Ag officials visit Indiana to discuss national issues
Directors from 12 state departments of agriculture around the country visited Kelsay Farms in Johnson County to present an update on the agricultural issues facing their state.
Host Joe Kelsay, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, noted that the ISDA is working with its partners at the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and the Indiana Soybean Alliance to make the state’s biofuels industry a top priority.
“We are working with the On-Farm network, which is very exciting because we get to work with our partners in corn and soybean,” he said. “We also recently completed a 25th-anniversary trade mission to the Zhejiang Province in China and are excited about the Year of the Dairy Cow at the Indiana State Fair.”
Robert Flider, acting director of the Illinois State Department of Agriculture, said it is no secret that his state is struggling with budget troubles.
“Next April is a national biotechnology event, and many companies and organizations here are working on biotechnology to help feed and fuel the world,” he said.
Doug Goehring, the president of the Midwest Association of State Departments of Agriculture and commissioner of the North Dakota State Department of Agriculture, mentioned a ballot initiative initiated by the Humane Society of the United States to address inhumane treatment of pets and horses.
Over the last two years, local pet shelters, the humane society, the veterinary medical association, Farm Bureau, the stockmen’s association, Farmers Union and the Board of Animal Health joined to rewrite the state’s chapter addressing inhumane treatment of animals, forming North Dakotans for Responsible Animal Care.
“North Dakota has very light penalties for inhumane treatment of animals,” Goehring admitted. “We deal with mostly larger animals, but had to make sure that the language in place was suitable and defensible. We looked at all species of animals and at providing guidance and clarity to the law with respect to enforcement. It was a little ambiguous and not clearly understood, so we looked at cleaning it up and addressing the penalty aspect.”
The new drafted measure will give the agricultural groups the ability to modify and change its content in the future and could serve as a legislative solution to address issues regarding animal care, he said.
“We also wanted to protect hunting and fishing in the state, which also are at risk because of what has been coming on the animal welfare front,” Goehring said. “We got word this last spring that HSUS was attempting to get a petition drive going for an initiated ballot, and we regrouped this last winter and started slowly working on this. We kept plodding on, making the verbage right and addressing everyone’s concerns and sensitivities.”
North Dakota is a breadbasket state. Growers produce 42 different commodities, including spring wheat, durum, malting barley, flax, canola, sunflowers, oil and in-shell edible peas, honey, corn and soybeans.
The state ranks No. 1 in national production with 14 of its crops, Goehring said. Elk, deer, sheep, bison, dairy and beef cattle also are common, as well as swine, he said.
“Wheat is our top revenue producer, soybeans second and livestock third,” the director said. “Most of our cattle operations are cow-calf operations, though we have some feedlots, mainly for background, as well as finishing lots. We are a very diverse state with some of the most productive ground in the world in the eastern part of the state where the topsoil is measured in feet instead of inches.”
During the meeting, Goehring stressed that the state is home to two major rail lines and a bevy of energy activity, including frack sands.
“We have a lot of material moving in on rail,” he said. “We also have a number of unit trains hauling out grain and oil, and as we see an increase in oil production, that product has to leave our state to get out and be dispersed to society, much like our grain products do.”
“When we had an issue with the Keystone Pipeline XL. That kind of hit a brick wall here several months ago and caused a lot of heartache, because pipelines are a great way to move product without putting your infrastructure under more stress. Otherwise, we have to have more truck and rail traffic.”
To take pressure off the northern rail line and utilize the northern line and avoid bottlenecks, Goehring said he has talked to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe in deciding where to build the next spurs and loops for unit trains.
Like other states, North Dakota also has coped with a less-than-legendary crop the last couple years, he said.
The dissolution of the Canadian Wheat Board could lead to more product being imported from Canada and transported out of North Dakota.
North Dakota ships corn and soybeans out of the Midwest that travel across the Pacific Northwest to Asia and Southeast Asian markets, Goehring said.
“When we get back to having a normal or above-normal crop here, we’ll be taxing the rail system immensely, so we’ve been working with BNSF to try to address that and make sure we don’t end up with shipping problems in the 2012-2013 marketing season,” he said.
