Agriculture & Natural Resources
Tax relief, certainty for farmers are goals of Nebraska measure changing how ag land is assessed
The majority of Midwestern states determine farm property taxes through a system that assesses the land based on “use value” — how much income it can generate from agricultural production. One of the few exceptions is Nebraska, where a percentage of the land’s actual market value (currently set at 75 percent in statute) is used to determine what a farmer or rancher will pay in taxes. More »
Indiana among Midwestern states seeking fairer property-tax formula for farm producers
Indiana Sen. Jean Leising knows it’s going to be another tough year for beef and hog producers, and 2016’s record national yields for corn and soybeans indicate that farm profitability will decline for the third straight year. But she says a statutory revision made by the state legislature last year might at least help ease the pain for agricultural producers when it comes to paying their property taxes. More »
Nebraska seeks more certainty over livestock siting, while maintaining local control
The siting of large livestock facilities continues to be a contentious issue across the Midwest, with some states such as Wisconsin preempting local authority and setting statewide standards.
But Nebraska has kept local control over the rules determining decisions on new or expanded operations. Thirteen years ago, with an eye toward supporting the industry but not stripping away local zoning authority, the Nebraska Legislature gave counties the chance to be designated as “livestock friendly.” And this year, the state Department of Agriculture developed an assessment matrix for counties and producers to use as a tool when evaluating siting applications. More »
States face decisions on their piece of food-safety system:
New FDA rules will have big impact on farmers, food processor
The bipartisan Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 marks the most sweeping change in government regulation of food production and processing in more than 70 years.
It is just now beginning to be implemented, and for states, decisions will have to be made on whether to harmonize their own regulations on food safety with the FSMA, as well as how involved they want to be in areas such as producer education, inspection and compliance. More »
Already allowed in Ontario, fish farming in Great Lakes proposed in Michigan
Could the Great Lakes be used even more to satisfy the U.S. demand for seafood?
There is no question that U.S. consumers seem to have an insatiable appetite for it. In addition to the production of $9 billion worth of edible fish in 2015, we imported more than $20 billion worth. And as a result of decades of overfishing, natural fisheries cannot meet global demand — about half of all seafood is farmed fish from China, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. More »
Wisconsin offering new grants to farmers to lead initiatives that curb nutrient runoff
Inspired by some of the farmer-led projects being done in neighboring Iowa and looking for new ways to improve water quality, legislators in Wisconsin are providing financial assistance to groups of agricultural producers that collaborate on new conservation initiatives. More »
A look at how and why North Dakota became a leader in deployment of fiber optic Internet
A fiber optic connection is considered the “gold standard” for quality, high-speed Internet access, and in the Midwest, it’s in pretty short supply. Except in North Dakota. In the region’s most sparsely populated state, 60 percent of the households, including those on farms in far-flung areas, have fiber. (That compares to 24 percent in the Midwest, where most of the existing fiber networks serve urban areas.) In all, North Dakota ranks fifth in the nation in fiber access. More »
North Dakotans uphold corporate farming ban by ‘vetoing’ 2015 bill
by Tim Anderson ~ June/July 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Voters in North Dakota have overturned a legislative decision in 2015 to provide new exemptions to the state’s decades-old ban on corporate farming.
Under last year’s law (SB 2351), corporations were allowed to own up to 640 acres for pork and dairy operations. (Corporate ownership of any other type of farming operation, or of farmland, remained illegal.)
According to The Bismarck Tribune, supporters of SB 2351 said by allowing non-family members to form corporations and share in investment, the state would help revive its floundering pork and dairy industries. But in North Dakota, residents are given a check on bills passed by the Legislative Assembly, via a veto referendum. (Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio and South Dakota also allow for veto referenda, according to Ballotpedia.) Soon after legislators passed SB 2351, opponents of the bill began a statewide campaign to get it overturned. In June, 75 percent of North Dakotans voted against the legislation.
This year, two other Midwestern state legislatures have voted to ease their restrictions on corporate ownership in agriculture: Nebraska (LB 176) and South Dakota (SB 98).
