Gov. Nixon signs dairy, ag bills at Purdy farm
About 100 area FFA members attend Friday afternoon event
In front of about 100 area FFA members at Charles Fletcher's Edgewood Dairy farm in Purdy, Gov. Jay Nixon signed into law two bills aiming to help support dairymen and agriculture producers in Missouri.
Charles Fletcher, who owns 260 acres of farmland, rents another 100 acres and has 350 head of cattle, said he first learned Nixon would visit his farm on Wednesday, and he was happy to host the governor.
"It's great," he said. "I've been around the governor at other events, but I had never met him before. I think these bills will be a big help, as the price of milk is one thing dairymen have no control over.
"The federal Margin Protection Program aims to stabilize prices, and 15-18 percent of our milk in Missouri goes off-shore. So, if the price of milk drops, this makes things easier."
Nixon said agriculture is the state's No. 1 industry, and the bills put into law will help further-strengthen that sector of the state's economy.
"Missouri's dairy industry supports more than 23,000 jobs and contributes $2 billion to our state's GDP," he said. "By supporting our dairy farmers and encouraging more young people to pursue careers in agriculture, the Dairy Revitalization Act will yield tremendous benefits for our rural communities and our entire economy."
The Dairy Revitalization Act is a three-part piece of legislation aiming to help dairymen, college students and the dairy industry as a whole. The first part of the act will allow dairymen in Missouri be reimbursed for 70 percent of their Margin Protection Program premiums, up to $0.34 per hundredweight of milk through the federal Margin Protection Program.
While the bill has been signed, it has yet to be funded, and Reagan Bluel, University of Missouri Extension regional dairy specialist, said she hopes funding would be effective for 2016 decisions made July 1 to Sept. 30 of 2015.
"With the offset of premium, producers will experience an improved safety net with lower input costs," she said."
The second piece of the legislation would establish 80 scholarships, at $5,000 a piece, for college students working on Missouri dairy farms or dairy processing plants while attending a Missouri school. The final piece of the act would aim to fund producer training, as well as a needs assessment for the state when it comes to growing the Missouri dairy industry.
"The Extension has done some surveys, and we have a needs assessment established, but this bill would expand on that and help determine the best way to move forward with dairy production in the state," Bluel said. "I'm also excited the governor is here. We couldn't have ordered a better day for it."
Also signed into law was the omnibus agriculture bill, which will increase the weight limits for trucks transporting produce during the harvest season.
About 100 FFA members from Monett, Pierce City, Purdy, Wheaton, Cassville and Southwest high schools were on hand for the event. Nixon said seeing all the teenagers in the audience was great, as he said they are the future of the agriculture industry in Missouri.
"These are bills we wanted to sign on a farm, and we were glad [local legislators and Fletcher] reached out to the FFAs," Nixon said. "We try to provide a lifestyle continuity and the number of FFA students here was a good shot in the arm for the Missouri agriculture industry."
With Lawrence County ranking No. 1 in beef production in Missouri, and Barry County coming in at No. 5, Nixon said the southwest Missouri area is a great asset to the industry across the state.
"This is a huge beef area, and the growth will allow us to market beef around the country and around the world. We also have great quality of beef, and we see that as a great growth opportunity as well."
Fletcher has been on his Purdy farm since 2001 and grew up on a dairy farm south of Washburn. He said while the Margin Protection Program aspect of the new law is important, the scholarship opportunities are what he is happy to see.
"Maybe even more important than the protection program is the scholarship fund," he said. "I would absolutely love to see some students out here, and I've had interns on the farm before. That's a program that needs to continue."
Nixon and Fletcher were joined by numerous legislators at the signing, including: State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob; State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho; State Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, majority caucus whip and chair of the Senate Ag Committee.
A $12.4 billion industry, agriculture ranks No. 1 in Missouri, a state home to nearly 100,000 farms, with about 300,000 Missouri and employed in agriculture-related occupations.