Agriculture

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Nebraska will be making a $32 million investment over the next two years in a new fund designed to improve water management and sustainability. At least initially, dollars for the Water Sustainability Fund will come from the state’s cash reserves.

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In Kansas, some visitors come to the State Fair for the carnival rides, others for the food, music and entertainment. But organizers and legislators alike also don’t lose sight of one of the fair’s more important missions — as a source of boundless agricultural education for the young and old alike.

The annual event is promoted as the “state’s largest classroom,” and as Kansas Sen. Larry Powell notes, legislators themselves are among those getting lessons as part of an event that has them team up with a 4-H member who teaches them the finer points of cattle showmanship. A contest is then held, “much to the delight of the crowd,” Powell says. Illinois has a similar event with legislators driving harness horses in a race.
 

Beyond the fun and education, state fairs can also help boost the economies of host cities and surrounding regions. Some studies, for example, have put the impact at over $100 million a year. But state fairs also cost money to operate and maintain, and in recent years, states in the Midwest have had to grapple with this question: Should tax dollars be used to help keep the fairs going?

Ballot initiatives in two states-Colorado and Oregon-address labeling for genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Currently, neither state requires labeling for genetically modified food. Both Colorado Proposition 105, known as the Colorado Right to Know Act, and Oregon Measure 92, known as the Oregon Mandatory Labeling of GMOs Initiative, would require foods that were produced with or contain genetically modified organisms to be labeled. 

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With its cluster of farming, industry leaders such as DuPont Pioneer and John Deere, and a large land-grant university, central Iowa is already a hub of economic activity centered on agriculture and bioscience. But state, local, business and university leaders believe the region still has much untapped potential.

Their response: Join together on a new Cultivation Corridor initiative, which creates new partnerships among regional leaders in economic development, education and bioscience and aims to market central Iowa as the home of“science that feeds the world.”

If successful, the initiative will also help grow the entire Iowa economy by drawing new investments to the state and attracting and retaining talent and business.

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Will industrial hemp eventually become a viable cash crop for the Midwest’s agricultural producers and rural communities? Three states in the region have taken initial steps to begin exploring the possibility, and the new farm bill is also opening up the opportunity for research and pilot programs across the country.
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Bees are in trouble. The major pollinator of our fruit, vegetable and nut crops, they are also responsible for such agricultural staples as alfalfa, canola and sunflower. What role can states and provinces play in helping save the population of their — and the continent’s and the world’s — pollinators?
The region’s legislators explored this question in July during a session of the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee meeting, and learned how one state, Minnesota, already took significant steps in 2014.
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For farmers and ranchers, the promise of “big data” to vastly improve operations is hard to ignore. Take, for example, the idea of “prescriptive production.” By merging a decade’s worth of fertilizer, climate and yield data with advanced soil maps and existing conditions, a producer can make more-informed management decisions — down to the fertilizer used and seeds planted on each acre of land. Evidence shows that this approach can increase yields by between 10 and 25 percent.
“Big data” is the term applied to the sorting and processing of enormous quantities of data. And the ability to crunch massive amounts of data may be as important to the future of food production as the development of the tractor was for 20th-century agriculture.
But it is also hard to ignore the myriad policy and privacy issues arising from increased use of “big data.”

The CSG West Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee discussed hemp production and regulation, one of the oldest industries on the planet but only permitted in the U.S. since 1999. Members also considered conservation of water as it relates to agriculture uses.

SLC's latest Issue Alert examines how, even though the relative importance of agriculture and agriculture-related industries in the overall U.S. economy has diminished in recent years, the sector continues to be a critical component of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). In 2012, the latest year available, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that the sector contributed $775.8 billion toward GDP, a 4.8 percent share; the output of the nation's farms alone totaled $166.9 billion in 2012.

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For the first time, state legislatures are passing measures to require labeling of foods that contain products from genetically engineered crops — part of a recent upswing in food regulation that has producers challenging the rules as unconstitutional.

Vermont has become the first U.S. state mandating the labeling of genetically modified foods. (Laws passed in Connecticut and Maine only take effect if at least four other states adopt similar measures).

In the Midwest, GMO-labeling bills have been introduced in six states. Though none has become law, some of these measures have captured considerable attention, as shown by the large turnout for an informational hearing held earlier this year on Minnesota’s HF 850.

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