Proposed rail line would add freight alternative in Midwest, but has run into local opposition
If the plans of a group of investors called Great Lakes Basin Transportation get the go-ahead, the Midwest could soon be home to the nation’s largest new railroad project in more than a century. The idea behind this proposed 278-mile rail line is to allow some freight traffic to bypass the Chicago rail yards, where congestion caused by the greatest density of rail lines in the world can tie up freight for 30 hours But the proposal faces many hurdles, including concerns being raised by some local communities and their state legislators. More »
New ‘Protein Highway’ initiative looks to capitalize on region’s unique agricultural strengths
Farmers in the states and provinces that make up CSG Midwest’s Midwestern Legislative Conference are the most prolific producers of edible protein in the world.
This is an enviable position to be in, especially at a time when demand for high-protein diets is on the rise, and a new binational partnership is seeking to make the most of this regional economic advantage. Developed by the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, the “Protein Highway” initiative encompasses three Canadian provinces (Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and six U.S. states (Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota). More »
Illinois bill would tap private donors to help fund state fairgrounds
by Tim Anderson ~ April 2016 ~ Stateline Midwest »
To better maintain their state’s two fairgrounds, some Illinois legislators want to create a new foundation that solicits private donations.
Under HB 4990 and SB 2903, the Fairgrounds Foundation would be housed within the state Department of Agriculture and be overseen by a board of directors. Legislative leaders and the governor would appoint this board. Illinois has two fairgrounds, one in Springfield, the other in DuQuoin. More than $180 million in deferred maintenance is needed at both locations.
The Illinois proposals seek to follow a funding model already being employed in neighboring states such as Iowa and Wisconsin. The Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation has raised more than $115 million since 1993. That money has come from a mix of individual contributions; state appropriations; in-kind services; and corporate, state and federal grants. Wisconsin also has a State Fair Park Foundation.
Some states, too, have dedicated a portion of certain revenue sources to their state fairs — for example, some casino riverboat admissions in Indiana and 10 percent of lottery proceeds in Nebraska.
Future of corporate farming bans in doubt in three states
For North Dakota Sen. Terry Wanzek, recently passed legislation in his state to provide exemptions to a ban on corporate hog and dairy farming is all about the preservation of the family farm — including his own. “My cousin owns a dairy farm next door to our crop farm,” explains Wanzek, who sponsored SB 2351 last year. “He is investing heavily in updated facilities, but if we wanted to incorporate together to add value to my crops, any corporation would be illegal should our children inherit it, because they are not closely enough related.” SB 2351, passed by the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, would provide the necessary exemptions. More »
Minnesota grant program helping expand broadband access to rural areas
Ask Minnesota Sen. Matt Schmit what his rural communities in Greater Minnesota need to prosper, and it doesn’t take long before the discussion turns to the importance of having high-speed Internet. “A good share of our rural homes and businesses still lack access to Minnesota’s very modest speed goals,” he says. Schmit is not the only state lawmaker concerned about this lack of connectivity. Six years ago, the Legislature passed a bill calling for all Minnesotans to have access to those “modest speed goals” (10 megabits per second download and 5 Mbps upload) by 2015. As of last year, however, only 78 percent of households met that standard. More »
Facing costly tariffs, U.S. puts end to trade dispute by repealing country-of-origin labeling rule
Within days after a World Trade Organization decision in December authorizing substantial retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico, the long-simmering trade dispute over country-of-origin labeling ended. More »
As aging farmers retire, state programs offer military veterans chance at careers in agriculture
America’s farmers are aging, fast. According to the 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture census, the average age is now 58, up from 50 in 1982 and now nearing the average retirement age in this country (it is 62, a recent Gallup poll found).
But there might be a younger group that could at least be part of the nation’s next generation of farmers — military veterans, particularly those seeking new career opportunities as they return from service
overseas. More »
Pending trade deal opens markets for Midwest farmers, but raises concerns among some groups
Even without a new Trans-Pacific Partnership, U.S. agriculture producers have deep ties to the 11 other countries involved in the potentially historic new trade deal. About 45 percent of the nation’s farm exports already have these nations as their destination, and as the U.S. Congress decides whether to approve the TPP, one of the deciding factors could be this: Will this deal open up key foreign markets even further, for the benefit of the nation’s farmers and ranchers? More »
Dropping crop prices expected to squeeze economies in states most dependent on farming
How will falling commodity prices impact the Midwest?
