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Poppe, Wagenius speak at Agri-Growth policy luncheon

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 02/13/2013 7:51 AM

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ST. PAUL – The two women in charge of House agriculture committees spoke before more than 70 people at the first Agri-Growth policy luncheon of the year last week.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, chairs the House Agriculture Policy Committee. Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, chairs the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.

The duo introduced themselves at the Jan. 29 luncheon, with Poppe telling of her upbringing in rural Houston County and Wagenius talking about her Douglas County farm.

When it was time for questions, no one broached the subject that has everyone talking -- putting agricultural finance with environment and natural resources – but Poppe brought it up.

In an interview after the meeting, Poppe said it's better to bring up the issue and deal with it in a way that's constructive. The more people are open about it, the more opportunity there is for discussion, she said.

During the luncheon, Poppe said that she was first elected; agricultural finance was in the environment, natural resources and agriculture finance committee, the same committee structure as this year.

Last year, agricultural finance and policy were in the same committee in the House.

Some are alarmed by the change in structure, Poppe said, because they don't know Wagenius or know her by how she's described by others.

Minnesota is one state and everyone – either rural, suburban or metro – bring something to the table. It's the job of legislators to come to common ground, she said.

There are fewer rural representatives, as the numbers show, so collaboration among rural, suburban and metro legislators is all the more important, Poppe said. Putting agricultural funding in the same committee as the environment and natural resources is a forward-thinking structure that helps rather than hurts rural Minnesota.

Wagenius said her committee has been busy learning about issues that impact agriculture, the environment and natural resources. At this point, she sees four issues they will have to address this session: Drought, silica sand mining, air pollution and invasive species.

Soil moisture levels are at the lowest ever recorded in Waseca and there is zero soil moisture at Lamberton, Wagenius said. The state is not prepared for drought.

After the meeting, Wagenius said she was expecting more questions. A question-and-answer session gives people the opportunity to know her better and it allows her to hear their concerns.

She continues to meet with people from the agricultural community, many of whom don't know her and haven't worked with her in the past.

Wagenius said the pace of committee work will quicken in February as legislators begin holding hearings on the governor's budget proposal. She wants to finish hearings on the budget well ahead of committee deadlines, so she has added evening meetings in addition to daytime meetings.

The first committee deadline is March 15. The second is March 22 and the third is April 19.

The first deadline is for committees to act on bills in the house of origin. The second is for bills to be acted upon in the other chamber. The third date is the deadline for committees to act on major appropriation and finance bills.