Agriculture

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
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.
CSG Midwest
With tens of millions in new state dollars to incentivize farmers, along with a list of best practices known to reduce phosphorus runoff, Ohio will spend the next two years implementing its most comprehensive effort to date to prevent harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie.
And it’s likely just the beginning of the commitment needed to tackle the problem.
CSG Midwest
Before they voted to legalize the use of recreational marijuana, legislators in Illinois committed to learning as much as possible from the experiences of other states. Rep. Kelly Cassidy, lead sponsor of the bill signed into law in June (HB 1438), and others spent two years visiting growers, processors and dispensaries across the United States; they also held more than 100 stakeholder meetings in the state.
The end result: a 600-plus-page bill much different than any other state’s law on marijuana legalization. For example, the bill focuses heavily on ensuring diversity in ownership of the new businesses that come from legalization, and investing in the communities and people disproportionately impacted by enforcement of the state’s old laws on cannabis. But another facet of the new law stands out as well, and reflects what lawmakers found in their fact-finding work prior to the bill’s introduction. “[We were] struck by the intensive power and water usage involved in growing marijuana,” Cassidy says. In response, lawmakers included environmental requirements and efficiency standards for those seeking a license to cultivate marijuana.

CSG Midwest
Pick the indicator, and it points to troubling times for the Midwest’s dairy industry. Wisconsin, which has led the nation in farm bankruptcies three straight years, lost 450 dairy farms in the first half of 2019 alone — on top of the 590 that closed in 2018. In all of this region’s major dairy-producing states, too, the number of licensed dairy herds is falling, by as much as 13 percent in Michigan (see map).
A worldwide surplus of milk, combined with the impact of tariffs, has led to multiple years of unfavorable market conditions for dairy farmers: Farmgate prices dropped precipitously in 2014, to below $17 cwt, and have remained down and below the cost of production, $20 cwt. (Cwt is a unit measurement equal to 100 pounds of milk).
Can states help turn around, or at least stabilize, the situation for dairy farmers?
This year, legislators in two of the nation’s top dairy-producing states have sought ways to help, including putting new dollars into price supports (Minnesota) and research (Wisconsin).
CSG Midwest
The term “ecotourism” is most often associated with visits to undisturbed natural areas, but perhaps it’s time to broaden that definition — to include enjoying the scenery and studying the plants and animals found on America’s farmlands.
A perfect example of this is occurring in west-central Kansas.
Tourists flocked this spring to the area’s ranches that provide a habitat to the lesser prairie chicken, a species of grouse known for the males’ elaborate calls and showy displays of reddish-orange air sacs while performing spring mating dances.
CSG Midwest
Every five years, farm owners and operators are asked to complete a survey describing the characteristics of their farms. It takes almost two years for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to compile this data, which was released in April. Here is a summary of the notable trends and changes captured in the census about the Midwest.
CSG Midwest
Four years ago, Michigan legislators began funding a pilot farm-to-school project with at least two goals: One, get more fresh fruit, vegetables and legumes on the plates of K-12 students; two, open up new markets for local farmers. On both counts, state officials and national leaders in the farm-to-school movement say, the Michigan experiment is showing signs of success.
“It is a gold standard program,” Helen Dombalis, senior director of programs and policy for the National Farm to School Network, says of Michigan’s 10 Cents a Meal for School Kids & Farms. “Other states are looking at it as a model.”
Administered by the Michigan Department of Education, the program provides matching funds to school districts — equal to 10 cents per school meal — to purchase food products from nearby farms. Over three school years, the number of students served through the pilot project has risen from 48,000 to 135,000, and the legislative appropriation for 10 Cents a Meal has increased from $250,000 to $575,000.

Pages