There have not been many assignments in February or March, but on the 12th I covered the very first Agricultural Conservation and Stewardship Roundtable followed by the Ag Coalition meeting in the ND Heritage Center. The first meeting was an attempt by the ND State Soil Conservation Districts to engage the representatives of commodity groups (the Ag Coalition) so as to not only communicate what they do but to look as well for conversation that might help them identify how they could more effectively serve the agricultural community. Their board members and staff from around the state were well represented as they told us about farmers coming into the Soil Conservation District offices and asking about programs that are not part of the SC organization. Because they are often co-located with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices, that confusion is understandable especially when one understands that their partners and supporting agencies and organizations include NDSU Extension Service, the USDA-NRCS, the USDA Forest Service, North Dakota Game and Fish, ND Ag Department and the ND Dept. of Environmental Quality amongst others. ANYWAY, these SCDs were founded back about 90 years ago so that there is a local presence with someone who can help producers. SCDs provide not only trees, but agricultural education, conservation presentations, technical assistance and other services. It was a good meeting with good people who have their work cut out for them when trying to get the word out to producers about what they can offer. They have a mill levy to work with and an office in all 53 counties but are struggling with wildly different funding that makes keeping some employees for any length of time perhaps their biggest problem along with being readily identifiable by the county residents. Please go to their website or better yet stop by your county’s SCD office to become more familiar with them and their programs.
Then the Ag Coalition met and heard updates from the SBARE Chair Mark Birdsall. He said they have held listening sessions around the state and will soon rank items for legislative attention. Then the Coalition voted Larry Hoffman into a second term on the SBARE board. Dr. Greg Lardy, NDSU, then gave an update on the fund drive for the Ag Product Development Center which had $40 million appropriated by the Legislature last session, but which needs another $20 million from private funds before construction can begin. It is a heavy lift with about $5 million raised so far. Senator Erbele followed with an explanation of where the interim Natural Resources committee is with fashioning a pilot program for the hunting and posting issue. I have blogged in more detail in the past and will keep you up to date after they meet in April. Representative Dennis Johnson, chair of the Ag and Transportation committee, updated us on what the Ag Department has done about the Grain Licensing program. Again, I have detailed this in previous blogs and will again focus on this once they meet again in about a month.