All of the region’s major commodity crops — corn, wheat and soybeans — are going to be priced right around the cost of production, and for the first time in many years, farmers will be losing money on their crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has predicted that net farm income will be down 36 percent from 2014 and reach its lowest level since 2002. The causes of this hit to the farm economy range from a slowing global economy and a stronger U.S. dollar, to higher grain reserves and the weather. More »
In many parts of the rural Midwest, there are signs of a turnaround in employment
Through the summer of 2014, the news about rural employment was not good, but there has been a turnaround of late, especially in many of the Midwest’s rural counties. More »
Getting to the nonpoint:
States pursue new strategies to protect water quality, with an increased emphasis on preventing nutrient runoff from farms
The Water Quality Initiative in Iowa, a new law in Minnesota requiring vegetation buffers along public water bodies, and the likelihood of "water quality trading" in Wisconsin are examples of how states in the Midwest are trying to curb nutrient runoff and protect water quality. More »
As land valuations outpace crop prices, region’s farmers look for relief from property-tax squeeze
In his home legislative district, Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite knows well the dilemma facing local agricultural producers: Their tax bills are skyrocketing (by an average of 62 percent this year), he says, while returns are declining and operational costs are rising. But finding a legislative fix to the problem is much easier said than done. More »
Parts of Midwest hit hard by strain of ‘bird flu’; millions of birds and dollars lost to virus
A highly contagious strain of “bird flu” hit the United States this year, and parts of the Midwest have been the epicenter of the outbreak.
As of early May, highly pathogenic avian influenza, H5N2, had been identified in 17 states, with outbreaks at more than 60 farms in Minnesota alone and the loss of more than 28 million birds. Bird flu has also been reported on farms in Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Ontario. More »
Lawmakers defend work of USDA research centers in Midwest
Earlier this year, a headline in The New York Times set off a firestorm in both the livestock industry and the research community. “U.S. Research Lab Lets Livestock Suffer in Quest for Profit,” the headline read. The laboratory at the heart of the story was a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in southeast Nebraska where research is conducted on farm animals. The goal of the USDA’s Meat Animal Research Center is to improve the efficiency of production while also maintaining the quality of meat products. More »
Ohio law aims to keep nutrient runoff from reaching Lake Erie
Less than a year after a harmful algal bloom temporarily cut off the city of Toledo’s drinking water supply, Ohio lawmakers have passed groundbreaking legislation to keep pollutants out of Lake Erie. SB 1, signed into law in early April, establishes several new provisions to prevent nutrient runoff.
For farms located in the western Lake Erie watershed, manure and fertilizers containing phosphorus and nitrogen can no longer be spread on frozen, snow-covered or saturated ground. According to The Toledo Blade, that ban also applies to days when heavy rain is forecast. The penalty for noncompliance is as much as $10,000.
The new law also bans the open-lake disposal of dredged material, requires additional phosphorus monitoring at wastewater treatment facilities, and creates the state-level position of harmful algae management and response coordinator.
A coalition of Great Lakes advocacy groups hailed SB 1 as a “good step,” but also urged policymakers to do more. It wants Lake Erie states and provinces to develop new monitoring plans and a timetable to cut the flow of phosphorus pollution into the lake by 40 percent.
Fast-growing wine, craft beer industries generating supportive legislation throughout Midwest
In the not-so-distant past, “non-existent” would have been an apt term to describe the Midwest’s farm winery and craft beer industries. As recently as the year 2000, only 300 acres were in grape production.
But today, ethanol isn't the only alcohol being produced in this region. There has been big growth in the beer and wine industry, a trend that is allowing for more diversity in farm production and helping expand local and statewide agri-tourism. More »
City’s nitrate-pollution lawsuit pits Des Moines against its nearby rural counties
In Iowa’s largest city, Des Moines, the local water utility operates the largest nitrate-removal facility in the world. It runs any time nitrates reach levels above the federally mandated limit of 10 milligrams per liter. The cost of operating the facility, Des Moines Water Works says, can be upwards of $7,000 a day. Now, the utility wants some local drainage districts in surrounding rural counties held accountable for the costs associated with treating what it calls “extremely high concentrations of nitrate” in local rivers. The announcement of a federal lawsuit got the immediate attention of leading state policymakers. More »
Farm industry in Midwest could see gains from changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba
At a time when commodity prices are the lowest in years, agricultural producers have been looking for ways to increase demand.
