ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota Legislature finally passes drought relief, other ag spending

The 2021 drought was most intense in northern Minnesota but producers in all but four Minnesota counties will be eligible for state aid.

Walz 6941.jpg
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, right, with dairy farmer Michael Roers, views corn stressed by the drought during a 2021 visit to Douglas County.
Alexandria Echo Press file photo
We are part of The Trust Project.

ST. PAUL — In the waning hours of the 2022 session of the Minnesota Legislature, lawmakers combined two key bills: A drought relief package and an agriculture spending bill to take advantage of the state’s huge budget surplus.

The combined bill was passed over the last weekend of the legislative session before the May 23 deadline, addressing both the 2021 drought and the avian flu pandemic.

The combined bill includes:

  • $8.1 million in grants for livestock and specialty crop producers.
  • $2.5 million for the Rural Finance Authority ’s disaster loan revolving loan account.
  • $1.5 million to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Fund.
  • $1 million to the University of Minnesota for its Veterinary Diagnostic Lab , in part to respond to the avian flu pandemic. 

The combined bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Tim Walz. Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said details on how to apply for grants will become available in the next couple of weeks.
Grants will be available to farmers or producers in counties designated as a primary natural disaster area from July 19, 2021, to Jan. 1, 2022, or in a contiguous county.

The 2021 drought was most intense in northern Minnesota but with contiguous counties being included, producers in all but four Minnesota counties will be eligible.

ADVERTISEMENT

Assistance would be available up to $7,500 per farmer. Petersen encourages producers to have ready receipts for expenses such as feed costs and well and water-related expenses.

“Things that were drought-related is what producers should be thinking about,” Petersen said Tuesday, May 24.

In addition to emergency response, the bill provided additional funding to the Agriculture Department, tapping into Minnesota’s $9.25 billion budget surplus.

The bill includes:

  • Meat processing: $1.5 million in total, including more than $750,000 for grants for processors and $350,000 for meat processing grants in high schools.
  • Soil health: $500,000 for voluntary programs.
  • New farmers: $3.08 million to help new and emerging farmers, including $2 million for a new down payment assistance program.
  • Perennial crops: $1.26 million for research and supply chain development.
  • Ag Innovation Campus: $750,000 for the Crookston Ag Innovation Campus through the state’s Agricultural Utilization Research Institute.
  • Broadband: $210 million for broadband expansion, with the bulk of  the money coming from federal funds, to improve internet access across the state. There will be $25 million in state money going into the Border-to-Border Broadband Fund in 2023 and another $25 million in 2024.

A point of contention in the drought relief funding was money for the Department of Natural Resources for tree planting and other measures to combat drought conditions long term. 
The bill ultimately provided $5 million for tree planting and $300,000 for well remediation to the DNR.

House and Senate versions of supplemental agriculture budget and drought aid had been far apart on dollar amounts. Drought aid had been proposed last fall but negotiations dragged with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats controlling the House of Representatives.

The House was in favor of higher spending amounts; the Senate was much lower.

“We’ve got a very strong, solid bill for the state of Minnesota on all the fronts for farmers, for agriculture, for rural broadband and the connectivity that’s become so important in our lives,” Sen. Torrey Westrom, a Republican from Elbow Lake, said Saturday, May 21, as the conference committee approved the compromise bill.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Had we had more money, it would have been a little better bill,” Rep. Mike Sundin, a Democrat from Esko, said.

Legislators did provide more money to respond to high pathogenic avian influenza, with the state having recorded 80 cases so far in 2022 and possible return in the fall bird migration. African swine flu also remains a concern for the hog industry.

“I think it’s a good idea for legislators to boost that account right now while the state has dollars,” Petersen said.

The Minnesota Legislature failed to compromise on a tax package that included a number of items of interest to farmers, such as removing a sales tax on fencing materials and raising the agricultural homestead valuation limit. A special session may be called to deal with that and other issues.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
What to read next
Aric Putnam was elected to his second term in the Minnesota Senate in the November general election, which saw the Democratic Farmer and Labor Party flip enough Senate seats from red to blue that the party now controls both houses of the Legislature and saw Gov. Tim Walz win a second term. Putnam will chair the Senate Agriculture Committee
Feedback can be provided by joining one of four virtual input sessions or through an online form available until Dec. 12, 2022.