Yet another focus for the state is ethanol production. Dakota Spirit Ag Ethanol Co., founded by Great River Energy, built an ethanol plant next to a coal-fired electric generation facility to pipe waste steam and steam to the ethanol plant, combining the heat-and-power aspect of production and cutting any need for other sources of energy.
“We’ve been able to prove that they have a lower-carbon footprint associated with ethanol fuel,” Goehring said. “We’re looking at building another of these facilities near Jamestown and the Spiritwood Industrial Park.”
The ethanol plant was built before the enactment of the second Renewable Fuel Standard, however. The new standard caps the allowable production of ethanol from grain.
“They’re seeking alternative pathway certification and can’t actually start construction until they get that certification from the Environmental Protection Agency,” Goehring said.
“Cellulosic ethanol is so expensive to produce. They had to move forward and do the main plant first so they could make a lower-carbon fuel, but add on this other component in the second phase of cellulosic ethanol and give them a premium in the marketplace,” he said.
“You can build a 100-million-gallon ethanol plant for $180 million, but it would cost you almost $400 million to do a 20-million-gallon cellulosic ethanol plant,” he added.
Goehring hailed the new Colombia Free Trade Agreement, as well as new opportunities in Vietnam, Indonesia and Turkey. The state was planning to host a Turkish delegation.
Kansas, one of the largest corn and soybean-producing states, is enduring a major drought this spring and summer, though this is a small problem compared to the state’s economic climate.
The state has one of the nation’s largest ratios of government-to-private employees and is struggling to advance job growth, said director Dale Rodman.
One of the major projects Kansas is involved with a level-three bioterrorism maintained facility in Plum Island, N.Y., designed to study foot and mouth disease and other livestock afflictions.
The state invested $150 million into the project to address biosecurity and animal care issues, Rodman said. Leaders currently are putting together a business plan for the entire state, including plans to build around the Ogallala Aquifer.
Michigan growers grappled with a hard frost and freeze that damaged the state’s heavy tree fruit industry. About 95 percent of the state’s cherry and apple crops were lost this spring, and about $300 million in assistance will be made available to producers through federal crop insurance, said Michigan chief deputy director Gordon Wenk.
The state also is working on developing an international trade crossing through the Detroit-Windsor connection and establishing severance, applying a 3-percent tax in lieu of other taxes to fund infrastructure improvements, he said.
Minnesota has an annual agricultural budget of $40 million and is engaging in several initiatives to improve the agricultural economy, said deputy commissioner Jim Boenboom.
“Our agency was established in 1885, and it was known as the Minnesota Dairy Commission,” he said. “Minnesota does allow the sale of raw milk, but we had to spend quite a bit of energy to stall or put that down.”
The state is exploring an immigrant micro-loan program and a loan for first and second-generation and small urban farmers, he added
Food safety is a big priority in Missouri, and the State Department of Agriculture is working closely with counter-agencies to cope with the risks presented by more a global food system.
“To increase economic development and exports, we are working in partnership to get a STEP grant to send a governor or director to China,” said Missouri special assistant Steve Allison. “We are focusing on Korea with a trade agreement, and we also are looking at business in Vietnam.”
Greg Ibach, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, discussed the state’s outreach to small and large communities to take notice of agriculture and talk in a much broader sense about the industry.
Groups including We Support Agriculture have given ag’s constituents more to work with in pursuing legislative and policy angles, he said.
In a couple weeks, the state also will host the fourth-annual Nebraska Agricultural Institute.
Drought in Nebraska is likely to cause cow liquidations and herd reductions, Ibach added.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture has been working to increase its state’s exports, developing a facility that will transport livestock by airplane.
“Ohio has a pretty big wine industry, and our wines compete nationally and internationally,” said director David Daniels. “We also developed an Ag is Cool program at the Ohio State Fair.”
To address an ongoing problem with invasive species, the agriculture department obtained regulatory authority over invasive animals and species in the state during the last legislative session, he said.
Most people know Wisconsin for its large dairy industry. About $26.5 billion is generated off dairy production in the state, and there is a growing challenge with what to do with products and byproducts.
Many products that once were considered waste products, such as whey, now are value-added products in export markets, said Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Ben Brancel.
The state also is dealing with hydraulic fracturing, known as frack sanding. The state went from having one fracturing mine to 80 last year, the director said.
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