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Young farmers score victory at Legislature

Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition members Andrew Barsness (center) and Matthew Fitzgerald (right) testified before the Minnesota House Agriculture Policy Committee in support of the beginning farmer tax credit bill alongside Rep. Nels Pierson (R-Rochester). (Contributed)

HOFFMAN, Minn. — A first-of-its-kind newly signed budget bill is a win-win for the future of farming in Minnesota. And it's thanks in part to Andrew Barsness, a 27-year-old grain farmer from Hoffman.

Barsness, a member and co-leader of the Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition, not only testified before the House Ag Policy Committee in support of the bill, but was part of the lobbying effort, along with other members of the coalition.

Through the bill, landowners receive a state income tax credit when they sell land or rent land or agricultural assets to a beginning farmer, which is someone who has been farming for fewer than 10 years, said Barsness.

According to the Young Farmer's Coalition, which was formed in 2016, the credit equals 5 percent of the sale price, 10 percent of the cash rent or 15 percent for a cash share agreement. In turn, the beginning farmer must take a farm management course to qualify for the tax incentive and would be eligible for a tax credit covering the full cost of the training. The tax credit will be available on a first-come, first-served basis with maximum statewide limit of $5 million in tax year 2018 and $6 million per year after that.

Barsness said the bill, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton at the end of May, helps create an incentive to sell land. Land access is an issue for beginning farmers.

"We're hoping this helps make a dent in the barrier for land access," Barsness said.

Barsness began farming a few years ago and said he feels fortunate he was able to rent land for his grain farm from his family. (See related story.)

Farming, along with lobbying at the State Capitol, was not something Barsness ever expected to do.

But he said when the coalition began their lobbying efforts, he just "dove right in and got caught up in it," he said, adding that he was asked to join the efforts by the coalition's co-founders, Matthew Fitzgerald, an organic grain farmer from Hutchinson and Eric Sannerud, a conventional hops farmer in Foley. Barsness said Fitzgerald and Sannerud, who are roughly his age, did the brunt of the work.

Initially, he said the group talked about the bill to senators and representatives, making several trips down to the State Capitol. Eventually, the bill was authored by Rep. Nils Pierson, R-Rochester, and Sen. Mike Goggin, R-Red Wing. It was also supported by several representatives and senators, including Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria.

"I co-authored a bill this session, that was ultimately included in the final budget, aimed at recruiting the next generation of farmers through a beginning farmer tax credit," Franson said. "Agriculture is one of the largest industries in the state of Minnesota and it is essential that we support it in order to ensure a prosperous economic future for our state."

Fitzgerald said, "This bill offers a win-win solution. This is also the first bill to include an incentive for the sale of farmland, making it a historic win."

According to Sannerud, fewer than 4 percent of Minnesota farmers are under the age of 35 and access to land is the No. 1 barrier to getting started.

"This bill offers a tangible way to address these pressing problems," Sannerud said.

Barsness said that numerous young farmers from across the state worked hard to get this bill passed.

"We organized, testified and worked with the authors of the bill to get a good piece of legislation," said Barsness. "For many of us, like myself, this was our first time getting political. This effort showed that by working with a broad coalition and staying focused on practical solutions, beginning farmers have a voice and a power."

Get involved

The Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition is a membership organization of farmers from Douglas, Benton, Grant, Stearns, Meeker, Milaca, McLeod, Wright, Carver and Rice counties. It is a local chapter of the National Farmers Coalition, www.youngfarmers.org. To get involved with the local organization, send an email to cmnyfc@gmail.com. More information about the coalition can be found on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/cmnyfc.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste Edenloff, a reporter for the Echo Press, has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from May of 1999 to February 2011, and is happy to be back and once again sharing the stories of the people in this community. Besides being a reporter, Celeste is a certified fitness instructor and enjoys teaching bootcamp classes through Snap Fitness. She also enjoys running and has participated in more than 170 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon (13.1 mile) distances.

 

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