Not so fast on SB 2327

Warning…political post ahead. But it’s worth a read, especially if you live in North Dakota.

I recently became aware of a bill that’s being pushed through the North Dakota legislature. And I’m not sure if the word “pushed” even gets close to describing how quickly it’s being hurried along. In fact, it only spent 90 minutes in committee on the Senate side before getting a “Do-Pass” recommendation. Not bad for a bill that’s 153 pages in length. (And yes, I’ve read the whole thing.)

Let me break down a few of my concerns:

  1. This bill creates, in essence, a state Environmental Protection Agency. I’m not sure yet if I’m for or against the creation of a state EPA, but I do know that it should take some time and thought in order to make sure it’s done right. Not just cut and paste certain sections of the existing century code and call it a day.
  2. This bill creates a new division of government. Yes, it’s true that there is already an existing Division of Environmental Health that exists under the Department of Health. This would take that department and make it its own division. Is there something wrong with the current system? Is there a benefit for the new division that we aren’t being made aware of? Grant dollars? Federal money? What’s the carrot for more government when a division already exists? I understand the desire to streamline. But when the department seems to be just a cut-and-paste model of what’s already in place…I don’t understand the point.

    All 153 pages of SB 2327 printed and reviewed.

  3. “Zero fiscal impact.” Come again? You’re going to create a new division of government…with no money? Yes, I know that the bill provides that “any special funds or accounts administered or under the control of the state department of health which relate to environmental quality functions transferred to the department of environmental quality must be transferred to the administration and control of the department of environmental quality.” (Engrossed Senate Bill No. 2327, lines 24-27, pg. 2) Which is a messy way of saying that any money appropriated for environmental stuff now moved into the new department will also be transferred to the department. But can you really start a new division of government with NO added expenses? Even if you just shuffle around existing employees – aren’t there extra costs? What about letterheads? Business cards? Office space? Compensation for council members? Not one more dime will be spent? I’m almost interested in seeing this pass, just to watch this happen. (Not really…that’s sarcasm.)
  4. Speaking of council. There’s a new one in town. The “Environmental review advisory council,” will be established, consisting of 11 members. All appointed by the governor. The members must be: a representative of county or municipal government; a representative of manufacturing and processing; a representative of the solid fuels industry; a representative of the liquid and gas fuels industry; a representative of agriculture; a representative of the solid waste industry; a representative of the hazardous waste industry; a representative of the thermal electric generators industry; a representative of the environmental sciences; the state engineer; and the state geologist. Energy is well-represented – and agriculture gets one seat at the table. Seems a little lopsided to me, for an agency that will dictate what a lot of agriculture will look like in the future.
  5. Did I mention the head of this new division will also be appointed by the governor? The director, as well as the council as a whole, will be appointed to serve “at the pleasure of the governor.” Environmental quality and the people will have no say in who will serve, except by vote of the governor. I’m sorry, but as our elected officials become more and more removed from agriculture, I am not comfortable relying on one person’s ability to know what is best for the diverse world of agriculture we are in. Can one person adequately represent the ranchers of Dickinson, the valley sugar beet farmers, organic growers, niche markets, wheat growers, hog farmers, dairy farms and everything in between? We can’t agree amongst ourselves most days – how would one person be able to encompass it all?

I could go on for longer, but you can read it all yourself if you’d like.

I’m all for streamlining systems and making government more efficient whenever we can…I just am not sure creating a new division will accomplish this. I’ve never seen a situation in which adding more government makes it easier to maneuver and understand. But maybe this would be a first.

Highlighters make me happy.

I’ve spent no less than seven hours studying, discussing and considering this bill. I printed 153 pages of text, made several calls and emails, and delayed my calving checks a few times because I was in a zone with reading and research. (Don’t tell Mark.) In all, I’ve already spent significantly more time than the committee did before issuing a DO PASS. And my monetary investment with printing costs and time spent is somehow more than the fiscal impact that this bill will have on my state.

Excuse me while I go check cows…at least out there I’m well aware of the dung I may step in. I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about. And if you’re just as concerned as I am, there will be a committee hearing for the House at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 3. Maybe your voice should be heard.

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For the Love of Bacon

* Correction made – it was brought to my attention that although permitted for 9,000 this pig farm will actually be home to up to 5,400 sows. They will farrow (have piglets) throughout the year. 

There are certain things that happen in my state, a state that I love dearly, that just makes me shake my head in awe and wonder. And recent events definitely qualify for shaking my head.

