RED WING — Fresh off a recent trip to Washington, D.C. for the State of the Union, the Republican Eagle caught up with Les Anderson, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association board of directors, about the organization's priorities this legislative session and the top concerns facing area farmers.

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The Cannon Falls corn and soybean farmer has been on the MCGA board since 2012. He was elected to lead the board for 2019-2020 back in October.

Here's what he had to say:

Congratulations on being elected president of the MCGA board of directors. What does the organization do for local corn growers?

With nearly 7,000 members, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association represents the state’s 24,000 corn farmers on policy and advocacy efforts at the state and federal level, elevating the issues that are impacting corn farmers today. MCGA also works with the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotions Council to build connections with the non-farming public and invest in research that shapes the future of agriculture and builds demand for corn.

What are the big issues facing farmers in southeastern Minnesota?

Southeastern Minnesota is home to a number of ethanol plants, which are crucial to both corn farmers in the region and surrounding rural communities. Actions by the EPA over the last year have taken their toll on the ethanol market, making it harder for ethanol plants to survive. Protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard and stopping ethanol demand destruction is crucial for area farmers who depend on the market.

Protecting water quality will also continue to be a focus for farmers. Much of MCGA’s nearly $4 million annual investment in research is focused on water quality, benefitting all Minnesotans. Corn farmers want to be part of the solution, which is why we financially support programs like University of Minnesota Extension Nitrogen Smart and invest in third-party research identifying on-farm practices that protect our waterways.

Are there policies MCGA will advocate for at this year's legislative session?

MCGA looks forward to working with the legislature and members of the administration to advance policy priorities that are important to corn farmers and rural communities.

Top priorities this year include advancing policies through the Better Fuel Initiative, which was launched to further increase awareness, understanding and usage of biofuels in Minnesota. With more drivers choosing cleaner-burning E15 at the pump than ever, the Better Fuel Initiative supports an increase in the existing biofuel standard of 10 percent to 15-percent biofuel.

[JARGON WATCH: Biofuel is a renewable energy source made from plant material. Ethanol, among the most common biofuel, is made from sugar in grains such as corn, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Ethanol used to power vehicles is typically mixed with gasoline, from 10% ethanol by volume (called E10) to 51%–83% ethanol (called E85). Proponents say biofuels reduce pollution, while opponents argue using farm land to grow crops for biofuel could lead to food shortages or increased food prices.]

MCGA will also continue its efforts bringing a buffer property tax exemption to farmers in compliance with the Minnesota Buffer Law. This would remove the penalty of continuing to impose property taxes at the highest rates on farm land that is removed from production when converted to buffers. Another tax-related priority this year is full conformity on Section 179. There are currently unintended consequences for like kind exchanges and traded in farm equipment that can be remedied through full conformity.

Your role takes you to Washington, D.C., as well. What can be done nationally to help corn growers here?

MCGA grower leaders make a number of trips to Washington each year to advocate for federal priorities impacting corn farmers. By engaging with Minnesota’s congressional delegation, administration officials and key government agencies, MCGA is building a brighter future on the farm back home.

Over the last year, MCGA grower leaders have spent time in Washington stressing the importance of USMCA ratification, which was achieved in January. MCGA also met with members of our congressional delegation, USDA officials and the EPA to protect the Renewable Fuel Standard and stop actions destroying ethanol demand.

MCGA will continue to work with its national partners to maintain a strong voice in our nation’s capital as we advocate for the priorities that impact corn farming. Both stabilizing trade and protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard will continue to be a focus in the year ahead.