Governor Mark Dayton listens to dairy farmers, Pat Lunemann and Sadie Frericks, as they share their enthusiasm for the dairy industry and address key issues affecting the dairy industry during Dairy Day at the Capitol on Jan. 30. PHOTO BY MISSY MUSSMAN
Governor Mark Dayton listens to dairy farmers, Pat Lunemann and Sadie Frericks, as they share their enthusiasm for the dairy industry and address key issues affecting the dairy industry during Dairy Day at the Capitol on Jan. 30.
ST. PAUL, Minn. - In a room full of dairy farmers, Governor Mark Dayton said milk matters to him and to the legislators in Minnesota.
"(To me), chocolate milk matters a little more than the rest," Dayton said, jokingly, while taking a drink of the chocolate milk presented to him by Pat Lunemann, dairy farmer and Minnesota Milk Producers Association president.
All jokes aside, Dayton and many Minnesota legislators were able to hear about the importance of the dairy industry from producers who attended Dairy Day at the Capitol on Jan. 30, a day sponsored by Minnesota Milk Producers Association and Cooperative Network.
The day started with the house ag policy committee meeting where Lunemann testified, explaining many aspects of the dairy industry. One of the top concerns is with the stable cow numbers. Although the state's dairy production rose four percent in 2012, the number of cows stayed the same at about 465,000, Lunemann said.
"Dairy is returning to the Midwest, but Minnesota's numbers are stable. We're seeing a horseshoe effect around Minnesota. Cow numbers are growing in Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota," Lunemann said. "How do we work together to enhance and recharge our industry and bring in the next generation?"
Taking care of the environment has always been a big priority for dairy farmers, Lunemann said.
"We need to continue to fund the science to be better stewards," he said. "We need to update rules on a more efficient permitting process."
Lunemann said many producers find the process difficult, which is impacting the small to medium farmers the most.
As he continued, Lunemann asked to be mindful of the legislative tax reform.
"How will it affect capital investment in our industry? How do we compare to surrounding states?" he said.
One project that Lunemann said will be essential for Minnesota's dairy industry is the Dairy Research, Teaching and Consumer Education Authority. Now that the board has been chosen, Lunemann hopes they can make decisions to present next year.
MMPA continues to support the Livestock Investment Grant program along with the current standings of the raw milk law, Lunemann said.
During a mid-day meeting with the governor, Lunemann also brought up a few of these concerns and comments again.
"Thank you again for your contribution to our economy. I want you (dairy farmers) to know how important you are to Minnesota," Dayton said. "Even us city folks can have an appreciation for agriculture. There is a sincere desire here to do what is right for Minnesota agriculture."
Dayton also mentioned he would like to get a meeting set for the Dairy Research, Teaching and Consumer Education Authority within the first two weeks of February.
The rest of the day, dairy farmers visited senators and representatives in their offices. This was Garrett Luthens' first time attending Dairy Day at the Capitol.
"I want to continue to advocate for our livelihood and protect our job. And I want the future generation to have something to look forward to," Luthens said about why he decided to participate. "Dairy is a viable sector, and it needs to be well supported."
Luthens farms with his family on Skyview Dairy where they milk 1,000 cows near Hutchinson, Minn.
"I was nervous to come, ... but your representatives are just people willing to listen," he said.
Throughout the day, Luthens met with senator Lyle Koenen, representative Rod Hamilton and senator Scott Newman. Two topics he wanted to discuss with the legislators were sales tax and minimum wage.
Dave Buck, a dairy farmer from Goodhue, Minn., has attended the event for six years.
"There are so many people now so far removed from farming and agriculture that they need to hear our story," Buck said. "This is a good opportunity for us to do that."
He said this year was especially productive because there were many new senators and representatives because of the elections.
"The new ones seemed genuinely interested in what we had to say," Buck said. "We were well received."
The biggest issue he wanted to talk about is the permitting process.
"It has shown a lot of improvement, but it's an issue we need to keep an open dialogue about with legislators and regulators," Buck said.
He was also concerned about the Governor's proposed tax plan.
"I think tax on farm equipment would be counter productive," he said.
The most gratifying and enjoyable part for him came when he met with urban legislators.
"We're trying to build a trusting relationship with them so they can hear our viewpoints. I think we've gotten a lot of credibility up there (at the Capitol) because farmers are the ones talking to legislators," Buck said.
Overall, Buck thought the day at the Capitol was a success.
"We had a large group of dairy farmers and we had a lot of good dialogue," he said.