Farm bills could improve Missouri agriculture

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COLUMBIA - MU sophomore Laura Wente has dairy farming in her blood.

"My dad was a dairy farmer and his dad was a dairy famer before him," she said.

Although she isn't sure she will continue on the family tradition, she said she does know two agriculture bills signed into law Friday by Governor Jay Nixon will help her family of dairy farmers.

"I know from experience, several years back, when milk prices dropped really, really low we were treading water just trying to make ends meet," she said. "It definitely helps a lot."

Nixon signed the bills, House Bill 259, the Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act and Senate Bill 12, an omnibus agriculture bill, at Edgewood Dairy in Barry County.

Senate Bill 12 increases the weight limits on vehicles carrying livestock and grain on Missouri highways during harvest season.

House Bill 259 will authorize up to 80 scholarships for students looking to pursue a degree in the agricultural field. Eligible students must be a U.S. citizen, a graduate of a Missouri high school, and they must have a cumulative 2.5 GPA. The legislation also assists Missouri dairy farmers with the cost of participation in the federal Margin Protection Program, which was created in the federal Farm Bill of 2014. The program assists dairy farmers by providing payments to the farmer when the dairy margin drops below four dollars.

Wente said she thinks the scholarships will get more young people excited about the industry, especially one that she said is aging.

"I know in our dairy club at Mizzou, probably half the students haven't even had any dairy experience and this is a way to get them interested," she said. "A lot of dairy farmers are now retirement age, so they need the younger generation to step in a fill that gap."

Ashley McDonald, Director of State Legislative Affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau (MFB), said these pieces of legislation were a priority for the MFB. She said she hopes House Bill 259 will bring interest back to the industry.

"It's been declining over the last decade so we've been looking for a way to aid producers who are struggling and help young producers who want to get back into the industry," she said. "It does a full circle. It helps the industry now and tries to prepare with young leaders for the future."

Additionally, McDonald said the provisions in House Bill 259 should begin to make the industry more efficient.

"Those are all sorts of things that help with efficiency and help us compete with ranchers and farmers in neighboring states," she said. "[It] allows our number one industry in the state to remain competitive across the country." 

Senator Brian Munzlinger sponsored House Bill 259. He said he is glad to see bipartisan support for the bill.

He said the weight limit is a good move economically, but is worried it might cause problems on Missouri roads that have poor infrastructure.

"I'm concerned that without more funding things are going to get worse and we need to step up and provide more funding," he said. "You can't have good economic development without good infrastructure."