The House passed the farm bill with a vote of 369 to 47, the largest margin of victory on record. While there are not significant changes in the new farm bill, incoming House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson said dairy farmers will benefit from the new legislation. “The things that I worked on were dairy and I would say that the dairy part of the bill for farmers is probably the best part of the bill. They got the best deal out of this and they needed it because we’re losing dairy farmers like crazy.” For dairy farmers with less than 5 million pounds of production, Peterson said “you will not be able to lose money, unless you really try.”
 
A step in the right direction.
    The U.S. Senate passed the farm bill with a margin of 87 to 13. Minnesota Senator Tina Smith said the farm bill will provide much-needed certainty to agriculture. “I fully understand that there are significant issues in farm country with low prices and, especially, the challenges around trade right now that is putting so much pressure on farm families. This will help. It certainly doesn’t solve all of those issues, but it is a step in the right direction.”
 
NMPF is pleased with new farm bill
    In the new farm bill, the Margin Protection Program for dairy farmers has been renamed and will be known as the Dairy Margin Coverage Program. National Milk Producers Federation senior vice president of communications Alan Bjerga said this new program is an improvement over MPP. With the dramatic losses within the dairy industry, Bjerga said the new farm bill is needed. The dairy industry is also looking at other options for support. “We’re still looking at things like trying to relieve retaliatory tariffs on Mexico against U.S. cheese exports and the trade mitigation program in terms of payment levels that more accurately reflect the losses in the dairy industry.”
 
A better safety net
    According to First District Association CEO Clint Fall, the farm bill will provide a much better safety net for dairy farmers. “This is going to provide dairy farmers with better coverage at a low cost and it will be significantly better than what they have right now.” First District Association, which is based in Litchfield, produced a record amount of cheese and dairy ingredients during the past year.
 
Changes made in school lunch requirements
    The USDA is implementing changes in the national school lunch and breakfast programs. For the dairy industry, the biggest change came with the return of low-fat flavored milk in school cafeterias.

Names surface for ag commissioner post
    Minnesota Governor-Elect Tim Walz’s transition team is interviewing candidates for the various departments and agencies. Agricultural lobbyist Bruce Kleven said a few names have surfaced for the agriculture commissioner job. “One of the contenders is Thom Peterson, who is the current lobbyist for the Minnesota Farmers Union. We’ve worked with Thom over the years and he is a good part of the ag lobby team.” The other contenders are the current MDA Deputy Commissioner Andrea Vaubel and Minnesota AgriGrowth President Pat Lunemann. Vaubel previously worked for Congressman Walz. Lunemann farms in Todd County and is the past president of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.
 
Groundwater protection rule won’t be implemented in ‘18
    An administrative law judge has upheld the legislature’s authority to delay implementation of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s proposed nitrogen fertilizer rule until at least the end of the 2019 legislative session. Senate Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Policy Committee Chairman Bill Weber said this is a victory for farmers and landowners. Weber pledges to work with the Walz administration and all of the industry stakeholders to consider changes to the rule.

Minnesota releases budget and forecast
    The Minnesota Management and Budget office released the 2018 November Budget and Economic Forecast. The state’s outlook remains sound, despite slower growth through the budget horizon. An estimated $1.54 billion balance is available for the 2020-2021 biennial budget. Improvements to the current biennium add $491 million to the budget reserves, which not totals $2.08 billion.

Tax season reminders
    As 2018 comes to a close, farmers are gathering financial information. As a result of new tax laws, there are several changes for the upcoming year. Renee Fink, vice president of tax, AgCountry Farm Credit Services, said the most significant change for farmers is Section 199A. “That replaced the Domestic Production Activities Deduction or DPAD,” Fink said. “It’s not just strictly 20 percent of farm income. It is very dependent on the farmer’s specific situation.” Fink also reminds farmers that the Market Facilitation Program payments received in 2018 are not deferrable.

Tax rebate approved for SD cheese plant
    The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission has approved an incentive plan that will benefit the expansion of the Agropur cheese plant at Lake Norden. Otter Tail Power will provide a $250,000 annual rebate to Agropur that will help pay for future electricity costs. Agropur is tripling its production through a $252 million expansion project.

Nelson to lead AgriGrowth
    The Minnesota AgriGrowth Council has hired Tamara Nelsen as its new executive director. The Minnesota native is now the senior director of commodities at the Illinois Farm Bureau. Previously, Nelsen worked for the International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade. Nelsen succeeds Perry Aasness, who is now the vice president of government affairs for Compeer Financial Services. February 1 is Nelsen’s start date.

Agriculture loses a true statesman
    Bob Bergland, 90, who was agriculture secretary in the Jimmy Carter Administration, has passed. Bergland farmed at Roseau, Minn., served in Congress from 1971 to 1977 and was a member of Carter’s cabinet. Bergland was at the helm of USDA during a very difficult time in agriculture with the Russian grain embargo and the farm crisis. In addition to his time at USDA, Bergland managed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and was a regent at the University of Minnesota.

Trivia challenge
    The traditional types of cheese used in fondue are Gruyere, Cheddar and Emmentaler. That answers our last trivia question. When did the modern tradition of leaving milk and cookies out for Santa begin? We’ll have the answer in the next edition of Dairy Star.
    Don Wick is owner/broadcaster for the Red River Farm Network, based in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Wick has been recognized as the National Farm Broadcaster of the Year and served as president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. Don and his wife, Kolleen, have two adult sons, Tony and Sam, and five grandchildren, Aiden, Piper, Adrienne, Aurora, and Sterling.