Bills would define horses as livestock
ST. PAUL - Horse owners want to be included in Minnesota's agriculture industry.
In many cases, horses are not considered livestock, something some Minnesota lawmakers and horse owners are trying to change.
Bills making their way through the Legislature are designed to provide a "clear and decisive definition of horses as livestock," horse farmer David Dayon of St. Michael said. The change could give farmers who raise horses for a living tax breaks, while not giving the same advantages to people who raise a few horses for recreation.
Horsemen fear that they could lose federal and state government aid if horses are considered pets.
About a half-dozen state laws and rules already define horses as livestock, but they are not defined that way for many agricultural programs.
Not everyone is on board with the horses-as-livestock movement.
The bills as drafted will be hard to pass, Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said.
Declaring a property agricultural can significantly cut some tax rates, said Skoe, chairman of the Senate property tax committee.
That has its drawbacks, he said. "When one person gets a tax break, the community has to pay more to make up for it."
John Hagen of the state Revenue Department said that an agricultural property "must have at least 10 acres used for the production of an agricultural product for sale."
"Horses that are raised for recreational purposes do not fit this criteria," he said.
Still, horse producers should be considered agricultural under certain conditions, Skoe said. "If the use of the land is in conjunction with other agricultural production, this would mean that if you are boarding horses and producing food for the horses you would be considered agricultural."
"The controversy comes when someone has a horse barn out back with one horse for someone to ride," Skoe said. "It's not agricultural, it's boarding a pet."
Another controversy is whether the bills would allow slaughtering of horses for meat.
Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, the House bill's sponsor, said he did not intend the bill to do that.
However, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, said that should not be avoided.
"Every other species of livestock that we have is used for meat, hides or byproducts," Drazkowski said.
He supports the bill's overall concept.
"It provides legitimacy to horses as a livestock species," he said.
Tracy Turner, chairman of the Minnesota Horse Council, said: "I cannot see a down side to this."
He said that among the benefits horse producers would see with the change include the availability of federal funds for research as well as being eligible to receive disaster funds.
"Horses as livestock will allow horses to be continued to be raised," Turner said. "Otherwise, you will see only the rich having horses and the boarding stables will begin to disappear because they cannot afford the taxes."
Karrah Anderson is a University of Minnesota journalism student who writes for the Forum Communica-tions Minnesota Capitol Bureau. Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.