Rotunda Roundup From Montana Farmers Union: Legislative Update For March 27-31
Protecting farmers’ data, providing more access to Montana foods, and incentivizing bio- and alternative fuels took priority for Montana Farmers Union’s efforts in the Legislature this week.
When it comes to data collection, MFU holds that Montana farmers should control their data.
Farmers are using computerized precision Ag tools for soil testing, spraying, planting, and harvesting. While farmers use these tools, manufacturers are harvesting data on what crops are being planted, acreage of which crops, planting intentions, harvest data, and more. All in all, this agricultural data is incredibly valuable, especially if anyone has inside access to it before it becomes public and can manipulate commodity markets.
House Bill 966 would have required disclosure of the companies’ terms of agreement, including the nature and purpose of the data collection, to farmers and ranchers. The bill also would have allowed affected customers to opt out of any data collection procedures that result in the commercial sale, resale, exchange, bailment, or transfer of the customers’ data.
Additionally, the bill would have ensured that any aggregated data collected be released immediately to the Montana Department of Agriculture to avoid manipulation of commodity markets.
The bill was well-received during its hearing but was unfortunately killed on an 8-10 vote in committee. There is ongoing discussion of the bill becoming a study bill, and we look forward to continuing our work related to agricultural data harvest.
In addition to data collection protections, MFU also supported two bills that will make Montana-grown food more accessible.
Promoting resilient regional food systems and diverse markets to provide safe, affordable, nutritious food is a top priority for MFU members. The Farm to Food Bank Program Grant Bill, HB 276, builds both resilient regional food systems and diversifies market opportunities. The pandemic showed us how reliant we are on corporate-driven markets – and how they failed under pressure. The Farm to Food Bank Grant program will help build a new, local, more reliable market for our goods; direct local money into rural communities and producer pockets; and give more Montanans access to fresh, locally grown food.
Unfortunately, another bill that would have increased market opportunities and access was tabled in the Senate Taxation Committee on an 8-4 party line vote. The Montana Food Promotion bill, SB 537, would have provided incentive for retailers to provide shelf space to Montana producers by both allowing retailers to deduct the cost of Montana made foods at the time of purchase and deduct the sales of Montana foods from their tax liability. Ultimately, the bill would have provided more visibility to Montana products while providing more local choices to Montana consumers.
Alternative fuels also took priority for MFU this week.
Montana refineries and producers should be encouraged to utilize and expand the market using Montana-grown canola instead of using soybean oil from out of state.
Canola is beneficial to refineries, farmers and communities.
For example, a Great Falls refinery will require two million acres of oil seed for feedstock once it finishes converting part of its capacity to renewable diesel. Canola is a beneficial rotational crop for Montana farmers, who already grow some 185 thousand acres of spring canola. MSU is researching winter canola, which has a higher yield and can lead to a more lucrative harvest for farmers. Winter varieties and an easily accessible market equate to a new tool for Montana farmers to survive economically.
The EPA concluded that the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from biodiesel made with canola oil are half that of petroleum-based diesel fuel. Canola also can be used both in foods and as a feedstock for biofuels.
Senate Bill 541, which would have established tax credits for biofuels made and sold in Montana, unfortunately was tabled in the Senate Taxation Committee.
Senate Bill 510 aligns with these efforts and has MFU’s support as it continues through the legislative process.
Go to https://montanafarmersunion.com/legislation/ for more details on MFU’s legislative work throughout the Legislative Session on behalf of Montana’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities.