September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
The Minnesota Milk Producers Association sponsored Dairy Day at the Capitol on Feb. 21 to allow dairy farmers to talk to their legislators about how the dairy industry is doing, and express their comments and concerns about what needs to change.
The day included 40 set meetings with senators and representatives from across the state, a meeting with Governor Mark Dayton and the opportunity to sit in on the House Ag Committee Hearing.
"We had a wonderful meeting with Governor Dayton about our issues. He was honest in his responses and I thought it was a very positive part of our day," said Clarissa dairy farmer, Pat Lunemann.
One main concern expressed throughout the day was about speeding up the permitting process.
"The permitting process needs to be streamlined. If dairy producers apply for a permit and they meet the requirements ... they need to be able to get a permit with certainty," Lunemann said.
The governor said he wanted to work with farmers to make that process possible to get done in a timely manner.
"The permitting is a work in progress and they've made considerable improvements, but I always want to hear the stories which are the bad news because that's how we get better," Dayton said.
The governor gave out his residence phone number to the producers so they could call him at any time to talk when they had concerns.
Another topic of discussion surrounded gaining support of a Dairy Research Teaching and Consumer Education Center in Minnesota. Lunemann said he wanted to ask legislators to set up a commission in order to move forward with the project.
"We haven't had much investment in any research facilities in decades," Lunemann said. "It's difficult for the good researchers we have to do meaningful research in the facilities we have to work with."
Minnesota is losing rank as a dairy state, Lunemann said. In order to help the state grow its numbers and boost the industry, Lunemann said an Education Center is necessary.
"If we build this facility it will create an underlying current that will invigorate the dairy industry in Minnesota," he said.
Dayton was supportive of the Education Center.
"I told the University president we have to define the areas where the University has to be preeminent. Certainly dairy production is one of them, and so is farming in general, given how crucial it is to Minnesota. I welcome your commission and would be glad to be supportive of it," Dayton said. "If the bill goes through, I'll sign it."
Other topics talked about throughout the day included raw milk sales, healthy choices in schools, the Livestock Investment Grant Program and the Agriculture Growth Research and Innovation Fund.
Producers told the governor and legislators their stance on raw milk.
"We believe we have a safe food supply in Minnesota and we need to keep it that way. We support the (Minnesota) Department (of Agriculture) in keeping things the way they are," Lunemann said about the current limitation on the sale of unpasteurized milk.
The governor gave his support, too.
"That's something the Department (of Agriculture) takes seriously and I do, too ... We need to keep the standards as high as they can possibly be," Dayton said.
Farmers also asked to keep healthy beverage options, including milk, in schools, and requested to keep funding for the Livestock Investment Grant Program and the Agriculture Growth Research and Innovation Fund.
During the House Ag Committee Hearing, Lunemann gave testimony addressing these concerns and also shared an overview of Minnesota's dairy industry.
"2011 was a good year for most dairy farmers. Looking ahead we have high expenses and low prices coming, but overall the dairy industry in Minnesota is stable," he said.
Although the state has had about the same number of cows - 468,000 - over the past five years, farm numbers are slowly declining, and the state is losing rank, Lunemann said.
"If we're going to maintain our place in the U.S. dairy industry, we need to have growth. It needs to come from all different types of farms we have - small, medium and large," he said.
After visiting with legislators, the dairy producers had a meeting with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency commissioner, Paul Aasen, and Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner, Dave Frederickson.
"This meeting was needed so they could give their side of the story and we could give our side of the story," Lunemann said. "It gave us the opportunity to have some dialogue with them, which is sometimes missing."
The day ended with an additional meet and greet event with legislators.
"The meetings I had with legislators went over well," Lunemann said. "They know budget restraints are there, but they know the concerns of our dairy industry and how important it is to Minnesota. Overall, it was a good day."