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SARL Members and Alumni News

Minnesota sweetens the pot to shift cropland into Conservation

Mankato Free Press | Posted on July 12, 2018

New program pays up to 90 percent of land value.Under the program, landowners enroll land in the federal Conservation Reserve Program for 15 years. But they also sign up for the Reinvest in Minnesota program, and agree to a permanent easement, a legal document stipulating the land must always be managed for conservation.The federal program protects land for 10 or 15 years, opening the door for the land to be plowed under again. Minnesota could lose 500,000 acres of grassland in the next five years.It's critical to preserve land permanently to maximize water quality protection, said Aaron Larsen, a program manager for the West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District. The Westbys get annual CRP payments for 15 years for taking this farmland out of production. They also get a one-time payment from the state.The payments are determined through a complex formula, but the combination of federal and state dollars will equal 90 percent of the average per acre land value.The goal of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program is to restore and preserve 60,000 acres, or roughly 90 square miles of land across 54 counties in western and southern Minnesota.

Food Stamp Work Requirements Would Force States to Provide Job Training. Many Aren’t Ready

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on July 11, 2018

The House version of the food-stamp-to-work program Congress is considering this week would require recipients to enroll in job training programs if they can’t find work — but in many states, those programs won’t be fully available for at least another decade. This will have a big impact on the people who depend on food stamps, some 42 million in 2017. The average beneficiary receives about $125 a month, and a family of four must have an annual income of about $25,000 or less to qualify. Many are already working.Lawmakers’ effort to increase work requirements continues a trend in the past year of asking impoverished families to put so-called “skin in the game” when receiving government benefits. In this case, the families don’t have full control over what’s being required of them: If Congress requires more food stamp recipients to get jobs, states will have to greatly expand training programs to comply with federal law. States that don’t offer training for beneficiaries who are required to work could lose federal funding. Many states would have a hard time offering job training to all of them — especially in the next two years, which is what the House bill calls for. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it will take more than a decade for states to ramp up their job training programs. State work training programs vary widely, the CBO found, and “offering training services to all eligible recipients would require many states to expand their programs substantially.”

NM Land Commissioner Sues NM State Engineer Over Water Permits

Texas Agriculture Law Blog | Posted on July 9, 2018

The Land Commissioner is charged with jurisdiction over state trust lands to generate support for public schools and other state institutions.  In the Complaint, filed in the First Judicial District Court, the Commissioner asserts that he has “an interest in the appropriation of water on and off of state trust lands because the use of water in connection with activities on state trust lands often is essential to the lands’ highest and best use.”  The State Engineer is vested with authority to manage the state’s water resources, including issuing permits for groundwater wells. The Commissioner is concerned with the State Engineer’s issuance of groundwater pumping permits.  Specifically, the concern revolves around permits issued pursuant to NMSA Section 72-12-1.3.  Section 72-12-1.3 provides that if a person seeks to use groundwater in an amount of less than three acre-feet for a period of time less than one year for prospecting, mining, or construction of public works, highways, and roads or drilling operations designed to discover or develop the natural mineral resources in the state, a temporary permit may be issued by the State Engineer.  A separate application must be filed for each proposed use.   If the request will not permanently impair any existing water rights of others, the permit must be granted.  If it will permanently impair such rights,  a hearing must be held.

New York $30 million available for dairy farm projects

Times Union | Posted on July 9, 2018

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that $30 million is available to support conservation easement projects on dairy farms across New York. Plummeting milk prices have "increased the threat" of more farmland being converted into other developments, Cuomo said in a statement. Land trusts, municipalities and other entities can apply for farmland protection grants of up to $2 million.

Kentucky cuts vision, dental care for up to 460,000 people

Associated Press | Posted on July 9, 2018

Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration cut dental and vision coverage for as many as 460,000 Kentuckians after his Medicaid overhaul plan was rejected in court. The state Cabinet for Health and Family Services called the cuts an “unfortunate consequence” of Friday’s ruling by a federal judge. Democrats and advocates for the poor condemned the Republican governor’s move as rash and possibly illegal.  U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg’s rejection of Bevin’s plan to overhaul the state’s Medicaid program was also a setback for President Donald Trump’s administration, which has been encouraging states to impose work requirements and other changes on the joint state and federal health insurance program for poor and disabled people. Boasberg’s ruling blocks those requirements for now in Kentucky.