A family farm from Minnesota is moving forward with plans on starting a pig farm in North Dakota. They’ve located a site that follows all the state rules, guidelines, setbacks, etc. They’ve worked hard on dotting i’s and crossing t’s, and are in the final stages of getting set up. Oh, and did I mention that they run their farm like a business…like all of us that farm do, or at least should.

Except now we have people standing up in opposition, insisting that somehow this farm will destroy the dreams that they’ve had for peaceful living in a rural area. It’s truly a case of “not in my backyard.” Apparently many people forget that agriculture is still the backbone of our state. So let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we?

This pig farm will house up to 5,400 sows – with the average potential to almost double the number of pigs that our state raises to feed people. Remember that? Pigs are raised for food. Like bacon.

Local food is all the rage now. Many of the opponents to the pig farm are big proponents for local food. Right now the state of North Dakota has about 150,000 pigs that are used for food each year. The average pig brings 150 pounds of meat to the table…literally. According to statistics, the average person eats about 46 pounds of pork per year. This means that a pig generally provides a year’s worth of food for three people.

There are 739,000 people in the state of North Dakota. That means we would roughly need 34 million pounds of pork. We only produce 22 million pounds right now. So who doesn’t get bacon? Or pork chops? Or pork roast?

Oh, that’s right – local food is only important when it can be raised by “mom and pop” farms. “Family farms” quit being family farms once you consider it a business. And let me remind you, that this farm is a family farm. That term does not change regardless of size. And size does not determine the “friendliness” of a farm to its neighbors. They are good neighbors. Big does not mean bad.

Opponents claim that this is a direct result of changes made to our state’s anti-corporate farming law that relaxed restrictions in hog and dairy operations. But guess what? Rolling Family Farms ends with LLP, not LLC. That’s right, it’s a partnership, not a corporation. The changes to our law make no difference whatsoever.

But why should it matter? What happened to the ability to go into business when you’re following every rule and regulation already in place? What happened to the freedom of being able to develop a successful business model and moving forward? Apparently you can do so – but not with food.

Fair time, county fair, 4-H

A boy and his pigs. But not sustainable large-scale.

My farm raises pigs. This year we’re increasing our farm size to eight. I have four boys in 4-H and they will show pigs at the fair. But I can tell you that our business model for the pig-side of things is not sustainable.

I love bacon. I love agriculture. I love this state I call home. But we need to wake up and read the writing on the wall. We cannot continue to think that the old-fashioned way of doing things will sustain us long-term. We use new technologies in medicine, how can we not embrace the same changes for our dinner plate?

I support agriculture. I support food. I support choices. I don’t understand those that stand in the way.

Trust me, I have more to say…stay tuned.

 

My beef: It’s worth a buck

Lately the beef checkoff has become a topic of heated debate. And I have to admit, I find the arguments surrounding it telling of our current society.

It seems to me that there is a loud group of a few people proclaiming that they want results, they want it free, they want someone else to do it…but not on their dime.

Sounds all too familiar.

Let me first of all explain a little bit about the checkoff. When we take our cattle to market, for every head of cattle we sell, the checkoff collects $1. Yes – $1 per cow, calf, bull, etc. that we sell. That dollar goes to the North Dakota Beef Commission, which half goes to a national organization, and half stays in state, where the commission determines where that dollar is best spent, including research, advertising, consumer surveys – just to name a few things that come to mind. (Imagine Sam Elliot reading that last bit…it’s more meaningful that way.)

It's time we get out of the mud and focus on the bigger picture.

It’s time we get out of the mud and focus on the bigger picture.

Recently, in the state of North Dakota, it was debated in the legislature whether or not that $1 per head should be raised – to a staggering $2 per head. The extra $1 per head is also refundable, if the rancher decides that he/she doesn’t want to participate.

The beef checkoff has been behind the scenes for some pretty remarkable advertising campaigns that has definitely hit home with those in the grocery store. (I seriously sometimes pretend that Sam Elliot is reading to me when I’m reading in bed.) As well as assisting in funding research that has added new cuts of meat for those looking for a great way to put beef on the table, while saving a few dollars in the marketplace.

It's easier to do our job in the barn, knowing that there's someone else behind a desk working for our herd.

It’s easier to do our job in the barn, knowing that there’s someone else behind a desk working for our herd.

An increase of $1 for advertising, research and education throughout a 30-year time frame? I wish more areas of my life grew at that rate.

Instead of muddying the waters and creating a bigger black-eye for a product trying to create positive energy and excitement around what we can offer the average grocery-buyer, why don’t those that don’t believe in the power of the $1 ask for their refund and stand back and let the rest of us get to work. If the ranchers of North Dakota truly don’t believe in the work that’s accomplished through the checkoff, then they will all request their extra $1 back per head and the fund will have no extra money. Simple enough.

