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On Monday, it was beyond standing room only, the back hallway was filled too! The League of Women Voters hosted “What is the Future for Family Farms?” at the Northfield Arts Guild, in conjunction with the exhibit “Farm Art: A Tribute.”

The Northfield News was there too: Family Farms Face the Future.

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Stephanie Henricksen

The show and the forum were organized by Stephanie Henricksen, who, drawing on her long history and varied experiences in art and farming, put together the exhibit that’s been traveling around the state — what about your town? Photos (all but top) thanks to Margit Johnson, LWV.

Members of the panel were Dave and Flo Minar of Cedar Summit Farm in New Prague; Paul Liebenstein of Wolf Creek Dairy in rural Dundas; John Zimmerman, a turkey grower in rural Northfield; Thom Petersen, Government Relations Director for Minnesota Farmers Union; Susan Stokes, Executive Director of Farmers Legal Action Group; and Duane Alberts of Minnesota Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

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Thom Peterson, Farmers Union

Though the questions were set out ahead of time, some of the most important issues affecting family farms were NOT addressed, so here are some things to think about:

l) Unlike other livestock, dairy is still subject to a five-shareholder limit in the Corporate Farm Law. Should we keep it that way or open it up to unlimited shareholders?

2) Poultry was removed from the protections of the Minnesota Corporate Law in l978. They are now grown on contract and how has this changed poultry farming?

3) Minnesota, unlike Iowa, allows local zoning in regard to farm operations, including feedlots. Which system do you prefer?

4) Some farmers are choosing to go organic in their crop or livestock operatons. Proposed USDA Organic Standards have drawn much protest. Why?

5) Is there anything in law now to cap taxes on ag land that abuts urban areas or housing developments? If not, should there be?

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by Patty Canney of Minneapolis

And what about Eminent Domain? This is a very hot topic in land use, but they don’t know the half of it — wait until all these transmission lines start criss-crossing farms across Minnesota! Then they’ll know what farmers think of eminent domain!

I had a good chat with Thom Peterson at the Tavern beforehand and we argued the issues where farm and energy intersect. He and I were part of a group working with Sen. Vickerman on eminent domain issues last session, so there’s an awful lot to argue about! A bill was introduced, S.F. 462, that would alter the scheme of payment for transmission easements, a pressing need in SW Minnesota where so many farmers are having their land condemned for transmission line. It went nowhere, sidetracked to a “study group,” but this next session might be different. Then again, it seems the folks talking about eminent domain want to exempt utilities from their bill! Not a bright idea… Thom and I were also part of an energy policy roundtable last week which I hope will help bring energy issues to the forefront in the coming campaign season — much like Elizabeth Dickenson did in the St. Paul mayoral race. FLAG is working on a wind handbook for farmers, crucial as new avenues open for farm revenue in energy and equally important when challenges arise like negotiation of easements and condemnation for transmission.

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Stephanie Henricksen & Mac McCutchan in the foreground

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