ST. PAUL, Minnesota — The proposed $10 million drought relief package in Minnesota would include grants for livestock producers similar to the Rapid Response Grants for Livestock Processors during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture officials provided more detailed information Tuesday, Oct. 12, during a meeting of the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee.

The presentation also suggested a special legislative session to enact the drought relief.

“Waiting until the 2022 regular session to pass funding will force more farmers to make more difficult decisions,” read the final slide in the presentation.

“I think it is really important that we focus on all the farmers that we can keep and help get into the next season,” Agriculture Commission Thom Petersen said.

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Gov. Tim Walz last month announced the $10 million drought relief package, but with few details.

The drought relief proposal includes $5 million in rapid response grants and $5 million for the Rural Finance Authority’s Disaster Recovery Loan Program.

The drought relief is primarily intended for livestock producers who saw pastures wither during the record-setting drought and producers of specialty crops, such as fruits and vegetables, where federal crop insurance is not currently available.

"Crop farmers have a good strong safety net," with crop insurance, Petersen said, but livestock and specialty producers, less so.

The noncompetitive grants would be given on a first-come first-served basis for livestock and specialty crop producers with a maximum grant award of $5,000 or $10,000. Producers could potentially qualify for both grant programs.

Both groups would be eligible to recoup some costs of water handling, such as water tanks, pipelines, water hauling, wells and irrigation equipment.

For livestock producers, feed related items such as cover crop, pasture and forage seed, and feed storage and transportation could be covered, as well as fencing, livestock transportation and equipment rental.

Specialty crop grants could also cover the cost of seed and transplants and mulch and straw.

“We're open to suggestions on it and adding, but we wanted to get that framework out there,” Petersen said.

Another part of the plan would take advantage of the state’s Rural Finance Authority’s loan fund.

The Rural Finance Authority has gotten about 40 inquiries since the board opened up the Disaster Recovery Loan Program to drought relief.

The fund currently has about $3 million available and the Ag Department is asking for another $5 million.

Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, asked if the fund would run out of money before the legislative session starts next year.

Petersen answered that there may be enough to make it to the first part of the session but that the department could be asking for an appropriation mid-session.

Those loans are also open to crop producers and a few larger loans would mean the fund “could go very quickly,” he said.

A couple of ideas Petersen said were not included in the plan were direct payments to producers and the state purchasing hay and feed. Petersen said direct payments may affect a producer's eligibility for federal relief programs and the state did not want to affect prices in the feed market.