But remember, those funds go to activities and opportunities that the average person doesn’t have at their disposal. Scientific research, research at the market, advertising campaigns – activities at the state and local level that are beyond a single rancher’s pocketbook. Which is why pooling money across the board is the easiest way to accomplish big things.

The world is made up of talkers and doers. Unfortunately, those working on accomplishing true gains are usually too busy to worry about defending their work.

As someone actively involved in promoting agriculture and championing a way of life that I love, I understand the amount of time and funds it can take to create, hone and share a successful message. If we want to be successful, we need to work together – not tear each other apart.

And that’s worth a buck in my book.

Disclaimer: My spouse currently serves on the North Dakota Beef Commission. But the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Trust me, we don’t always agree. And I’m more than willing to tell him what I think…just ask him. 🙂 

When a calf is born in cold weather

After I came home from church today, Boss Man called and told me he had to be out of the yard for awhile. In Boss Man terms, that can mean anything from 30 minutes until sometime later in the week. What he was getting at was that I was going to be responsible for keeping an eye on our herd, which happens to be smack dab in the middle of having calves.

No biggie. I’ve watched the cows before. I can handle it. And then he gave me a little reminder, “Keep an eye on 176. She’s off by herself to the east.” In cattleman terms, a heifer off on her own is a sign that she’s probably getting ready to have her first calf.

So I watched our cow cameras diligently. And after an hour or two, decided I should walk down and check things out in person. (You see, much like most of technology, the cameras only work in the right circumstances…cows facing the right direction, right lighting, right angle, etc.)

I put my wraps on (long underwear, jeans, heavy socks, t-shirt, sweatshirt, coveralls, jacket, scarf, hat, gloves, Bogs), grabbed my phone and headed out. And quickly realized my mistake.

The cow I thought I was watching wasn’t the cow that needed watching. The cow on the west end of the straw, in the midst of all the other cows, was actually the one calving. And by calving, I mean the birth was imminent and I had no time to get her to the barn.

So I stood and watched the miracle of birth, and called Boss Man to let him know that I hadn’t exactly succeeded in my duties. (Ideally, all calves would be born in the warmth of the barn, not out in the cold…but you must make due with the cards you’re dealt. I can’t turn back time – yet.)

This heifer (which means this was her first calf) ended up having her calf outside. Not ideal with the temps below freezing.

This heifer (which means this was her first calf) ended up having her calf outside. Not ideal with the temps below freezing.

This meant I needed to get the new calf to the barn – and the quicker the better.

The trick is that sometimes cows don’t want you to take their calves to the barn. And since this was her first calf, I wasn’t sure how she was going to take the news I was about to break to her.

She's a good mama, which means that she's protective of her calf. Not always an easy task to get them to the barn.

She’s a good mama, which means that she’s protective of her calf. Not always an easy task to get them to the barn.

To begin with, she wasn’t too sure what this thing was on the ground next to her. But she figured it out pretty quickly. And then she was pretty certain that I wasn’t supposed to be there. And she let me know. (A cow can easily injure, or even kill, someone not paying attention and respecting the power of the animal.)

But when it’s only a few degrees outside, you don’t have luxury of time before the calf is at risk for frozen ears or worse.

So we compromised.

I finally got the calf in the sled. (Thank goodness I’ve dropped a few pounds.) And to the barn. Usually the cow would follow, but this new mama was a bit confused about all the action. So I brought her down once the calf was given a ride to the barn.

Thank goodness this little one cooperated...mostly. Imagine dragging a 100-pound child in a sled while they're trying to stand up. It's a workout, to say the least.

Thank goodness this little one cooperated…mostly. Imagine dragging a 100-pound child in a sled while they’re trying to stand up. It’s a workout, to say the least.

My next job was to bring the heifer down to the barn. Thankfully, she was pretty easy to bring in.

My next job was to bring the heifer down to the barn. Thankfully, she was pretty easy to bring in.

And the reunion was a sweet one.

Success. Both in the barn, no injuries, no cold calf, and everyone happy.

Success. Both in the barn, no injuries, no cold calf, and everyone happy.

Last week I was in DC in a suit, I’ll be dressed up tomorrow for work – but today was one of my favorite outfits of all.

Purple coveralls and blue polka-dot Bogs. I don't have to worry about one of my boys stealing my cold-weather gear.

Purple coveralls and blue polka-dot Bogs. I don’t have to worry about one of my boys stealing my cold-weather gear.

