Farm Horizons, February 1997

Ag issues before the state House of Representatives

By Tony Kielkucki

State Rep. Dist. 20B

There are not many agriculture issues being considered by the 1997-98 Minnesota House of Representatives, but the issues that will probably be taken up are important ones.

The House Agriculture Committee is expected to consider corporate farming issues, feedlots, property rights and the sales tax exemption for used farm machinery among other issues.

Here is a run down on some of the anticipated ag-related issues that may be dealt with this session:

Feedlots

The airborne hydrogen sulfide emissions near hog feedlots has been a problem at some feedlot locations, particularly in Renville County.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), Department of Health (MDH), Pollution Control Agency (PCA) and the Renville County Public Health Services have been discussing the emissions from a facility in Renville Country. The discussion was brought on by results of testing done near the facility by Renville Country residents and Renville County.

It began with citizen complaints about odors emitted by ValAdCo, a large hog operation.

Neighbors of the operation claimed the odors allegedly caused by the operation posed a health threat. The preliminary findings resulted in further monitoring.

The PCA will be doing continuous total reduced sulfur monitoring near ValAdCo, with the feedlot providing site prep and operation costs. The MDA and MDH will assist PCA with the state portion of the funding, and the Renville County Health Department will assist in the field work.

Feedlot management

An attempt to broaden the powers of local governments to control the feedlot permitting process was defeated in the Legislature last session. Opponents argued that this was an attempt to stop the development of livestock feedlot operations.

Currently, the authority to monitor feedlot pollution standards rests with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. With local control of feedlots, some worry that it would bring patch quilt regulations around the state that would be hard to control. Many farms around the state are in more than one jurisdiction, and would be subject to more than one set of rules if local control were enacted.

A similar attempt as last session to broaden the powers of local governments to control the feedlot permitting process will probably be introduced during the 1997 legislative session.

Corporate farming

New legislation enacted in 1994 changed legal restrictions prohibiting certain business enterprises from owning farm land or engaging in farm operations in Minnesota. The legislation redefined "authorized farm operation" to allow an unlimited number of investors in non-dairy livestock production operations if 75 percent of the investment is from Minnesota farmers and at least 51 percent of the required percentage of farmers are actively engaged in livestock production. The size of the operation is limited to no more than 1,500 acres, with certain exceptions.

Some legislators would like to make even further changes in corporate farming laws. One change that is being suggested would give farmers the ability to form limited liability companies. That would allow them to tap into new resources of capital and make it easier for retiring producers to pass their farms on to their next generation.

Used farm machinery sales tax exemption

There has been some talk among legislators about making this renewable one-year exemption permanent. This law sunsets every year, and so far, every year the Legislature extends it by one more year. Some would like to see it made permanent law. The law has generated some business from farmers in neighboring states, looking to purchase used equipment without paying the sales tax, and has been used by Minnesota farmers since its inception.

Property rights

There appears to be growing support for a private property rights act that recognizes property owner rights and limits local government and state agencies' actions in taking land. There are two main types of statutory takings legislation that have been introduced around the country: legislation requiring an assessment of the impact of proposed governmental action on private property, and bills requiring compensation for a reduction in property value.

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