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Missouri House bills seek to cultivate climate for small specialty farms

by Ella McCarthy | April 5, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Sara and Mike Dodson and their son Raph talk with Liz Rothove of Red Barn Butchering on Saturday, April 2, 2022, at the Lincoln University Farmers Market in Jefferson City. The Dodson’s grow microgreens. “We are getting a feel for what’s in the area,” Mike Dodson said. (Ethan Weston/News Tribune photo)

Janette Brenneke has been growing and selling specialty produce from her garden in Cole County for more than three decades.

Now 76 years old, Brenneke has a smaller operation but still participates in the Lincoln University Farmers Market and the Cole County Farmers Market.

"We started out because my oldest daughter wanted to go to camp; so, I made her earn her own money," she said. "We started by planting extra vegetables and selling at the market and as they (her children) grew up, we just kept working at it ... we made enough to pay for all of their college."

Brenneke is just one of more than a thousand specialty agriculture farmers in the state. Cultivating everything from garlic to berries, the industry is continuing to grow in both urban and rural areas of Missouri.

To help support this growth, some Missouri lawmakers have introduced legislation to aid in the opening and maintaining of smaller specialty agriculture farms.

House Bill 2720, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Knight, R-Lebanon, and HB 2762, sponsored by Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City, would establish the "Specialty Agricultural Crops Act."

"It's a specialty crop program, that includes a loan program with tax credits, to help some of these smaller farms in our area with startup money; whether it be from seeds to the equipment, to greenhouses, harvesting equipment, all of these things," Knight said at a public hearing discussing the proposed legislation.

HB 2720 cites specialty crops as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, and horticulture and nursery crops including, but not limited to, floriculture.

Under the proposed act, the maximum loan a producer would be eligible to receive is $35,000, according to the bill summary. It also establishes a tax credit for participating lenders which would not exceed $300,000 issued to all eligible lenders in a fiscal year.

"It seems like everything that we do, seems to be geared to the bigger industries of our ag, and we don't understand how many of these small specialty crop farms that there are," Knight said.

During the public hearing, Melissa Vatterott with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment shared her support for the legislation.

"We have high quality soil capable of growing a variety of fruits and vegetables, and we're also a state that, in most of the state, we have water resources that are abundant," Vatterott said. "We have farmers, existing, who want to expand ... as well as several Missourians who are excited about the benefits of connecting with local food, with their local community, with their soil and are aspiring to become farmers."

Vatterott also noted programs like the one in the proposed legislation can help combat food deserts and insecurities which include access to healthy and nutritious foods.

One of the biggest benefits of buying locally sourced agriculture products is "that you're not getting pesticides and all this fertilizer because we use more natural things," Brenneke said Saturday at the LU Farmers Market.

Many lawmakers also shared their support for the bill at the public hearing.

"I for one, am glad to see a bill like this," Rep. Yolanda Young, D-Kansas City, said. "If we want to improve our local food systems and our global food systems, it will take small family farms as well as the larger commercial farms to do the job."

Knight also noted he will be adding a House Committee Substitute to the bill to ensure "marijuana and cannabis are not included in these specialty crops," he said.

The next public hearing on HB 2720 has yet to be scheduled.

HB 2720: Specialty agricultural crops

Sponsor: Rep. Jeff Knight

HB 2762: Specialty agricultural crops

Sponsor: Rep. Emily Weber

  photo  Ethan Weston/News Tribune photo: Goat milk soaps sit in a box on Saturday, April 2, 2022 at the Lincoln University Farmers Market.

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