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A green thumbs up

Published (4/6/2012)
By Sue Hegarty
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Shopping for spring gardens and landscape materials would be easier under provisions included in the omnibus agriculture and rural development policy bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), the House passed the bill 102-20 March 30. The Senate passed the bill 59-3 on April 4. Sponsored by Sen. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton), the bill was amended by Sen. Gen Olson (R-Minnetrista) to designate Lester soil as the state soil. The bill was returned to the House for concurrence, but it opted to bring the differences to a conference committee.

HF2398 would require nursery stock to be labeled so that consumers could know if the plant is appropriate for Minnesota weather extremes.

A “non-hardy” label would mean a plant that cannot be expected to survive or produce flowers in certain growing zones.

Similarly, nursery stock collected from the wild would be labeled as wild stock when sold. Buyers would also be able to read how many seeds are contained in vegetable and flower seed packets, instead of the packet’s net weight.

Where there are plants you can usually find plant pests and weeds, both of which are addressed in the bill.

The definition of “infested” would be modified to help the Department of Agriculture regulate nursery stock growers and retailers. A plant would be considered infested if it contains or harbors enough plant pests to threaten other plants.

Pests, particularly the emerald ash borer found in Minnesota trees, have resulted in quarantines that restrict the movement of firewood. Hennepin and Ramsey counties, along with the southeastern corner of the state, are subject to quarantine restrictions. The bill would also require wrappers on firewood sold or distributed in Minnesota to include the county and state where the wood was harvested.

Weeds, particularly noxious ones on public land, are also targeted.

A county would be able to fine public land owners up to $1,000 per violation if landowners fail to control noxious weeds on their property. Farmers brought the issue forward because of the vast amounts of state-owned land in northern Minnesota that abuts cropland. Thistles, labeled as noxious weeds, would need to be sufficiently eradicated on public right-of-ways, wildlife management areas, state parks and other publicly owned property or counties could assess the state a fine.

The bill would expand the Agriculture Department’s nursery and plant inspection and enforcement powers to include its Wholesale Produce Dealer, Grain Buyer/Grain Storage and Warehouse oversight responsibilities. The department could enter sites, inspect and sample products, issue commissioner’s orders, and pursue administrative and criminal penalties for failure to follow the law.

Other provisions would:

• allow about $150,000 remaining from a 2010 Lutheran Social Services disaster relief and mental health appropriation for flooded rural communities to be used in more counties;

• exempt feed distributors who produce and use their own feed from being charged an inspection fee on the portion they use themselves;

• remove a requirement to submit several reports to the Environmental Quality Board and legislative committees;

• enable a joint powers agreement for the collection of household hazardous waste disposal; and

• allow some pesticide dealers to be exempted from showing the gross sales fee paid on the sale of agricultural pesticides.

The bill also contains HF1347, sponsored by Anderson, which would establish the Dairy Research, Teaching and Consumer Education Authority as a public entity. The authority would meet at least quarterly to focus on dairy systems that:

• produce high quality, nutritious dairy products to promote human health and fitness;

• optimize animal welfare;

• sustain natural resources; and

• sustain profitability in all segments of the dairy industry.

The authority, which would be governed by a board of directors, could arrange for development of a research facility with barns, milking parlor, classrooms, a lab, visitor’s center, student housing and a dairy retail store. Funding could be obtained through grants and gifts.

Some members have said that the existing Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, which has facilities located in Crookston, Marshall and Waseca, is similar in design and could be tasked with the same objectives.

Another section would move enforcement of food safety regulations into a new chapter of law and would grant authority for the Department of Agriculture to issue civil penalties, in addition to criminal or administrative penalties.

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