In a session year shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Iowa Legislature still managed to pass significant bipartisan legislation impacting livestock and food production. Most notably, SF 2413 (signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in June) addresses what Sen. Ken Rozenboom says are “the most critical issues facing the livestock industry in Iowa today: foreign animal diseases and protection of food production facilities.”
Under this measure, he says, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship now has a more clearly defined process for how to respond to a foreign animal disease. The state agency had participated in a U.S. Department of Agriculture mock drill earlier and found some weaknesses in its ability to respond to outbreaks of such diseases as African swine fever or avian influenzas.
Iowa’s statutory language has now been broadened by replacing the word “livestock” with the word “animals,” thus allowing the department to segregate, treat or dispose of diseased animals, including those that may be abandoned by their owners.
In a series of roundtables that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem held with agriculture and energy groups, one issue that came up repeatedly was the need for consistency in the state’s widely variable county special and conditional permitting processes.
Before SB 157 became law in March, county zoning rules in South Dakota varied from none to very restrictive.
Noem told a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing in February that it revises county planning and zoning laws in ways that will keep permitting “fair, open and honest” by creating “a more predictable process for businesses and families that want to create or expand agriculture or energy infrastructure.”
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.
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).
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.