Stateline Midwest ~ March 2012

Nebraska Sen. Kate Sullivan says agriculture is not only her state’s largest industry, it may also be one of the least understood.

Stateline Midwest ~ April 2012

Under a controversial measure that took more than a year to pass and garnered national attention, Iowa has established a new type of criminal offense — agricultural production facility fraud.

Stateline Midwest ~ June 2012

Across the Midwest there is expected to be significant turnover this year in state legislatures. And particularly after another round of redistricting, agriculture’s voice in the legislature is at risk of being drowned out as more districts become urban or suburban, a shift that has been occurring for decades.

The state of Illinois is set to boost funding for agriculture research and water quality, while also providing a sustainable revenue resource for the regulatory efforts of its Department of Agriculture.

This week, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to consider the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill. The bill would extend U.S. agriculture programs for five years, and in a Congress marked by short-term extensions, this is nothing short of miraculous. The path to passage does not come without some speed bumps, though.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will propose new rules this Thursday that will give states the capacity to investigate food stamp recipients who seek replacement benefit cards more than three times a year. The new rules will also allow states to demand formal explanations from recipients who say they’ve lost their cards. In total, food stamp fraud costs American taxpayers around $750 million a year, equal to about 1 percent of the USDA’s total budget for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The majority of fraud occurs when retailers allow customers to turn in their benefits cards for lesser amounts of cash. But USDA officials are also concerned about people selling or trading cards in the open market, including on the internet.

Governor Martin O'Malley is poised to sign into law the nation's first ban on chicken feed containing trace amounts of arsenic. The legislation would prohibit the use of roxarsone, a drug used to promote growth and combat parasites, from being given to poultry. Proponents of the legislation hailed its passage as a way to improve public health and to help potentially remove arsenic from seeping into the Chesapeake Bay. Those opposed, including the state's poultry industry, say the legislation is unnecessary as the drug's manufacturer -Pfizer- stopped production a year ago and that a full ban could have significant economic consequences for Maryland farmers. 

As Americans remember the events and veterans of December 7, 1941 today, another organization seeks to help our service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. A recent USA Today article highlighted the work of the Farmer-Veteran Coalition. The national coalition “seeks to help our returning veterans find employment, training and places to heal on America’s farms.”

Here is legislation reviewed by CSG’s Committee on Suggested State Legislation about agricultural operations and sustainable agriculture; a program to help disabled farmers; and a master farmer program to help farmers reduce the environmental impact of their farming operations.

The Midwestern Legislative Conference and The Council of State Governments were represented at a recent meeting of the White House Rural Council in Washington, D.C. Formed in June by presidential executive order, the council is being led by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and is focusing on how the federal government can help foster economic growth in rural areas. 

The dairy industry is an important economic engine for many communities in the Midwest, as reflected by recent actions taken in Wisconsin and regional interest in the future policy direction of the federal government.