Minnesota regulations lead dairy producer to relocate, expand in Colorado

It’s well known that Minnesota ranks as one of the most punitive places in the nation to own and operate a business. Recent ratings confirm Minnesota’s standing as one of the top taxed states for employers, even as DFL lawmakers scheme to further jack up taxes and regulations in the legislative session underway in St. Paul.

As American Experiment economist John Phelan pointed out in his new report on the state budget, the trend among other states is to cut corporate tax rates, including some of our neighbors and direct competitors.

As of January 1st, 2021, Minnesota’s top rate of corporate income tax [9.80%] is lower than only New Jersey’s and Pennsylvania’s. We have risen to joint third in the rankings before enacting Gov. Walz’ proposed hike. Minnesota’s ranking has risen because Iowa’s has fallen, thanks to a cut in their top rate from 12.00% to 9.80% – why did they pick that rate, I wonder?

When business owners and companies reach the breaking point, they generally keep a low profile, doing what they have to do under the radar of the media. But a southeastern Minnesota dairy producer’s openness with the Rochester Post Bulletin on why he had little choice but to move his operation out of Minnesota in order to prosper reveals much about the state’s toxic business climate in the agricultural sector.

With a big portion of his herd packed into livestock trailers, Parker Byington said goodbye to Winona County Thursday, looking forward to what he hopes are more welcoming pastures in Colorado.

Byington, who until recently milked 660 head of cattle at his farm south of Lewiston on Interstate 90 and Wabasha County Road 14, loaded 245 cows onto eight trailers and hauled the animals to their new home out west.

“We are moving west to further our career in dairy there,” Byington said. “With the current regulations (in Winona County), we’re not able to grow anymore.”

The one-two punch of Winona County’s limits on the size of dairy herds combined with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency regulations made it economically unfeasible for the farmer to expand. But not so in his new home state.

In Colorado, he said, his farm will be classified as a family farm and he will only need to meet the federal CAFO — concentrated animal feeding operation — guidelines instead of additional state and county regulations.

In Minnesota, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is one of the permitting authorities for any feedlot of 1,000 or more animal units. For Byington and other animal agriculture farmers in Winona County, that means once the MPCA is involved, feedlots can only go up another 500 animal units from that point.

It’s a lose-lose outcome for the county and state economically and environmentally, according to Winona County Commissioner Steve Jacob.

According to the most recent Comprehensive Review of Iowa’s Dairy Industry, each dairy cow is worth about $25,000 in economic activity, meaning those 245 cows represent a loss of roughly $6.1 million to the county’s economy.

“This hurts all the taxpayers,” Jacob said. “Those economic drivers of our local economy are leaving us, literally, today. The rest of us need to pay more taxes to make up for the revenue stream.”

Jacob cited the Byington’s farm as a well-run, environmentally sustainable operation, adding that larger dairies have the financial capital needed to implement the kinds of environmental safeguards the county needs.

“They’re the answer to protecting the environment,” Jacob said. “The solution is to do things right in our community, and these are the kinds of people we should be supporting.”

It’s too late to convince Parker Byington to reconsider his decision. But there’s still time to prevent Gov. Tim Walz and DFL lawmakers from making Minnesota even less attractive to job creators before the end of the current legislative session.