Eight years ago, the Minnesota Legislature authorized the licensing of mid-level dental care providers, known as dental therapists, to practice in Minnesota. The new career was supposed to expand access to dental care to more state residents, especially those with low incomes or who live in rural areas where dentists may be rare. Comparable to a nurse practitioners, the first dental therapist graduates began seeing patients in 2011. Six years later, those benefits are materializing, according to Sharon Oswald, foundation and community affairs program manager with Delta Dental of Minnesota. A 2016 study by the University of Minnesota found dental therapists saw up to 90 percent of uninsured patients or patients on public assistance.But they're also showing benefits for all dental patients — such as shorter waiting times for appointments — and proving to be an economic asset to dentists.A 2014 study by the Minnesota Department of Health showed that almost one-third of all patients saw a reduction in wait times to get an appointment, especially in rural areas. Time with a provider increased by 10 minutes.
Hailing Wisconsin's strong tradition of military service and agricultural excellence, a group of state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are trying to bring the two traditions together with the Wisconsin Veterans Farm Bill of 2017. Senator Patrick Testin (R-Town of Hull) and Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) along with co-authors Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) and Rep. Ed Brooks (R-Reedsburg) are introducing a proposal to create a program to recruit military veterans into farming and authorize the creation of a logotype for veteran farmer products. “This legislation is pro-veteran, pro-agriculture, and pro-workforce,” said Rep. Goyke. “It makes investments in both the future of agriculture, and the futures of our veterans – it’s good policy, and I’m proud to author it.”
The land Steven Smith lives on has been farmed for more than 125 years. It's less than 10 acres, but Smith grows alfalfa and usually raises some cattle when prices are higher.But earlier this month, the Wright County assessor notified Smith and about 70 other property owners that their small farms will be assessed like the homes in Clarion, Eagle Grove and the other small towns they live around — rather than as agricultural properties.In other words, as far as his property taxes are concerned, Smith's farm is no longer a farm.The residential classification increases Smith's property values 70 percent. He expects his tax bill next year will rise substantially as well, climbing about $600.Unlike his urban neighbors, though, Smith said he gets few town amenities — no sewer, water or other services."It's hard enough to live in the country and try to farm a little bit," without the large increase in values and taxes, said Smith, who also cares for his 90-year-old mother. Other small farms across Iowa are seeing similar changes with new property statewide assessments mailed April 2. How property owners are treated across the state, however, may vary, Iowa assessors say, because the state gives little guidance outlining what constitutes a farm, despite repeated requests to lawmakers. Most assessors look to the state's administrative code that asks whether the land is "in good faith, used primarily for agricultural purposes," said John Lawson, Clayton County's assessor and president of the Iowa State Assessors Association.
Two bills that would have let Oregon communities ban genetically modified or engineered crops have died in committee. It’s the third time environmental and farm groups have tried and failed to pass the legislation, which they say is needed to prevent GE crops from contaminating organic and conventional crops.
Authorities in Worcester County, Md., are preparing for two public hearings this month on a proposal to tighten poultry house regulations that was introduced in March, according to local reports. County commissioners introduced a bill that would limit the number of chicken houses that can be built on a parcel of land to eight and requires that the houses stand at least 200 feet away from adjacent properties. The proposal also calls for poultry houses to be set away from vegetation surrounding poultry farms.
Governor Ivy said "Rural Alabama is near and dear to my heart. Don't forget I'm from rural Wilcox County. My decision to shutter the Office of Rural Development will refocus rural development efforts into existing agencies." The previous governor, who just resigned, launched the Alabama Rural Development Office in 2011 to "improve and advance education, health care and economic development in rural areas of Alabama." It replaced two other state commissions, the Black Belt Action Commission and the Alabama Rural Action Commission.
For as long as it lasts, food and nutrition director Shelley Juedes brings in a bountiful array of fresh produce: scrumptious apples from nearby Rim's Edge Orchard and fresh vegetables — broccoli, onions, potatoes and more — from longtime area farmer Lenny Semerad. "What a major difference it is to have that fresh produce instead of getting it from a vendor where it might have sat in a warehouse for weeks," said Juedes, who would like to increase what she buys from local farmers if she could figure out how to do it."It's fresher. It looks more appetizing," she said. "It's great for the kids, and it benefits the local farmers, too. It's a win-win."That win-win was exactly what the Legislature had in mind when it created the Farm to School office in the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in 2009.Since then, advocates say, the Wisconsin office has become the gold standard for the farm-to-school movement nationally, connecting growers and schools, helping to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, improving children's nutrition and knowledge of agriculture, and pumping millions of dollars into the state's economy. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed cutting the office's now-vacant coordinator position and 15-member advisory council as part of his 2017-'19 budget, a move that would save $132,800 over the biennium.
Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, recently rose to the defense of Oregon's farmers after agriculture was criticized for receiving an oversized helping of government support. The House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources is considering a bill to establish the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Fund, which would buy conservation easements from farmers and help them with succession planning.Representatives of several environmental groups and Tax Fairness Oregon — a nonprofit that advocates against tax breaks — came out against House Bill 3249 as being unaffordable.Critics argued that farmers already benefit from property tax breaks and other programs that will amount to $550 million over the next biennium, even though agriculture's conservation of water quality is insufficiently monitored and enforced.The involvement of agricultural groups in designing the fund proposal also came under fire, with critics casting it as a program aimed at helping private interests with public money.Clem, who chairs the committee, pointed out that farmers in Oregon have already collectively had their property values reduced by the state's land use system, which aims to preserve open space and agriculture.HB 3249 is intended to coax them into making these protections permanent by purchasing easements that extinguish a property's development rights, he said.
A measure providing up to $2 million in emergency funding for New Hampshire dairy farmers strained by last year’s drought is ready for Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s signature. The Senate on Thursday concurred with changes made by the House last month to the measure. The bill originated in the Senate.Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Republican from Wolfeboro, was the bill’s prime sponsor. He said the legislation provides a fair formula for distributing the money. He said higher-than-anticipated feed costs have threatened to put many dairy farms out of business.One local dairy farmer agreed, saying he’s glad to see the measure clear both chambers.
Legislation aimed at improving Iowa's water quality remained alive in the Iowa Senate Wednesday, despite serious reservations by some lawmakers who are unhappy with the measure's funding plans.Senate File 482, which has been proposed by Gov. Terry Branstad, mirrors legislation considered in the House last year. It would fund water quality projects by shifting money now spent on state infrastructure projects and by using sales tax dollars Iowans already pay on their water bills The bill was approved on a 2-1 Senate subcommittee vote, advancing it to the Senate Appropriations Committee and keeping the issue eligible for debate as the 2017 session nears adjournment. Sen. Jack Shipley, R-Nodaway, who chaired the meeting, said the measure isn't perfect, but it offers the potential to make progress on water quality problems.