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Urdahl pushing package of bills to help dairy farmers

'I wish I could do more'

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

ST. PAUL -- Rep. Dean Urdahl has made it his mission to help the state's dairy farmers.

A teacher and first-term Republican lawmaker from Grove City, Urdahl has introduced five bills this session to help Minnesota dairy farmers modernize so they can better compete.

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The dairy industry is "one of the state's biggest and most important industries and it's in trouble," he said.

Urdahl met with dairy processors and producers last summer to discuss what the dairy industry needs and to determine how the state of Minnesota could help. The state can't do much to raise the price of milk, he said, but it can help in other ways.

He focused on five issues:

• HF1665; provides $1 million in additional funding for the dairy development and profitability enhancement program.

HF1667 establishes a dairy equipment modernization grant program. This legislation would allow dairy modernizations to qualify for local economic development authority funds. Urdahl says that for every seven farms that fail, one business in town fails.

HF1668 provides a dairy operation investment tax credit for qualifying investments. This is modeled after a Wisconsin plan. It provides that a farmer who makes a $500,000 investment in farm improvements would receive a $50,000 state tax credit payable over 15 years. The amount of tax credit increases as does the amount spent.

HF1669 provides a dairy producer tax credit for producers that achieve superior herd health and high quality milk.

HF1670 extends interest-free status on manure digester loans. These loans expired in 2003, Urdahl said. Only one loan was given when the loans were available, but there is quite a bit of interest now, he said. He said one loan a year for the next four years would give the state a boost in renewable energy production.

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"I wish that I could do more," Urdahl said. "What we're trying to do in terms of the bills is to get some access to capital."

His bills aren't a cure all or a quick fix, Urdahl said, but he hopes they are a beginning to show dairy producers that the state does care about the dairy industry and it wants to help turn the industry around. Now, the state loses at least one dairy farm a day.

Urdahl said HF1667, HF1668 and HF1670 have the best chance of advancing.

"For right now, if I can get those things through, it will be a very good year in recognizing dairy farmers," he said.

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