Clean water, wildlife and parks – but dirty politics

Let me clarify a few things: First and foremost, I’m a mother. My four boys are my sun, moon and stars, even when they drive me crazy. On top of that, I’m a farmer, a rancher, an agriculture advocate, a student, a blogger, a paralegal, a softball player, a writer and someone who enjoys having a fun time. I am not an economist, a tax expert, a politician (yet), an accountant, a lawyer…none of those things.

boys on first day of school

I have four reasons for writing…and here they are.

So when I write, I write from the heart, I do my research and I write my opinion. It’s how I view the world, and the $18 per year that I spend on this site gives me the right to share those views as I see fit, within legal reason. If you want to point out what you see as flaws in my reasoning, I’m OK with that. But be careful what you wish for – because I like research. And I like information. And I like to share.

Recently one of my posts on Measure 5 apparently ruffled some feathers. I was told that my “pie analogy” was flawed. I actually find that funny, because one of the “Yes on 5” ads brings up the same analogy. Stating something along the lines that there’s still “enough to go around.”

He stated that this proposed constitutional amendment does not affect the general fund. I think he needs to double check that. Unless, of course, my research is all flawed. And it’s possible, since I’m not paid to do this professionally.

Check out the numbers yourself:

Oil Tax allocations for 2011-13 biennium

So that little issue should be answered. Yes, Measure 5 would seem to have an impact on the whole “pie” thing. But let’s say that wasn’t an issue. There’s still a lot of flaws here.

Let me check off my biggest concerns:

1) Mandated spending in our state constitution. How many times can I emphasize that this is a bad idea?

2) An extraordinary amount of money with no clear plan. It sets up a fund where money can be “granted” to projects that are approved by a board of people (only one is specifically a farmer).  $150 million per year. Almost $3 million per week. Yikes. I was told that it’s really not all that much money. I’m sorry, but as a mother of a child that has been diagnosed with a rare metabolic condition, I could only imagine what that type of money could do for research into a cure. Not that much money? I shudder to think of the type of world we’re heading towards, when you can scoff at that type of funding.

Yes, our family values the outdoors. But the type of funding tied to this constitutional amendment could change the world for a lot of kids in our state...including George's.

Yes, our family values the outdoors. But the type of funding tied to this constitutional amendment could change the world for a lot of kids in our state…including George’s.

3) I wonder if they forgot that our last legislative session passed a similar fund already. Oh, that’s right, though…they can’t buy land with that money.

4) We have some real needs in our state that this money can address. There are children with rare conditions that slip through the cracks. There is research that can be funded. There are advances that can be made.

I have no desire to get into a mudslinging fight. But I cannot put my children’s future at risk with this type of irresponsible mandate.

Do we really want to keep North Dakota’s traditions alive? Then let’s take care of the water, the air, the land the right way. Because it’s the right thing to do. That’s the North Dakota tradition.

My sunset tonight was just as beautiful as it was yesterday – and it will be beautiful tomorrow, too.

Measure 5 – Wrong for this Dakota

I’ve spent a lot of time recently talking to people about politics. I don’t mind, actually…in fact, if I can let you in on a little secret – I’m a bit of a political junkie. I love a good debate, and I enjoy crunching numbers and calculating polls. Yeah, I probably need to seek therapy.

But this Measure 5 that will be voted on in a few weeks in North Dakota has me worried. It’s not that I don’t think we can beat it – I’m pretty certain we will. What I’m worried about is that people really don’t understand what’s at the heart of the issue. And the only thing worse than someone that doesn’t vote, is someone that doesn’t understand their vote.

Let me try to explain: Measure 5, if passed, would take 5% of North Dakota’s share of the oil extraction tax and will set up a fund, where it will be mandated that at least 75% of the money must be allocated prior to the end of the fiscal year. It is a constitutional amendment.

Let’s just stop right there. The fact that this is a constitutional amendment should be enough of a cause for pause. This measure is intended to change the course of our state. Period. Our state constitution will mandate spending. Mandate. Spending. Is anyone getting this?

The amount of money is astronomical. We’re talking about millions per week. Per. Week.

But enough about that…I’ve already discussed that before.

Let me break this down a little further:

This mandated spending will come off the top. Imagine, if you will, that I have baked a pie. I give my oldest son a slice. Then when my other three boys come in the house, they ask about the pie. It would be pretty hard for me to convince them that the whole pie is still there. Yet, that’s exactly what the proponents of this measure are trying to do. They claim that it’s not taking money from other projects. But, when you take a piece of the pie, that piece is gone – no matter how hard you try to convince everyone that the whole pie is still there.

Big Bro passed his Hunter's Safety test this summer, which means this fall was his first year deer hunting. I bought him his own .243, along with hearing protection, and he had a great few days in the field - even though the amount of crop standing didn't help us out.