As State ‘Water Wars’ Get Salty, Oysters Get a Say

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on July 9, 2018

Florida and Georgia have been arguing about the water that flows into the Apalachicola Bay for three decades, about as long as Tommy Ward and his family have been selling oysters from the bay. Florida says Georgia draws more than its fair share of water from the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers before they fuse to create the Apalachicola River. Georgia uses the water to supply thirsty Atlanta and the vast farmland south of the metropolis. But its disruption of the freshwater flow has increased the salinity of the bay and the number of oyster-eating predators, which are able to thrive in saltier water. The result: The virtual collapse of the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay. During a week filled with U.S. Supreme Court-related news, many overlooked the significance of the ruling the court issued last week in the Florida-Georgia dispute: Taking a rare — if not unprecedented — stance, the court seemed to suggest that in water disputes between states, the health of an aquatic ecosystem can be considered alongside drinking-water and farming concerns. Florida’s odds did not look good as its case was headed to the Supreme Court. Ralph Lancaster, the special master appointed by the court to oversee most hearings in the case, said that though the bay had been affected by overuse of water upstream, it wasn’t clear that capping Georgia’s water use would solve the problem.But the justices disagreed, saying Lancaster used too strong a standard in evaluating whether adjustments upstream could solve problems in the Apalachicola Bay. The court remanded the case back to Lancaster who must reconsider Florida’s proposal and evidence.

Ernie Hardeman named Ontario agriculture minister

Real Agriculture | Posted on July 5, 2018

Oxford County MPP Ernie Hardeman has been tapped to lead the agriculture portfolio under Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s new cabinet.  The naming of Hardeman as ag minister comes somewhat as a surprise, as Lisa Thompson and Toby Barrett were widely speculated as top picks for the post. Thompson has been named Minister of Education. Barrett did not receive a cabinet post, but was named Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Rep. Patterson Applauds Passage Of Bipartisan Lake Erie Funding Bill

The Ohio House of Representatives | Posted on July 5, 2018

State Rep. John Patterson applauded the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 299, the companion bill to Patterson’s House Bill 643, the Ohio Clean lake 2020 Plan. Joint-sponsored with state Rep. Steve Arndt, the bipartisan legislation invests $36 million in efforts to tackle the issue of harmful algal blooms and create innovative programs to clean up Lake Erie. “Our Great Lake remains a vital resource to us here in Northeast Ohio, impacting everything from growing our crops to growing our economy. We must do everything we can to ensure its long-term health,” said Patterson. “The Clean Lake 2020 Plan confronts the challenges we face by investing in new, innovative programs to reduce the devastating effects of algal blooms and clean up our lake so that the next generation of Ohioans can enjoy this precious resource.” The Clean Lake 2020 Plan would invest the following, $2.65 million to monitor phosphorous loading, harmful algal growth and toxicity levels at The Ohio State University’s Sea Grant and Stone Lab;$10 million to research alternative uses for dredged sediment;$20 million in grants and loans for farmers to reduce phosphorous runoff;$3.5 million for soil and water conservation districts in the lake’s western basin.

Virginia Governor announces new initiative to bring high speed internet to rural areas

Gordan River | Posted on July 5, 2018

Gov. Ralph Northam arrived to announce a new broadband initiative to improve internet services in rural areas. Northam said Virginia used to be ranked No. 1 as the state in which to do business nationwide, but has fallen down the list in recent years. “One reason for that is lack of broadband,” Northam said, particularly in rural areas. “If you go to the eastern shore, here, or west, we’re nowhere near where we need to be.” The state raised the amount of money committed to improving rural broadband from $2 million to $8 million, and the Tobacco Commission has committed $11 million to the project, the governor said.

Two-year-old law has brightened future of solar energy in Illinois, led to new proposals in 2018

CSG Midwest | Posted on July 5, 2018

With one glance at the most recent U.S. rankings on solar energy, it becomes clear the Midwest has a long way to go if it wants to catch up to other regions on the use of this renewable source. Only Minnesota and Indiana placed in the top half of states as of 2017. But in a third Midwestern state, Illinois, big changes appear on the horizon, with landowners and county governments alike showing interest in making solar a new “cash crop” — whether it be on farmland, brownfields or even publicly owned property.The Solar Energy Industries Association is projecting that Illinois’ solar capacity will increase by 1,501 megawatts over the next five years, one of the bigger jumps in the nation. If that happens, and the state begins to climb in the U.S. rankings, legislative passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016 will be cited as a major catalyst.“[It] was a bipartisan effort to promote renewable energy across the state,” says Rep. Norine Hammond, who represents a part of rural western Illinois. “It resulted from years of negotiations between utilities, businesses, consumer and environmental groups.”