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RRFN – Weekly News Highlights

RRFN – Weekly News Highlights

Exerpts from the Red River Farm Network Newsletter……

USDA Clarifies Stance on Gene Editing — Innovations, like gene editing or CRISPR, will not face any additional regulatory oversight. In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the new techniques for the development of new plant varieties is “indistinguishable” from those done through traditional plant breeding. The new process can introduce new plant traits more quickly and precisely. Perdue said USDA will continue its regulatory responsibilities, but the Agriculture Department will allow innovation when there is no risk being seen.

Health Care Costs Take a Bite Out of the Farm Budget — Over one-third of U.S. farm families expect double digit increases in health insurance premiums this year. According to a survey conducted by Farm Futures, 20 percent of the survey respondents rely on a spouse’s off-farm job for health insurance and another ten percent have their own off-farm job with health benefits. Nearly 60 percent of the farmers surveyed have employees. On average, those farmers covered more than 90 percent of the employee health care costs.

Managing Nitrogen — In preparation for spring fieldwork, farmers are learning more about nitrogen management. University of Minnesota Extension Crops Educator Brad Carlson says the real key with the Nitrogen Smart meetings is explaining science so farmers fully understand and can make good decisions. “We explain why and go through the actual research data. We don’t simply say do this and take my word for it.” There could be some denitrification challenges in the Red River Valley this spring, but Carlson says knowing your products well, keeping an eye on soil conditions and the weather can help farmers be successful in the year ahead. 

Split Vote for MN Ag Policy Bill — The Minnesota House Agriculture Policy Committee has approved the omnibus ag policy bill.  On a split vote, the committee passed language preventing the state agriculture department from implementing the nitrogen fertilizer rule without approval by the Legislature. The bill also expands access to beginning farmer tax credits and makes changes to the Rural Finance Authority loan programs.

MDA Defends Groundwater Protection Rule — The Minnesota Department of Agriculture plans to have its groundwater protection rule published for public review in early May, giving the Legislature time to weigh in before the end of the session. The rule will also get a hearing before an administrative law judge this summer and come up for adoption in December. If approved, Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson says the rule will take effect in time for the 2020 fall fertilizer season. “They’re going to have another whole legislative session in 2019 to deal with this. There will be no shortage of opportunities for legislative oversight.” There are bills in the Legislature which would prevent the Agriculture Department from moving forward with any rule dealing with nitrogen fertilizer rule. “It’s basically the poison pill that’s being tossed into any bill that has the Department of Agriculture on it. If the governor is willing to veto it, the entire package will be vetoed and we’ll be back at the drawing board.” In Frederickson’s words, the Legislature can do the political thing or the right thing. After receiving input in a series of public meetings last year, the Department excludes northwest Minnesota from the fall fertilizer restrictions. Most of the limitations to fall fertilizer application will from the central sands area in central Minnesota to the karst area in southeastern Minnesota.

Source: Red River Farm Network newsletter