Big Bro passed his Hunter’s Safety test this summer, which means this fall was his first year deer hunting. I bought him his own .243, along with hearing protection, and he had a great few days in the field – even though the amount of crop standing didn’t help us out.

Listen – I love hunting. I love our parks. I’m a member of a few. I love wildlife. And I think they’re tasty, too. In fact, I just made pheasant for supper. I have no desire to see detrimental changes to our landscape.

But I will not saddle my children with a constitutional amendment that has no spending plan. I cannot vote for a measure that mandates spending in our state constitution. And I will not give my state an open checkbook to drive up land prices and wreak havoc with our property taxes.

Right now, EJ plays in the dirt...but I hope that someday he'll be able to farm in this great state. I'm doing my part to guarantee that. Will you?

Right now, EJ plays in the dirt…but I hope that someday he’ll be able to farm in this great state. I’m doing my part to guarantee that. Will you?

During the length of time allotted in this amendment, almost every acre of farmland could be purchased. I cannot vote for something that could possibly destroy what I love most about this state, and using tax dollars to do so.

Don’t worry. I’m not done writing yet.

A wolf in geese clothing

November is sneaking up on us…which means that it’s time to start thinking about what’s going to happen at the ballot box. And, let me tell you, as a North Dakotan, there’s a few things that have me concerned. Let me take a minute to explain to you one of my largest concerns:

The “Clean Water, Wildlife & Parks Amendment.”

Let me just say, that if it walks like a duck, and talks about ducks, doesn’t mean that it’s good for the ducks.

And it’s not good for North Dakotans, either.

gun, hunting

I love hunting. I love eating what I hunt. I will be hunting with my oldest son this year, something we are BOTH looking forward to.

Let’s start off with the obvious: this is a change to our STATE CONSTITUTION. That’s right. We’re to put a “tax” into our state constitution. A bad idea. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes any state can make is putting tax code into the constitution. Why? Because the constitution is meant to be a permanent, living, breathing document…and also not the easiest to change. We need to take any state constitutional amendment seriously. And this doesn’t belong here. Ever.

Second of all, check out the numbers:

  • $150,000,000 – the amount the fund would receive per year, right now
  • 75% – the amount that MUST be spent each year, according to the amendment
  • $2.8 million – the amount that the fund would receive each WEEK, right now
  • $4.8 BILLION – the amount the fund would receive in the next 25 years
  • $65,000,000 – the amount that ND already provides to conservation through the state legislature
  • 13 – the number of members of the advisory board who would provide funding recommendations
  • 1 – the number of farmer members on the proposed board
  • 0 – the number of spending plans proposed for this constitutionally-mandated fund

I don’t know about you, but those numbers don’t sit well with me.

How does a fund of this magnitude spend $2.8 million each week? Well, I checked out the website for the backers of the amendment…and it was pretty easy to see what the intentions for this money would be: to purchase land.

As the number of farms and ranches in North Dakota dwindles, and the age of farmers and ranchers increase, I cannot help but worry about the future of agriculture. My oldest son has already expressed a lot of interest in farming, yet if he has to compete with an entity that has an unlimited checkbook…well, how can he even begin to compete?

Waiting his turn...his dad is in the tractor, his grandpa is in the combine. Is his future in jeopardy?

Waiting his turn…his dad is in the tractor, his grandpa is in the combine. Is his future in jeopardy?

We talk about wanting to see small family farms make a comeback. We talk about wanting to see more young people involved in agriculture. Yeah…we do a lot of talking…but it’s time we put our votes where our mouth is.

Let’s address conservation funding where it should be addressed – legislatively.

This is a pile of deer carcasses that were collected from our hay yard a few years ago. Approximately 60-80 deer in this group. We had hundreds in our yard, and many died that winter. Less than a mile away was a parcel of land that was taken out of agriculture production specifically to provide habitat for wildlife. Yet it did nothing to "conserve" these animals.

This is a pile of deer carcasses that were collected from our hay yard a few years ago. Approximately 60-80 deer in this group. We had hundreds in our yard, and many died that winter. Less than a mile away was a parcel of land that was taken out of agriculture production specifically to provide habitat for wildlife. Yet it did nothing to “conserve” these animals.

I love hunting. I love fishing. I love wildlife.

But I love my farm. I love agriculture. And I love my children.

I’m pretty certain that Little Red Riding Hood’s mother wouldn’t have sent her out to the wolf, had she known what was going to happen. I have no intention of letting the wolf loose on my children’s futures, either.

I’m voting NO on the constitutional amendment.