March 10, 2017
YOUR BOOTS ON THE HILL:
This week, the House Agriculture Committee heard what was arguably one of the most important pieces of legislation to agriculturalists in Montana this session. Senate Bill 155 – the “seed bill” –- aims to provide consistency in our state’s seed laws and protect the private property rights of Montana’s family farmers and ranchers. This is a piece of legislation written as a result of collaboration among Montana’s leading agricultural organizations and their grassroots memberships.
We’ve seen several western states, including Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii and California, deal with municipalities or counties that have passed haphazard and onerous local laws in recent years that prohibit or regulate the use of certain types of seed. For farmers and ranchers who own or lease land in multiple counties, you can imagine the economic burden and emotional frustration that creates. We can’t add chasing down every county commission or city council meeting to our to-do list just to know what we can plant where each season.
Montana’s seed bill is a proactive measure to keep seed regulation decisions in the state’s hands so that local farmers and ranchers know exactly where to look for guidance, just like they do with fertilizer laws.
Farmers in our state grow crops based on upon a few key principals: one of those is, what market demand exists for that product and secondly, what crops make the best use of their specific climate, soil condition and other available natural resources. When it comes to regulatory authority, the sole focus should be on maintaining a level playing field, preventing unnecessary financial and regulatory burdens and allowing farmers and ranchers to make the best market-driven business decisions they know how.
In the House Agriculture Committee hearing on the bill this week, Chester, Montana farmer and co-owner of Stricks Ag, LLC, Jillien Streit testified in favor of the bill.
“We own and lease land in three counties and grow convention and organic products, plus handle conventional and organic products. Senate Bill 155 would protect our operation in many ways. We need the flexibility to make the best decision based on our farms and our business needs,” Streit said.
Don Steinbeisser Jr., a Sidney, Montana farmer, also testified on behalf of the bill: “Having consistent ag production laws in Montana is very important to me. Many of us farm fields in more than one county. Having different rules in each county would make management a nightmare and add costs to the crops that we simply do not need and nor can we afford,” Steinbeisser said. “Being free to make cropping decision on my farm that make economic sense is very important for the future of my farm and agriculture in Montana.”
We commend these and other Farm Bureau members who took the time to come to Helena and share why this bill matters to them. Your voice matters, too. One of the great challenges of passing good, pro-agriculture legislation is the fact that there is a very small number of Legislators who are actually engaged in production agriculture. That number is particularly small in the House Agriculture Committee. Please reach out to your urban Legislators especially to share why the regulatory consistency offered in the seed bill is important to you.
House Bill 342: House Bill 342: Revise business laws related to liability and agritourism
Sponsored by Rep. Ross Fitzgerald (R) HD-17, Fairfield. Heard in Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday, March 9.
This bill adds a definition of agri-tourism to the list of Montana recreational activities in which participants assume the liability for the inherent risks of those activities. Montana Farm Bureau member policy supports this addition, as it offers the potential for farmers and ranchers to reach out to our communities with less liability risk.
Most people in our country are three or four generations removed from the farm or ranch, and less than 2 percent of our nation’s population is engaged in production agriculture. But there is a growing interest in where America’s food comes from. Agri-tourism has become a popular way to diversify farm income and make a connection with consumers who want to know more about agriculture.
While House Bill 342 doesn’t remove all liability, it does limits the liability farmers and ranchers might be exposed to based upon the inherent risks of participating in a farming or ranching activity. This bill would offer a little more peace of mind to farmers and ranchers who want to “open the barn doors” to tours, activities, ranch visits and more.
Senate Bill 327: Reduce the Montana business equipment tax
Sponsored by Sen. Roger Webb (R) SD-23, Billings. Heard in Senate Taxation Committee Thursday, March 9.
This bill would increase the class eight business equipment tax exemption levels. Class eight equipment includes all agricultural implements and equipment that are not exempt under other exemption titles, in addition to mining, manufacturing, some medical equipment, communication equipment and a few other items.
Currently, the first $100,000 of market value class eight property of a person or business entity is exempt from taxation. This bill would amend that to $350,000, while providing for a reimbursement to local governments for the missed tax dollars. This is a win-win for equipment-heavy agriculturalists. The bill also provides a back fill to county governments from the General fund, making them whole in lieu of that tax revenue. Montana Farm Bureau member policy supports this tax relief bill.
Chelcie Cargill is Montana Farm Bureau Federation’s Director of State Affairs and a fifth-generation rancher from Melville, Montana. Chelcie can be contacted at (406) 930-2299 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Nicole is the Director of National Affairs and also a rancher from Miles City, Montana. Nicole can be contacted at (406) 951-2429 or email@example.com. The Montana Farm Bureau Federation is a non-partisan, non-profit, grassroots organization that represents 22,000 member families in Montana.