MARSHALL - It has been a busy and productive week for Minnesota agriculture advocates, many of whom attended the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation's 93rd annual meeting to adopt policy positions for 2012 or the MFBF board of directors meeting to prioritize the issues for the upcoming year.
"It's always a fun time to have an annual celebration, especially coming off a good fall harvest," MFBF President Kevin Paap said. "A lot of time, the delegates leave their ranch when the farm work isn't done, but they do it because it's an important part of the process."
Paap, who has served as president since 2005, was re-elected this week to his fourth two-year term. Working together to prioritize the issues, he said, is democracy at its best.
"At MFBF, we're like a mini Congress," Paap said. "We've got all the state and regions represented, so we have to have a balanced approach that is fair for all of agriculture. That gives us our strength."
Topping the priority list was the state budget, food safety, ag land property taxes, land, water management, regulations and permitting, Agriculture Growth, Research and Innovative Program (AGRI) and the Federal Farm Program.
"We have those battles between regions and types of agriculture and we're able to come up with a policy or consensus," Paap said. "There are no policies that we'll vote on for national issues that have not been passed at one of the 78 county Farm Bureaus. It's a very long process, but a very strong, solid process."
As far as agriculture is concerned, Paap said, the No. 1 priority is to produce safe food.
"Nothing else matters, really," he said. "We have to ensure that everything about domestic and imported food is safe. Of course, that's tied in with the state budget. We have to have the dollars and resources to make that happen."
A number of voting delegates expressed concerns on recent state budget shifts to school funding for future years and continued cuts to state aid for local units of government.
"One of the things that we heard a lot of at this annual meeting, which ties back to the budget, is property tax," Paap said. "Farmers are getting their property tax statement just days beforehand and are talking a lot about the loss of the market value homestead credit, which is causing an increase in property tax. Combine that with the state budget and the shifts they've made that is driving up the school costs so they have to increase to make up for that."
This year, there are a number of concerns about the federal budget and the Congressional supercommittee's inability to reach a deficit agreement to help reduce the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion the next 10 years. Paap said making sure committees have set their priorities has been key.
"We cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of agriculture," Paap said. "We know there are going to be cuts, and we're willing to do our part. But we have concerns when we may be asked to do more than our share."
Agriculture accounts for a small portion - 3.9 percent - of the federal budget, Paap said, and nutrition makes up 80 percent of the farm bill. Conservation, crop insurance and commodity programs make up the final portion of the farm bill pie chart.
"We call it the farm bill, but we forget that 80 cents of every dollar is spent on nutritional programsthe food lunch program and food stamps," he said. "People think that it's only for farmers, but it's for anybody and everybody."