Missouri lawmakers set agricultural priorities

Livestock is shown at the 2019 Missouri State Fair. (Photo submitted)

Broadband, eminent domain and expanding the Missouri State Fairgrounds are among Missouri lawmakers' agricultural priorities for the next legislative session.

The Joint Committee on Agriculture hosted a hearing Wednesday, in which lawmakers discussed 11 legislative actions they want to take up next January.

Most of the discussion was centered around previous legislation that didn't make it across the finish line last session.

Bill sponsors talked about their intentions to reintroduce the legislation with the committee's support, and often the support of industry lobbyists.

Broadband investment was a major topic of consideration.

Gov. Mike Parson recently announced the state's commitment of $400 million for broadband infrastructure.

Janie Dunning, a broadband consultant for the Missouri Farm Bureau, said MFB is now looking at how best to administer those funds to ensure they produce high-speed access in rural areas.

Dunning said they are also looking into upgraded internet speed capabilities, how to overcome hurdles in mapping and analysis, and new wireless technology.

"We don't have what we need as far as broadband," Dunning said. "That came out very clear during the pandemic."

Sen. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis, said the state should also consider the federal infrastructure bill working through Congress because it will likely have guidance and regulations in addition to extra funding for broadband infrastructure.

"I just want to make sure we're spending that money wisely, that it's not going to somehow turn out to be incompatible with money we're getting later that will probably have a little bit more spelled out about standards of the upload speeds, download speeds and things of that nature," Beck said.

The committee also discussed changing provisions related to eminent domain for utility purposes as a priority.

State Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, sponsored legislation last session that changed the process to require county commission approval in each county a utility line would go through.

The measure died in the Senate, so he intends to reintroduce the bill.

The committee also discussed plans for doubling the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia.

State Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, said he is working with the Missouri Department of Agriculture, Governor's Office and current landowners to support the expansion efforts.

The current fairground sits on 350-375 acres of land, and the state is looking to buy up to 400 acres of neighboring land to expand camping opportunities, parking space and additional entertainment, like a youth rodeo.

Pollitt said State Fair Community College is also interested in expanding its agricultural education programming if the land were bought. He said the landowners are willing to sell, but state agencies are working to determine how the land would be divided among facilities.

State Sen. Sandy Crawford, R-Buffalo, represents the area in the Senate and offered her support.

"We're going to miss a very good opportunity if we let this land slip through our hands," Crawford said.

Additionally, the committee discussed six tax credit and incentive initiatives, including biodiesel fuel incentives, ethanol incentives, reinstatement of the wood waste tax credit and renewal of three tax credits provided by the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Authority.

Representatives from the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Soybean Association and Missouri Corngrowers Association said renewal of the MASBDA tax credits, which have a combined allocation of $8 million, are their number one priority for the next session.

Other priorities supported by the committee include reintroducing the Family Farms Act and Right to Repair legislation, updating statutes on land surveys and simplifying regulations on anhydrous ammonia.