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Minnesota ag groups applaud Gov. Tim Walz's budget proposal

Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and Minnesota Corn Growers Association were pleased with items in Gov. Tim Walz's "One Minnesota Budget" proposal.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz speaks at the MN AG Expo in Mankato, Minnesota, on Jan. 18, 2023.
Noah Fish / Agweek
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MANKATO, Minn. — Included in Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's series of budget proposals, called "One Minnesota Budget," is over $100 million to support farmers to grow their businesses while expanding the state’s biofuels infrastructure, building soil health and supporting new and emerging farmers.

Included in the agriculture portion of the budget proposal is $500,000 in grants to help meat, poultry, egg and milk processors start up, modernize or expand their businesses. To promote locally raised and processed meat and poultry, Walz recommended expanding the Minnesota Grown program, which is designed to promote products that were grown or raised on Minnesota farms. The One Minnesota Budget also continues the Agricultural Growth, Research, and Innovation (AGRI) program which provides financial assistance for activities that advance Minnesota’s agricultural and renewable energy industries. The budget plan proposes additional funds to the AGRI Biofuels Infrastructure Investment Grant program to promote the continued sale and use of higher ethanol blend biofuels and give drivers more affordable options at the gas pump.

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Also in the proposed agriculture budget: $150,000 to hire a meat processing liaison, $4 million to expand the soil health financial assistance program, $4 million to fund investments that improve water quality through the Ag Best Management Revolving Loan Program, $300,000 to hire a climate coordinator, $3 million in funding for biofuels infrastructure so more consumers can access higher blends of biofuels, $1.5 million to replenish the ag emergency account, which is used to to respond to avian and prepare for African swine fever, and $700,000 in grants to Farmers Market hubs for aggregation, staff training and program development.

A week before Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz released his two-year budget proposal, the state's ag groups shared their hopes for it with him. Leaders from both the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and Minnesota Corn Growers Association met with Walz during the annual MN AG Expo in Mankato.

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Bob Worth
Contributed by Minnesota Soybean Growers Association

Bob Worth, who has farmed for more than 50 years on his family farm in southwest Minnesota, is the president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

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"He talked ag, and that's what he needed to do," said Worth of Walz's speech at the expo. "I feel that he wants to do a lot of good things. If he can get the House and the Senate to follow along is going to be tough."

Worth said he's confident that MSGA along with the MCGA have Walz's ear when it comes to ag policy.

"Plus we have Ag Commissioner (Thom) Petersen's ear, and that is the biggest asset that we have," said Worth. "Because he understands ag really well, and he really does have the governor's ear, so we work through him."

Top issues that Worth brought up in the annual meeting with Walz were biodiesel and rural infrastructure, which were things included in Walz's budget proposal released this afternoon.

Presidents of the Minnesota Farm Bureau and Minnesota Farmers Union also had the chance to meet with the governor at the expo to share legislative priorities.

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Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said the Minnesota Ag Expo in Mankato, Minn., is a good opportunity to gauge farmer concerns prior to the state legislature and congressional farm bill action. Photo taken Jan. 24, 2018, Mankato, Minn. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

"I’m glad to see several of those priorities included in the Walz-Flanagan proposed agricultural budget,” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “Farmers are the engines that power rural economic growth and the budget proposed by the Walz-Flanagan team will add fuel to grow the rural economy.”

In a presentation to Minnesota House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee on Jan. 24 , Agriculture Department staff addressed plans to create a grain indemnity fund , which failed in the last session, and to increase a fertilizer inspection fee by 25 cents per ton of fertilizer sold.

Worth said he expected to see an increase for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in the governor's budget proposal.

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"The ag budget is something that's passed real quick, but we'd like to see it increased," he said.

He said the MSGA wants to see more money in the ag budget allotted for the Port of Duluth, which he said is poised to be an important tool for moving soybean products to the United Kingdom and other European countries.

Tom Slunecka is CEO of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.
Tom Slunecka is CEO of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

Tom Slunecka, CEO for the Minnesota Soybean Reseach & Promotion Council, said the Port of Duluth is still a major factor for success for the state and the country.

"It's really the port that won World War II, because of all the iron ore that came out of there," said Slunecka. "But it's been a long time since we've invested in it."

He said the Port of Duluth is a "direct route" to new markets in Europe. Worth said it's more expensive to ship out of the Gulf of Mexico or Pacific Northwest.

"It's a great thing for for farmers," he said of the Port of Duluth. "So that's why we'd like to see the the Minnesota Department of Agriculture get some money to help fund that, and create some new markets."

Slunecka, who has served as CEO for the MSR&PC for the last 10 years, said 2022 was a "very good year" for Minnesota's soybean producers.

"We had some variability in yields across the state, but as it's turning out, our overall production is slightly above last year," said Slunecka. "And of course, our prices are great, so farmers are in a good position. We're excited for 2023."

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Slunecka said he was "very pleased" with Walz's work for the state's ag industry in his time as governor so far.

"Ag is the mainstay here in Minnesota — I mean we have other large industries, but nothing's quite as big as agriculture," he said. "(The Walz administration's) dedication to renewable diesel, biodiesel, ethanol, I think is very, very key for driving the economics of our state, and the fact that we have a fantastic Department of Agriculture."

He said that along with having the support of Walz, the state's biodiesel industry has had support from the two previous governors.

"With biodiesel, we're in a good spot there," he said. "We're B-20 here in Minnesota, the largest mandate anywhere in the United States, and so Minnesota is clearly a leader when it comes to biodiesel."

In September 2019, Walz announced his intent to adopt a pair of California mandates — governing low-emission vehicles and regulating zero-emission vehicles. Slunecka said he disagrees with the decision to act unilaterally and force electric vehicles on the ag sector, which is not equipped for them yet.

"We're a long ways from electric trucks and electric tractors, and we need to keep our foot on the diesel pedal, if you will, to make sure that biodiesel remains profitable so that those producers of that product will continue to be here in our state," said Slunecka.

More comments from ag groups

Gary Wertish, president of Minnesota Farmers Union:
“With the historic budget surplus and the leadership of Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan, I’m hopeful that this could be the strongest ag budget in memory. Throughout his first term, Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen did important work to make sure department programs met the needs of our family farmer members. What we’ve seen of this budget request builds on that work, investing in a distributed meat processing system, helping farmers implement voluntary soil health practices, building out biofuels infrastructure, and supporting new and emerging farmers. We’re also glad to see the Governor propose securing the future of the Agricultural Growth, Research, and Innovation (AGRI) account, which has helped establish Minnesota as a leader in agriculture and is important to our members. We look forward to seeing the rest of the budget next week.”

Minnesota Soybean Growers Association:
“MSGA applauds Governor Walz on his continued leadership on biofuels. This investment in infrastructure ensures biofuels will continue to be at the forefront of the state’s discussion on reducing carbon, which the biodiesel mandate is already doing today.”

Richard Syverson, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association:
“The biofuel infrastructure funding proposed by Governor Walz will help boost access to lower-cost, cleaner-burning E15 and higher-blend biofuels such as E85. Not only do these biofuel blends help Minnesotans save money at the pump; they also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and drive economic vitality for farmers and rural communities. We thank Governor Walz for including this funding in his budget and look forward to working with the governor and the Legislature to advance policies that increase access to biofuels."

( Jeff Beach contributed to this report.)

Related Topics: MINNESOTAAGRICULTUREPOLICY
Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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