Farmers, economists, officials gather for 2019 Ag Summit

Whether it would be the effects of heavy snow or talking about the state of the economy for agriculture, the 2019 Ag Summit was the place to be on Tuesday morning.

More than 100 people gathered at the Holiday Inn Conference Center for the Ag Summit, which toted the theme “Ag,  Food, Science and Energy” as the summit celebrated the gathering of people and ideas that are propelling the Center for Agricultural and Food Science Technology at Riverland Community College forward.

“As a comprehensive community college, we pride ourselves in helping those who want to change their careers and giving them the tools to succeed,” said Dr. Adenuga Atewologun, Riverland Community College president. “We want to help businesses so they can thrive, and we cannot do that on our own. To some of our precious partners, thank you.”

The keynote speaker was Dr. R. Dean Foreman, chief economist at the American Petroleum Institute, who shared that energy and agri-business share many challenges, such as needing to be prepared in meeting demand, reliably and affordably, as well as requiring long-term planning and enabling infrastructure.

Some other takeaways from Foreman, included the following:

•Record U.S. oil and natural gas production in Q1 2019, with 12.1 million barrels of oil per day and natural gas with 89 billion cubic feet per day.

•Price volatility in oil and natural gas from 2010 to 2019 was cut in half versus 1997 to 2009.

•Propane prices since 2015 have averaged nearly half what they were between 2010 and 2014.

•Low prices have been sustained as U.S. oil and natural gas exports have risen to record levels.

•Natural gas has grown to nearly one-third of U.S. net electricity generation since 2010, helped decrease electricity generation carbon dioxide emissions by more than 20 percent since 2010, and reduced U.S. average residential electricity prices.

•Minnesotans saved $2.6 billion on energy between 2010 and 2016

Also in attendance was Commissioner Thom Petersen of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, who spoke to the crowd about the challenges that lie ahead for Minnesota farmers after a particularly difficult winter with barn collapses, blizzards and heavy snow, as well as maintaining health and safety standards for livestock.

Petersen noted the following challenges and responses in Minnesota’s agricultural industry:

Weather

Petersen stated that more than 100 barns and sheds statewide collapsed because of record snowfall. Gov. Tim Walz had signed a bill allowing the Rural Finance Authority to declare a disaster and make zero-interest loans available to farmers through the Disaster Recovery Loan Program

Taxes

Walz’s budget proposal cuts taxes by over $220 million for the state’s farmers and small businesses. This allows farmers and small businesses to deduct up to $1 million of qualifying equipment purchases in the first year placed in service. Petersen stated that the proposal eliminates the Minnesota 80 percent add-back for the deduction.

The budget also calls for a $50 per acre property tax credit for farmers who provide buffer strips of land near public waters and drainage systems. The proposal recognized the farmers’ efforts to keep Minnesota waters clean.

“Mower County has always been held up as an example for the rest of the state in this,” Petersen added.

Weeds and disease

One of the major concerns was for the invasive plant Palmer Amaranth. If it establishes itself in Minnesota, farmers could spend an estimated $3 billion yearly to manage the weed, which is an example of destructive weeds.

A $1.8 million investment in the MDA’s Noxious Weed Program would support grants that enable local governments to battle noxious weeds, and the funding would provide needed resources to manage or eradicate the weeds. Minnesota is also getting prepared for a growing threat of an agricultural emergency such as African swine fever. Detecting and identifying emerging plant and animal diseases is critical for protecting the state’s agricultural, horticultural and natural resources.

A $500,000 investment could ensure the MDA has staff and equipment to defend crops and plants from outside threats. The governor’s budget would restore funding to the state’s Agricultural Emergency Account and support work at the MDA and Board of Animal Health to train and prepare for the next disease or invasive species.

Despite this, Petersen remains optimistic.

“The challenges we face are numerous,” Petersen said. “I start everyday thinking about the challenges, but I see there are also a lot of opportunities.”

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