ST PAUL ― Several agricultural items were on the bill when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced his budget proposals on Jan. 26. Subjects for the funding requests included meat processing grants, rural mental health, climate initiatives and more.
"We're excited that the governor does have an overall increase in the budget in a time where we do have a deficit," said Thom Petersen, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. "The governor really felt strongly that agriculture wasn't a place to cut right now, and that we needed to invest until Minnesota comes out of a COVID."
One of the top priority items on the list of budget proposals for agriculture was $1 million for meat processing grants, plus $220,000 to expand access to meat inspection, said Petersen.
"That would boost our already value-added grants that we have through our (Agricultural Growth, Research, and Innovation) account, for the need that we had really even before COVID," he said. "Trying to build out some of our plants and create more capacity within Minnesota, at really all levels, because there's a tremendous need and interest there."
Petersen said another key investment in the budget proposals were $2 million in each year of the biennium for grants for biofuel infrastructure, to help Minnesota more quickly adapt to using E15.
"Minnesota is already a leader in (E15), but we really feel strongly that it's a tremendous opportunity on many fronts," Petersen said.
In Walz's proposal there was also $100,000 for Minnesota to boost its trade opportunities in Washington, D.C.
"With the country and the world starting to open up in the next year, that in-person contact and trade visits are going to be vitally important," Petersen said. "And Minnesota will be competing against other states and countries."
Petersen said the funding would allow the state the opportunity to establish an office in Southeast Asia as well.
On the list of ag-related budget proposals there was $500,000 marked for the Climate Smart Farms Project, which Petersen said is a pilot-scale initiative the state is interested in starting to keep it at the forefront of green practices.
"We are really starting to look at a bridge for paying farmers for storing carbon, whether it's through soil health practices or other means," Petersen said.
The state's Water Quality Certification program, which recently certified its 1,000th farm, has been one way the MDA is going about its goal to become more environmentally friendly.
"We're really starting to see some benefits in that and looking at this whole idea of how do we pay farmers for storing carbon in the soil," he said. "And I think that in Minnesota, we want to be ahead of that game and be engaging on that on several fronts, whether it's carbon trading or carbon credits."
Petersen said the MDA was "pleased to see an increase in investment in agriculture on some key areas" with the budget proposals, but they are a long way from becoming confirmed.
"The budget negotiations are a long haul, and we'll be finalizing this probably the second week in May," he said.