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.
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.