Ag leaders recount successes, single miss of session
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Looking back at the 2012 Idaho Legislature, farm and ranch leaders agree the session was good to agriculture if not quite as monumental as the 2011 session.
While there were not as many big-ticket issues for Idaho agriculture as there were in 2011, "agriculture had another successful legislative session," said Roger Batt, who represents several ag groups in the Gem State.
Last year's legislative session was hailed by the ag industry as a banner year, with the biggest success being a bill that strengthened the state's Right to Farm Act. Another major win was a bill that amended the state's land use planning act to place agriculture on par with any other use.
The 2012 session may have included fewer major bills but there were a lot of important pieces of legislation that passed this year, Milk Producers of Idaho Executive Director Brent Olmstead said.
There were "a lot of little bills" compared to last year, he said, but "as far as agriculture goes, it was a successful session."
For Idaho's dairy and cattle industries, the biggest success was a bill that adds a felony provision for animal cruelty to Idaho's animal welfare laws, said Olmstead, who along with other livestock officials believes the bill could take some of the steam out of a proposed animal welfare ballot initiative.
"It was a good session for us," said Idaho Cattle Association executive vice president Wyatt Prescott, who points to the animal cruelty bill as well as one that allows the Idaho Cattle Foundation to recommend funds from the sale of unclaimed livestock be used for ag education or research.
Other ag successes included a bill that exempts wine and other free beverage samples from Idaho's 6 percent use tax, a bill that allows the Idaho Honey Commission to set and enforce labeling and quality standards for honey and one that grants the Idaho Wine Commission greater authority to market the industry.
Another bill raised the ceiling for Idaho's sheep checkoff fee from 6 cents to 12 cents per pound of wool and gave the sheep commission authority to assess a fee on goats.
Lawmakers also increased the University of Idaho's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences research and extension budget by $325,000, reversing years of cuts.
That funding increase and bills that raised the ceilings for the state's wheat and barley checkoff fees were top priorities for Idaho's grain industry.
"As far as Idaho Grain Producers Association priorities, it was a really good year for us," IGPA executive director Travis Jones said of the session, which ended March 29.
The session, however, included one significant loss for agriculture. A bill that would have provided producers an income tax credit of up to $500,000 for investing in any process that added new value to an Idaho ag commodity easily passed the House but never made it out of a Senate committee.