Rotunda Roundup From Montana Farmers Union Legislative Update
May 3, 2023
The following is a weekly update of Montana Farmers Union involvement in the 2023 Legislature. MFU is the state’s largest and oldest grassroots farm advocacy organization representing family farms, and has worked more than 100 years on behalf of Montana farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
Data collected from farmers should not be used against farmers. To that point, HJ 27 would create an interim committee to examine how ag data is being collected and how to protect farmers agricultural data property rights from commercial misuse.
Ag Data Harvest is a top priority for Montana Farmers Union, which strongly supports HJ 27, sponsored by Rep. Katie Sullivan.
Data is being harvested from farmers – often without their knowledge. Custom applicators, seeders and harvesters are not required to tell farmers that their data is being harvested, and farmers don’t have the chance to opt out.
This is valuable data that can be used to inform trading on the commodities markets. For example, during harvest, harvesters are collecting yield and quality, this provides an accurate estimate of the production of commodities. Brokers and foreign buyers can use this info to better position themselves in the markets at the expense of producers.
The USDA Statistics Service spends a great deal of money and time collecting this information by requesting farmers to fill out surveys. Hackers, or anyone with access to this valuable data before its release could have inside information and use it to manipulate commodity markets.
The bill passed unanimously out of the House Agriculture Committee 19-0 following a hearing with good questions and no opposition, before passing second and third readings in the House, 87-13 and 82-15 respectively. HJ 27 will now transmit to the Senate and continue through the legislative process as the Legislature is wrapping up.
While the days of the Legislative Session are winding down, Montana Farmers Union continues to advocate on behalf of its members based on the grassroots organization’s member-written policy.
This past week, MFU also supported:
SJ 30: MFU encourages continued research, development, and marketing of new and existing specialty crops in Montana. We support development of Montana vineyard production and marketing through Montana wineries. While most agricultural crops are regulated through the Department of Agriculture, viticulturists have a number of other requirements to meet, as their product is also regulated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. Advances in interspecies cold hardy hybrid grapes mean that Montana can start developing distinctive niche wines, and this study will look at how to revise the MCA to accommodate wine grown in Montana. Current law treats wine as an import, not as a domestic specialty crop. The bill passed the full Senate on a third reading vote of 37-13 and will transmit to the House to continue through the legislative process.
SJ 38: MFU has policy statements around the Postal Service in rural Montana, because it provides critical services. If it costs more to send a letter or package to a rural area than to an urban area, most of Montana would have been left out of the post war economic boom. The postal service was founded on the premise that a healthy American economy relies on active participation and communication by all – urban and rural. The internet is also disrupting communications in Montana, and we need to know how to position ourselves so that all Montanans have a level playing field. Unfortunately, this bill was tabled in committee.
MFU also continued to oppose HB 562.
Establishing a charter school system as described in HB 562 will have a negative impact on funding for rural public schools. Montana’s farm and ranch communities simply have too few K-12 students to sustain additional schools. This committee instead should work toward funding systems which preserve equity in access and quality of educational opportunity for rural public schools. This bill was voted down in the Senate on second reading with a vote of 23-27, then a motion to indefinitely postpone it passed. However, the bill was revived Thursday and then passed second reading, 28-22, on Friday.
Go to https://montanafarmersunion.com/legislation/ for more details on MFU’s legislative work throughout the Legislative Session on behalf of Montana’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities.