Gov. Jay Nixon signed bills Friday aimed at boosting Missouri's dairy and $12.5 billion-a-year agriculture industries through insurance subsidies, scholarships, eased restrictions during parts of the year and other provisions meant to help crop and livestock farmers.
One measure would create a state subsidy for federal dairy insurance and would authorize scholarships for eligible college students studying agriculture who plan to work in that sector in Missouri. Another would allow trucks to carry heavier loads of livestock and grains during harvest season.
"Agriculture is our state's No. 1 industry, and the bills I'm signing today will help to further strengthen this important sector of our economy," Nixon said in a statement.
Similar proposals had failed last year, when the Democratic governor vetoed legislation that also would have shifted state regulation of deer farms from the Department of Conservation to the Department of Agriculture.
Republican Sen. Brian Munzlinger of Williamstown, who took the lead in Senate efforts to boost the farming industry, dropped the contested measure and other sticking points from this year's Senate agriculture bill to make the measure more palatable to Nixon.
The measure passed 101-48 in the House and had unanimous support in the Senate, despite concerns from Democrats who said allowing trucks to carry heavier loads could damage state roads at taxpayers' expense.
And while the legislation has support from the Missouri Farm Bureau, some rural farmers say it could lead to more foreign land ownership and additional taxes on beef producers.
At issue is a provision that will require the Department of Agriculture to review land sales if buyers do not have a W-9, a tax document completed upon employment. Currently, the director must approve all land transfers.
Munzlinger said the new method will give the department the ability to monitor foreign land acquisition.
Missouri Rural Crisis Center program director Rhonda Perry said it creates a loophole that would allow foreign businesses to bypass a current 1 percent cap on ownership of Missouri land by creating a domestic limited liability company to use to submit a W-9.
Perry, whose group promotes rural and family farms, also criticized a provision that would allow beef producers to vote on levying a state tax for a marketing program, which she said could allow a limited number of producers to vote on increasing the tax for all state producers. Munzlinger said the legislation leaves an increase up to producers.
The dairy bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, will mean dairy farmers can be reimbursed for 70 percent of premiums for the federal margin protection program. That reimburses farmers if profit margins fall below $4.
That legislation also allows up to 80 scholarships for $5,000 to go to eligible students studying agriculture if state funds are available. The University of Missouri also will be required to create an annual report detailing how to further spur growth in the dairy industry.
The bills are set to take effect Aug. 28.