One answer to the market problem, it turns out, could be just 90 miles away from the U.S. border.
That is because agriculture — a major Midwestern strength — stands to be one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of President Obama’s plan to ease economic and trade restrictions with Cuba. More »
California law on housing of hens has big implications for egg exporters in the Midwest
Can voters in California dictate how Midwestern farmers house their hens?
If the farmers want to sell eggs to California, the answer could be “yes” — unless an appeal filed by Iowa, Nebraska and four other states is successful. Beginning Jan. 1, egg farmers in California must comply with Proposition 2: a new law, approved by voters in 2008, under which hens must be able to stand up, turn around and spread their wings without touching their cage or another bird. More »
To keep state fairs thriving,
organizers tap multiple revenue sources — including tax dollars
From the use of general fund dollars to their support of state-fair foundations, many of the Midwest's legislatures have made a commitment to keeping state fairs going and to upgrading the grounds and buildings where state fairs are held. More »
Agricultural areas looking to bioscience, research as seeds of a brighter economic future
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. More »
Indiana, Nebraska and North Dakota among states allowing industrial hemp research or cultivation
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. More »
Use of ‘big data’ in agriculture yields potentially big benefits for producers, but privacy concerns
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.” More »
Minnesota takes steps to address loss of crucial bee populations
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. More »
Midwest, U.S. continue to lose farms, but Nebraska among states bucking the trend
More than 29,000 farmers in the Midwest called it quits between 2007 and 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest census, a period in which the region also lost farmland while the average size of operations grew. The new statistics reflect longtime trends occurring not only in the Midwest, but nationally as well. But one state that bucked some of these trends is Nebraska, which recorded one of the largest U.S. gains in the number of farm operations. More »
Minnesota poised to have strongest biodiesel mandate in the nation
A decade ago, Minnesota became the first U.S. state with a biodiesel mandate, a move that has since been followed by six other states (none in the Midwest).
The state now hopes to advance production and use even further, with plans in place to adopt a first-in-the-nation B10 mandate: a requirement that all diesel fuel sold in the state contain 10 percent biodiesel and 90 percent petroleum. The higher mandate, set to take effect in July of next year, will only apply in warm-weather months.
Under Minnesota’s groundbreaking 2002 law, B2 was required. Subsequent legislation increased the mandate to B5 and called for an increase to B10 provided that a variety of conditions were met (a sufficient fuel and feedstock supply, for example, and an adequate blending infrastructure). The mandate will be raised to B20 in 2015 if those same conditions are met.
Though no other Midwestern states mandate that biodiesel be sold, some encourage or require its use in government vehicle fleets, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. Five of the nation’s top 10 biodiesel-producing states are in the Midwest: Iowa (second), Illinois (fourth), Minnesota (fifth), Indiana (eighth) and North Dakota (10th).
Minnesota partners with farmers, and feds, on new certification program to protect water quality
With the goals of protecting water quality and providing regulatory certainty to farmers, voluntary state programs that certify land-management practices at agricultural operations are cropping up across the country. Minnesota is one of the latest states to adopt such a program, and is backing it up with state dollars to help farmers adopt new conservation practices. More »
Groundwater depletion looms as threat to future growth in Kansas
Farmers and lawmakers in Kansas are struggling to come up with solutions to a problem that threatens the economic future of the state — its primary source of groundwater is being depleted at unsustainable rates. According to a recent study by Dr. David Steward of Kansas State University, given current usage, the amount of water Kansas farmers can extract from the Ogallala aquifer will start to fall in just 10 years. More »
Iowa bill adds liability protection for recreational-use landowners
Does your state’s recreational-liability statute protect landowners? Picture a group of schoolchildren visiting a farm. They ride horses, play games, climb tractors. A chaperone or parent gets hurt — as a result of no negligence on the landowner’s part. Is the landowner liable? That is both a real story and a question that recently faced the Iowa courts and the state legislature. Before adjourning this year, Iowa lawmakers revamped the state’s recreational-liability statute to provide more clarity and protections for landowners. More »
Wave of legislation targets animal-rights groups’ secret videotaping on farms
Trespassers or whistle-blowers? Debate over tactics used by activists to expose animal abuse leads to introduction of legislation in several Midwestern states. More »
State finance programs, tax credits aim to help beginning farmers with high costs of entering
For young people, the high cost of getting into farming can be a daunting business proposition, and is often cited as one reason for the aging population of farmers. Between 1982 and 2007, federal data show, the average age rose from 50 to 58, while the percentage of principal farm operators with less than 10 years of experience fell 42 percent. In the Midwest, varying types of financial-assistance programs are used to help a new generation of agricultural producers get started. More »
With much input from states, federal officials implement new rules for livestock tracking
After much consternation about how to improve the nation’s system for tracing animal movements in the case of an infectious-disease outbreak, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has settled on a set of final rules that leaves much flexibility and work to the states. More »
First-of-its-kind ‘right to farm’ law now part of North Dakota Constitution; new animal cruelty law now being considered in wake of defeat of November ballot measure
Most recent state ballot initiatives have not been welcomed by traditional production agriculture and its legislative supporters. More »
What are states doing, or can they do, to promote urban agriculture?
