Senator Dave Senjem (left) talks with Dairy Day at the Capitol attendees (from left) Ashley Warren, Ann Buck, Marianne Peterson, Tom Walsh, Dave Buck, Paul Daley and Aaron Vogt, Feb. 19 in St. Paul, Minnesota. 
Senator Dave Senjem (left) talks with Dairy Day at the Capitol attendees (from left) Ashley Warren, Ann Buck, Marianne Peterson, Tom Walsh, Dave Buck, Paul Daley and Aaron Vogt, Feb. 19 in St. Paul, Minnesota. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA

    ST. PAUL, Minn. – Last year, Hastings dairy farmers, John and Janet Bremer, attended Minnesota Milk Producers Association Dairy Day at the Capitol for the first time where they talked with their state senator, Karla Bigham (D-54). This year, the Bremers were part of a press conference that introduced a bill sparked from their conversation one year prior.

    “It’s just another example of how important it is to talk to your lawmakers and get involved because you just never know what you can do until you try,” Janet said.
     The Bremers were two of the 57 dairy farmers and industry representatives to attend Minnesota Milk’s Dairy Day at the Capitol Feb. 18 in St. Paul.
    Bigham and Rep. Jeff Brand (D-19A) authored the Healthy Kids’ Meals Bill, which would make milk the default beverage in a children’s meal sold in Minnesota. The bill is not a mandate.
    “This bill will hopefully start ensuring children have healthy habits when it comes to their decision making when it comes to their nutrition,” Bigham said. “More importantly, this is about our dairy farmers. Minnesota lost over 300 dairy farmers last year. That is an 11% reduction from the previous year. We believe this legislation will increase consumer demand for milk and help our dairy farmers.”
    The idea stemmed from John, who had read about a similar California bill designed because of an influx of diabetes cases in recent years.
    “We presented it to Karla (last year), and she loved the idea,” John said. “She just had to get someone across party lines to get on the bill with her.”
    After teaming up with Brand, Bigham garnered the support of health organizations such as the American Heart Association and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, among others. Along with Minnesota Milk, the Minnesota Farmers Union also backs this bill.
    “I have a lot of personal things involved because there’s a lot of diabetes in my family and also in John’s family,” Janet said. “It hits close to home. That was one of the things that really sold us on it. And we want to do whatever we can do to encourage milk consumption.”
    The Bremers are thankful for the opportunity to talk with their legislators which has created relationships with the leaders.
    “Even if it doesn’t become law, at least we got people thinking and people talking,” Janet said.
    Tom Sedgeman, a dairy farmer from Sauk Centre and a Minnesota Milk board member, had the opportunity to try to create change. He testified to senators on the agriculture, rural development and housing policy committee. The day’s meeting focused on farm safety.
    “It’s very painful for me when I hear young people, especially children, pass away from farm accidents,” Sedgeman said about why he wanted to testify.
    Along with being a dairy farmer, Sedgeman taught agriculture for 10 years and incorporated lessons about safety on the farm. He also worked several years for Kraft Foods.
    “I got the perspective of safety from the corporate side,” he said. “What I see happening in industry and the improvements they’ve made, and the emphasis they’ve put on safety, I feel in farming we haven’t kept pace.”
    While larger farms must follow OSHA laws and are required to have insurance audits, smaller dairies do not have the same regulations, Sedgeman said.
    “On smaller family farms, and smaller is a broad term, they don’t have required safety meetings or audits,” he said. “The goal would be to get all of us to stir our imagine and to think outside the box to make a difference on our farms, and in our families and for our employees.”
    Sedgeman’s ideas to do this include encompassing businesses that work with farms to invest in their customers’ farm safety, encourage families to discuss farm safety as part of the business and create a safety audit checklist that farmers can go through on their own.
    “I would rather the farmers address the issues on their farms themselves,” Sedgeman said. “We know our farms. It’s our business. I would rather make the changes through being better informed and better aware than some regulatory agency dictate to me what I need to do.”
    Other participants in the day were able to meet in small groups with legislators in their offices to discuss important dairy issues.
    “It’s always good to get dairy farmers up here and meet with the local legislators,” said David Buck, Minnesota Milk president and a dairy farmer from Goodhue. “The legislators learn about our problems, and the farmers learn that these people are trying to figure out answers to the questions and the problems. It’s a good two-way street.”
    The legislative priorities of Minnesota Milk included needing a streamlined regulatory environment. Minnesota Milk supports the continuation of the Livestock Investment Grants and encourages the expansion to immediate family members for the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit. It also encourages lawmakers to conform to Section 179 to eliminate recent issues with Like Kind Exchanges, causing state tax bills on phantom income.
    The organization also supports efforts to address climate change. Dairy farmers in attendance talked about the benefits of alfalfa, how Minnesota milk production lowers greenhouse gases in comparison to other countries and how methane digestors have the ability to generate power and lower greenhouse gas totals.
    Other priorities include investing in farmers by trying to help with problem areas including high health insurance premiums for small businesses, the need for road and bridge improvements, and better broadband internet.
    “It’s the age of technology and communication,” Buck said. “You need internet. I liken it to back in the ‘40s when they brought electricity to the farm. It’s the same thing. We need up-to-date technology.”
    Overall, dairy farmers were satisfied with their work at the Capitol.
    “I think we’ve gained a certain amount of respect coming here every year and relating to the legislature on a one-to-one level,” Buck said. “It’s good to have that communication. They listen and not that they can always deliver, but they listen and it’s a good exercise on both sides.”