Lawmakers visit to talk farming

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 13, 1999

Lawmaking came to Albert Lea yesterday.

Friday, August 13, 1999

Lawmaking came to Albert Lea yesterday. Members of the state’s House Agriculture Committee, along with other state representatives, met in Albert Lea to listen to testimony on the current state of farming in Minnesota.

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Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, said the intent was to bring the Legislature to the people, instead of making the people travel to St. Paul to have a voice.

Yet, few area residents took advantage of the opportunity to discuss agriculture with lawmakers.

&uot;We thought there would have been more people,&uot; said Dorman.

Approximately 35 people gathered to listen to the committee hearing at Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services, but the majority of the nine speakers were not from Freeborn or Mower counties.

Instead, Dorman noted many area farmers appeared to bring representatives to speak for them. Lobbyists from the Minnesota Farm Bureau, the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association, the Biodiesal Board, the Minnesota Pork Producers and Minnesota Soybean Growers, as well as a member of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, served as farmer representatives.

&uot;They are using them as they should,&uot; said Dorman of the farmer spokesmen.

Dorman acknowledged the legislative hearing might be intimidating for some of the area residents, but noted that was the reason for holding it in Albert Lea – to make it less intimidating.

The local hearing did allow local residents to speak.

Grand Meadow, Minn., farmer Brian Hanson took the opportunity to tell lawmakers he was concerned about the future of family farms in Minnesota.

&uot;My future in agriculture has been very much in my mind in the last few months,&uot; said Hanson, noting a death in his family partnership has caused him to reassess the business.

He said he’s asking himself if it’s proper to continue with the family farm. While he said his family’s operation is larger than what some people consider a &uot;family farm,&uot; he said that’s needed to survive.

He noted that all sorts of family businesses have had to grow to stay competitive in recent years.

To help farmers, Hanson asked lawmakers be aware of how regulations affect the farmers working the land.

&uot;We need regulations, but we need common sense in these regulations and fairness,&uot; he said.

Rep. George Cassell, R-Alexandria, said that’s a message he heard loud and clear during Thursday’s meeting.

&uot;We really have to work at being more farm friendly in this state,&uot; he said at the end of the hearing.

He noted there are already many external problems in agriculture, caused by federal regulations. He said there is no reason for the state to add to the problem with unneeded legislation.

Committee Chairman Tim Finseth, R-Angus, said the state lawmakers are already planning to do what they can to help farmers.

That help, he said, includes making a trip to Washington, D.C.

&uot;We’re planning to take a delegation of state legislators to Washington, when the time is right,&uot; he said.

Corn and soybean farmer Bob Krueger of Hayfield, Minn., said he appreciates the help of lawmakers.

&uot;Times are tough for agriculture and rural areas, but times change,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve seen lots of changes.&uot;

To steer toward positive changes, Krueger asked the lawmakers to continue to support the industry. He cited financial support of ethanol plants and the Minnesota Extension Service as proof the Legislature supported farming.

Others who addressed the committee also asked for continued farm support through state policy.

Kevin Papp, vice president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, asked for help with farmers who taking too much of the financial burden for levies and referendums in the state.

Bruce Kleven of the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association said livestock producers of all types are waiting to see what will come of new feedlot regulations currently being discussed.

&uot;There are some things here that are probably OK … but there are a lot of things that are unnecessary,&uot; he said.

As an example Kleven pointed to a proposed requirement for farmers to list the type of farm equipment they will use in manure management for five years. He asked what would happen if a farmer trades equipment. Would the farmer be in violation of his permit, he asked.

Duane Bakke, vice president of the Minnesota Pork Producers, said common ground needed to be found.

&uot;I hope we can achieve a balance with satisfying farmers needs and protecting the environment,&uot; he said.

Roger Peterson of the Biodiesel Board said the state needs to look at the advantages of alternative fuels, such as diesel fuel made, in part, with soybean oil.

At one point in the hearing, a disagreement was sparked when Rep. Henry Kalis, DFL-Walters, took exception to a comment by Harold Stanisloski of the Department of Agriculture.

Stanisloski suggested lawmakers look for ways to ensure the ag agency works with other agencies, like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources.

Kalis said that’s out of the hands of the Legislature.

&uot;It seems to me many of us have asked you for years to start working together,&uot; he said, noting it’s the responsibility of state agency heads and the governor to make sure the groups work together.

Austin’s Adeline Glowers of the League of Women Voters took advantage of the legislators’ visit to tell them of a two-year study her group is conducting on agriculture.

She said the study is looking at economics, as well as social and mental aspects of farming in the state.

In the end, Dorman said he saw the local testimony as helpful and expects those in attendance will have some things to think about.

&uot;It will spark a lot of discussion,&uot; he said.