New initiatives in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio illustrate the role that states can play in promoting urban agriculture, which has attracted more interest in recent years due to concerns about vacant land, food insecurity and the environment. More »
The hows and whys of taxing farmland:
Varying state systems in Midwest continue to evolve
It is the single largest source of revenue raised by local governments (two-thirds of the total), and the single largest tax paid by farmers (44 percent of the total). The property tax is the lifeblood of rural schools and other critical public services, but can also be a burden on agricultural producers. State legislators are ultimately responsible for finding the balance that works, an agricultural taxation formula that sustains both rural communities and their
farmers. More »
State-by-state overview of agricultural taxation laws and formulas »
Bill reallocating Illinois fertilizer fees seen as ‘win-win’ by farm industry, environmental groups
Thanks in part to a joint effort between key environmental and agricultural groups, as well as legislative leaders and state agencies, 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. More »
Ohio bans ownership of exotic animals, joining 6 other states in region
by Tim Anderson ~ July/August 2012 ~ Stateline Midwest »
A headline-grabbing incident in October involving the release of 56 wild animals in eastern Ohio has resulted in a new state law, and policymakers believe the measure could soon be used as a model by other legislatures.
Authorities in Ohio had to kill most of the animals released by the owner; soon thereafter, the legislature began considering a measure to prevent another such incident.
SB 310, signed into law in June, bans new ownership of dangerous wild animals: big cats, some smaller exotic cats, bears, hyenas, gray wolves, non-human primate species, alligators and crocodiles. Existing owners, meanwhile, must seek a new state permit that will only be granted if they have liability insurance or surety bonds. The owners must also abide by caging, fencing and public signage requirements.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Wisconsin is now the only state in the Midwest with little to no restrictions on the private possession of dangerous wild animals. Research conducted by CSG Midwest earlier this year found that most states in the region had some type of ban on exotic-animal ownership. Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota allow ownership with a permit or license, according to Born Free USA, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
Rural areas on road to
Most rural Midwesterners are well aware that their roads and bridges,
designed primarily from the 1930s through the 1960s, are now handling loads and
traffic that the original builders could not have imagined. More »
Michigan codifies program to help farmers meet environmental rules
A voluntary program that helps Michigan farmers ensure that they are complying with environmental regulations and implementing soil- and water-conservation measures has become one of the state’s newest laws. More
Census shows population drop in rural Midwest; Kansas employs new strategy to help reverse trend
One constituent had just called Sen. Jeff King to tell him about having to leave rural southeast Kansas due to a lack of broadband access. Another sent an e-mail worried about losing the local grocery store.
These stories have become all too familiar to King, who represents a part of the state that is experiencing steep declines in population. More
Kansas puts increased emphasis on ‘economic gardening’ as a tool to grow the state’s rural economy
In Kansas, as is the case in many states, the data on job growth are clear: Most new jobs in a local economy are produced by the community’s existing small businesses, rather than by startups or relocations. More
How many states in the Midwest have their own meat-inspection programs, and how do they operate?
Nine states in the region — all but Michigan and Nebraska — are among the 27 nationwide that have their own inspection programs. Around the country, state inspectors oversee about 1,800 facilities. (Wisconsin and Ohio have the highest number of state-inspected processing plants in the country.) More »