The Missouri Senate on Monday heard two bills aimed at improving economic conditions for farmers and rural people in Missouri.
Members of the state Senate introduced legislation to expand a livestock loan program for small farmers and create a committee of lawmakers to study economic development in rural parts of the state.
The Senate Agriculture Committee heard both bills on Monday. Both have the support of the Missouri Soybean Association, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, the Missouri Corn Growers Association, and the Missouri Farm Bureau.
Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, sponsored SB 817, which expands Missouri’s family farm livestock loan program by changing the state’s definition of a small farmer and repealing limits on the amount that farmers can receive from the loan program.
Currently, the state classifies a small farmer as someone who makes less than $250,000 in sales each year. Small farmers are limited to one livestock loan per family and can only obtain a loan for one type of livestock.
Bernskoetter’s bill would change the definition of a small farmer to someone who makes less than $500,000 in sales each year and remove the limit on the number of loans a farmer can receive.
He said the change is needed to cope with costs that have increased since the loan scheme began around 2008 and to ensure the loan is widely accessible to smallholder farmers.
“The price of everything has gone up, so $250,000 is probably not the right amount anymore,” Bernskoetter said.
The legislation also doubles the maximum loan amount for each type of livestock. Highest loans would increase from $75,000 to $150,000 for beef and dairy cattle, $35,000 to $70,000 for hogs and $30,000 to $60,000 for sheep and goats .
Farmers can use Family Farm Livestock Loans to pay up to 90% of the cost of purchasing breeding stock without interest in the first year. The state provides a tax credit to the lender instead of the farmer’s interest.
Bernskoetter, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the loan program generates a return of $7.85 for every dollar invested. More than 350 Missouri farmers have used the program in its nearly 15 years of existence.
Jill Wood, executive director of the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority, said fewer farmers participate in the program each year due to the $250,000 limit on sales.
“As farm income increases, input expenses also increase, so it makes economic sense to do so,” Wood said.
Bernskoetter introduced similar legislation last session, but it was not debated in the Senate.
This year, he said he wasn’t sure the legislation could pass a deadlocked Senate.
“We’ve done very little so far,” Bernskoetter said. “So if things continue like this, there won’t be many things that will be passed this year.”
SB 705, sponsored by Sen. Jason Bean, R-Holcomb, and Sen. Karla Eslinger, R-Wasola, is another agriculture-related bill the Senate will consider this session.
The bill would establish a permanent joint committee on rural economic development between State House and Senate lawmakers.
With five members from the Senate and five from the House, the committee would be tasked with identifying viable industries and businesses, overseeing the expansion of broadband internet, and finding solutions to restricted access to health care. health and insurance in rural parts of the state.
The committee’s focus on rural areas would also extend to identifying labor force development and infrastructure needs as well as factors that contribute to poverty and unemployment in rural areas.
“One of the many disturbing pieces of information we have received from the recent census block is the huge decline in the population of rural areas,” Bean said. “We need to identify the issues at the heart of this, but also take the time to find out what works in areas of population growth.”
The committee would also look at ways to leverage existing tax credits and tourism programs for economic development to benefit rural areas.
Several members of the Senate Agriculture Committee expressed concern about the creation of another committee or task force of lawmakers, but supported the idea of studying rural Missouri. They said the Senate was already struggling to recruit volunteers for existing committees.
BS 817: Family Farm Livestock Loan Program
Sponsor: Senator Mike Bernskoetter
SB 705: Creates the Joint Committee on Rural Economic Development
Sponsor: Senator Jason Bean and Senator Karla Eslinger