixed soon. But there are other areas where the effects of a new state investment or policy only will be evident over the longer haul. In Minnesota, Rep. Rick Hansen says, that will be the case with his state’s commitment to pollinator conservation.
“Important work is often slow and results aren’t immediate,” he adds, “but you hope they are steady.”
Minnesota is leading the Midwest, and most of the nation, in efforts to protect and promote the population of pollinators. About one of every three bites of food we eat require direct pollinators, and indirectly, pollinators play a role in 75 percent of what we eat. The Midwest is home to thousands of pollinator species, including more than 400 species of native bees. But the pollinator population is at risk due to disease, the effects of pesticides, climate change and loss of habitat.
“Comprehensive policy work and habitat changes take time, something that may be limited for our pollinators,” Hansen says.
What can a state do to help? Starting in 2014, Minnesota has taken several steps, all with a focus “on supporting good science so that public dollars are used efficiently,” Hansen says.
CSG Midwest
It didn’t take long for the Midwest’s legislators, and farmers, to jump at one of the new opportunities provided in the 2018 federal farm bill — the legalization and cultivation of industrial hemp. According to a CSG Midwest survey of state departments of agriculture, more than 70,000 acres of land were licensed in 2019 for hemp production across eight of the region’s 11 states.
The three states without any licensed hemp growers in 2019 were South Dakota, where the governor has vetoed legislation to allow production, and Iowa and Ohio, which have been awaiting U.S. Department of Agriculture approval of their regulatory plans. (Ohio’s plan was approved in early 2020.)
Most U.S. states (including all in the Midwest except South Dakota) now have laws in place allowing for legal hemp production, for research and/or commercial purposes. Despite these major policy changes, though, questions remain about how hemp will be regulated and where farmers will find markets for this crop.

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