Agricultural land is assessed differently than homes and business in all 50 states, based on a formula that values the land based on crop yields, soil conditions, market prices and other factors. The approach is designed to preserve agricultural land by curbing property taxes, even as developers gobble up farmland and land values skyrocket. But over time, changing interest rates and swings in grain prices have led to assessments that don’t match the economic conditions many farmers face.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday signed legislation letting political candidates raise unlimited money for super political action committees just a day after the Legislature approved the controversial plan. With Snyder’s blessing, political candidates can now raise unlimited money for super PACs that could then pour unlimited amounts of money back into committees that a candidate creates or that support the candidate.Snyder, a Republican, and other GOP supporters say the new law squares Michigan with a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision.
The Iowa Environmental Protection Commission denied a petition that would have made it tougher for animal feeding operations to be built in Iowa. Petition supporters sought to strengthen the state's master matrix — a scoring system designed to give local residents input on proposed animal feeding operations — saying the changes would better protect people living near livestock facilities from odor and water pollution.But opponents said the petition would make it so difficult to get a passing score, it would result in a statewide moratorium on livestock facilities. That's a controversial proposal for a state that's a national leader in pig, egg, turkey and cattle production.
In New York state, New Yorkers in downstate counties will soon benefit from cleaner air due to the increased use of Bioheat fuel in heating oil. Legislation signed Sept. 13 by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo requires Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester counties to follow New York City’s lead by blending at least 5 percent biodiesel (B5) into all home heating oil sold by July 1, 2018. New York City, the largest municipal consumer of heating oil in the country, has already taken advantage of biodiesel’s benefits by instituting a citywide 2 percent biodiesel requirement in 2012 that increases to 5 percent on Oct. 1, 2017. Now the entire New York City Metropolitan Area, representing approximately 70 percent of the state’s heating oil market, will have a 5 percent biodiesel blending requirement.
Papayas are big business in Hawaii. In 2016, the islands produced nearly 20 million pounds of the tropical melon, valued at an estimated $10 million. The Hawaiian papaya is also highly controversial. After the papaya ringspot virus decimated the island’s crop three decades ago, much of the fruit grown there today has been genetically modified to be resistant. For Hawaiian farmers, selling the papayas can be difficult. Countries are often reticent to import genetically modified crops. Farmers also face an uphill battle because of the high cost of imported fertilizers. But even more problematic is waste. Approximately a third of the Hawaiian papaya crop is discarded because it’s bruised or misshapen. Farmers throw out these otherwise saleable crops when margins are already thin. Lisa Keith, a plant pathologist with the USDA in Hilo, Hawaii, may have a solution. Keith and her team of researchers have been gathering leftover papayas from local packing houses and turning them into a fuel that’s used to produce biodiesel. It’s a surprisingly simple process that includes adding algae to large tanks that contain a sterile pureed papaya solution, where a process called heterotrophic growth takes place—in the absence of sunlight, algae feed on the sugar in the papaya. When the algae becomes starved of nitrogen after depleting the nutrients in the puree, it stimulates lipid production, which causes the lipid cells to balloon up with oil in just under two weeks’ time. These oils can be used for biodiesel production after the glycerol present in the cells is extracted.
Advocates for service dogs for the disabled were at the State House Tuesday, lobbying for a bill that would penalize those who say their animals are service dogs when they’re not. Kaitlyn Steinke of Falmouth and her dog Jones were among those in favor of what’s been called the fake service dog bill. The bill’s sponsor, Republican State Rep. Kim Ferguson of Holden, says misrepresenting dogs as service animals is a growing problem. A dozen other states have laws on the books making “fake service dogs” a crime.The measure has wide support in the House. It would impose a penalty of community service and/or up to a $500 fine for those misrepresenting their dogs as service dogs.
Against the backdrop of wind-farm construction in Hardin County, state Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, sought to build support for his proposal that would allow more wind turbines to be built in upcoming projects. “I think we can make this happen,” he said during the event Thursday. “The groundswell of support is increasing as we speak.”Senate Bill 188 would partially undo changes that lawmakers made in 2013 addressing where turbines can be built. The bill deals will the minimum distance required between a turbine and property lines and houses.Hite spoke at a news conference at Hog Creek Wind Farm, a project being built near Dunkirk, in northwestern Ohio. The developer, EDP Renewables, already operates three wind farms in the state.Before 2013, turbines could be built within about 550 feet of a property line, a figure based on the height of the tower and blade. Then, four years ago, lawmakers made an amendment to an unrelated measure that increased the distance to about 1,300 feet. Ever since, wind-industry groups and others have pushed for a reversal of the change.Hite, whose district includes several wind farms, tried to make the changes earlier this year through an amendment to the state budget. The provision was removed at the last minute, and critics said the topic should be debated on its own.
The chairs of the Idaho Legislature’s House and Senate ag committees are encouraging the directors of the state’s commodity commissions to do a better job talking about the issues and challenges their industries face when speaking to lawmakers. Some of the presentations are more on the “here’s what we did last year” side and not enough on the “here are the issues our industry is struggling with” side, said Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, chairman of the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee.Rice said he is trying to push those commission leaders to share their challenges so legislators can figure out how to help them or at least not get in their way.“Some of the presentations seem too much of cheerleading presentations and we don’t talk enough about the challenges that they’re facing, the things that are causing their industry problems,” he said.“I’m trying to ... make sure that we improve those presentations by addressing problems, challenges, areas where we may be falling behind or where we are headed down a road that’s going to be a problem,” Rice said.Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, chairwoman of the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, said that’s something she’s also trying to do.“We want to know what the issues they are facing are,” said Boyle, a rancher. “That’s really the value of commissions to the legislature.”Boyle said she has told commission leaders to share their challenges and encouraged them to bring their growers and commissioners and let them speak as well.
Illinois utilities and regulators are putting into motion plans for community solar programs under the state’s Future Energy Jobs Act that passed last year. In filings with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) last month, ComEd outlined proposed terms and conditions for “Community Supply,” also referred to as community solar. Ameren Illinois has also recently filed paperwork with the ICC outlining changes to net metering policies as the state moves to implement community solar.So far, the filings are relatively narrow in scope, setting the table for bigger debates over how community solar and other aspects of Illinois’ changing energy landscape impact ratepayers. Both utilities are essentially defining the terms of how consumers will be credited in a community solar arrangement, and a decision by the ICC is expected by the end of the month.
Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade and the Colorado Venture Capital Authority will allocate $9 million, and perhaps as much as $3 million more, to a rural economic development investment fund. The agencies created the new fund to benefit innovation in rural areas that might not have access to other funding sources. Industries that could benefit include value-added agriculture, advanced manufacturing, health and wellness, tourism and outdoor recreation, energy and natural resources, clean tech, technology and information.