By Brian HauswirthJuly 5, 2021

Leaders from Missouri’s major commodity groups will testify before the Joint Committee on Agriculture Tuesday afternoon in Jefferson City. The hearing will begin at 1 at the Statehouse.

Committee Chairman State Rep. Mike Haffner (R-Pleasant Hill) says the committee will be taking a “30,000 foot view” of the economic impact of Missouri agriculture, and on the issue of environmental stewardship.

“President Garrett Hawkins from the Missouri Farm Bureau will be there, Casey Wasser for the Missouri Soybeans, Mike Deering from the (Missouri) Cattlemen (Association), Don Nikodim from Missouri Pork Assocation,” Haffner says.

Missouri Farm Bureau is the state’s largest general farm organization. Wasser, Deering and Nikodim will be representing their associations, and the Missouri Hemp Association will also testify.

Haffner says the committee will be discussing traditional agricultural issues on Tuesday.

“We’re going to stay primarily in this meeting, this committee hearing, on policy. And then we will get down into (proposed) legislation later on in the summer,” says Haffner.

Additional hearings will take place this year, where the joint committee will set priorities for the 2022 legislative session.

Chairman Haffner is optimistic about where Missouri’s agricultural industry is heading. While the $88 billion industry is the state’s largest industry, it has a number of challenges. Weather is always a factor for farmers, whether it’s a drought or the recent flooding.

Another major issue involves rural broadband. The joint committee will hear testimony on Tuesday on the issue. State broadband office development director Tim Arbeiter has testified that there are at least 392,000 Missourians who lack high-speed internet, either because it’s not available or they can’t afford it. They represent more than 147,000 households.

Chairman Haffner, who operates a Christmas tree farm in rural Pleasant Hill, tells Missourinet that broadband coverage is lacking throughout Missouri.

“If we’re going to continue to push forward with Missouri agriculture, we’ve got to be able to provide that not only for that precision agriculture but also for our agritourism,” Haffner says.

Agritourism involves activities that bring visitors to farms or ranches, such as pumpkin patches and berry farms.

Director Arbeiter has testified that while Missouri is making progress on broadband, “there is a long way to go.” Only 55 percent of Missourians have access to a low-cost internet plan, and the state ranks 32nd nationwide for broadband access. That’s an increase of nine slots.

Director Arbeiter says 23 percent of Missouri’s students lack access to high-speed internet, and most of those students live in rural areas.

The broadband issue impacts every region in rural Missouri, including a key member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture: state Department of Agriculture (MDA) director Chris Chinn. Director Chinn is a constituent of House Special Interim Committee on Broadband Development Committee Chairman Rep. Louis Riggs (R-Hannibal).

“She has a hog production facility in the Clarence area. She has been going to McDonald’s in Macon, WiFi hotspot, to download medical records, vet records on sick hogs,” Chairman Riggs told Missourinet in June.

Missouri’s broadband development office was created in 2018 by MDA and by the state Department of Economic Development (DED). The office’s aim is to accelerate deployment of broadband in Missouri.

The office’s creation was a top priority for Missouri Farm Bureau.

Click here to listen to Brian Hauswirth’s four-minute interview with Joint Committee on Agriculture Chairman Rep. Mike Haffner (R-Pleasant Hill), which was recorded on July 2, 2021: