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Dairy cattle belonging to Elam Troyer, of McIntosh, Minn., rest while producing milk in a barn near McIntosh on April 11, 2016. (Nick Nelson/Agweek)

Minnesota dairy farmers seek conservation payments

Milk prices are poor, and Minnesota dairy farmers are struggling. The Minnesota Milk Producers Association hopes to strengthen their financial situation through a proposed state program that would make payments to dairy farmers who have implemented sound conservation practices.

"Bluntly, we're trying to help dairy farmers through a really hard time and we think this is a way of doing it," said Lucas Sjostrom, the association's executive director.

The proposal, still winding its way through the state Legislature, is short on specifics at this point. It's unclear how much money might be allocated or what criteria would be used to establish the size of the grant.

But the proposal, as currently written, would direct the state agriculture commissioner to award a grant to each dairy producer who has achieved "a minimum level of conservation stewardship as determined by the commissioner."

The commissioner also would be directed to award an additional grant to dairy farmers who, in addition to meeting the criteria for the initial grant, have "achieved a higher level of conservation stewardship as determined by the commissioner."

The program would expire June 30, 2021, and cover fiscal years 2020 and 2021.

"We see this as a one-time program," Sjostrom said.

His association plans to continue to promote the proposal and win further support among state elected officials.

The proposal's final form, and ultimate fate, probably won't be known until May, he said.

Minnesota is a major dairy state. It has 3,470 farms and 460,000 cattle, and ranks sixth nationally in the number of dairy cows and eighth in milk production, according to information from the state ag department.

A long stretch of poor milk prices have hurt dairy producers nationwide. In the past year alone, 10 percent of Minnesota dairies have gone out of business, according to some estimates.

More information on the conservation grant proposal: