In an effort to empower more rural Missouri farmers, the Department of Agriculture is prepared to eliminate more than 1,200 rules and regulations restricting the agriculture industry in Missouri.
As part of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s “Lunch with a Leader” series on Thursday afternoon, Chris Chinn, the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, told members of the chamber the department was moving forward with a plan to reduce regulation of agriculture by 25 percent.
She said last year the department engaged in a full-scale review of all existing rules and regulations to evaluate each one against new modern standards of agriculture. Her goal is to reduce regulations that are outdated or hinder Missouri farmers and consumers.
“Reach more, feed more, connect more, empower more,” Chinn said were the four pillars for the department’s work in Missouri. Chinn said that in Missouri, one in five children are considered “food insecure” and this number even rises to one in three children in rural areas.
As part of the drive to “feed more,” Chinn said the elimination of these regulations should empower and enable local farmers.
“We want to make sure every family can afford food,” Chinn said. “It’s important for all of us to make sure families can feed their children. ... We’re doing everything we can to protect our farmers and ranchers, and the consumers as well.”
Expanding rural broadband
Chinn also said the department will be pushing to increase the accessibility of high-speed broadband internet in Missouri as part of their “connect more” pillar. According to Chinn, more than 60 percent of Missouri doesn’t have access to high-speed internet despite the existence of fiber-optic cables already in place.
In an effort to increase the accessibility of high-speed internet, the Missouri Department of Agriculture aims to create a map of the existing fiber-optic cables to more efficiently reach rural Missouri with broadband internet.
Chinn said mapping the internet cables is a million-dollar project, and the department is hoping to receive federal assistance as part of a proposed $600 million federal allocation for expanding broadband internet in the United States.
More than just increasing the connection between farmers and consumers, Chinn said accessible high-speed internet also could be a significant incentive for bringing college graduates back to their rural hometowns.
By encouraging graduates to return, Chinn said she believes their contributions to local communities can make a difference in rural Missouri.
Legalizing hemp production
Many members of the Chamber of Commerce wanted to know how the department would be handling a relatively new piece of legislation that would make it legal for farmers in Missouri to grow hemp with a permit from the department.
Hemp is a close relative of the marijuana plant but contains very little to no THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. Unlike marijuana, hemp has many industrial uses and can be made into paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics and other products.
Members of the Chamber of Commerce wanted to know how the new legal hemp industry would impact the agriculture economy in Missouri.
Chinn said that the new legislation would be a major undertaking for the department and that there is not enough economic research or data to be sure of the impact on the economy. However, Chinn said the department has been in contact with states such as Colorado and Kentucky, who have been successfully managing legal hemp industries in the last year or more.
“All we can do is go off of what we know from other states, but we must keep in mind that Missouri is a different landscape,” Chinn said.