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More money for avian flu likely in Minnesota drought aid bill

During a break in the Minnesota Legislative session, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said he had hoped to have a drought relief package passed before the break. Gov. Tim Walz first proposed a drought relief package last fall, primarily to help the livestock and specialty crop sectors but still no checks have been issued.

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The Minnesota State Capitol
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ST. PAUL — More money to combat avian influenza — which is running rampant through Minnesota’s poultry industry — will likely be included in a drought disaster aid package that is getting closer to reality.

“So, $650 million loss in 2015, this year is looking to be even worse,” Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said of the impact on the state's poultry industry. Petersen spoke with Agweek while the Minnesota Legislature was on its weeklong break before returning to session Monday, April 18.

“The drought bill will likely have some more money attached to it for avian influenza relief,” Petersen said.

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Thom Petersen

Petersen said he had hoped to have a drought relief package passed before the break but said it has been difficult to get much done this session. Gov. Tim Walz first proposed a drought relief package last fall, primarily to help the livestock and specialty crop sectors but still no checks have been issued.

The L egislature did pass a $1 million in emergency money for highly pathogenic avian influenza before the break. And the Senate drought relief bill does include money for the Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic lab at the University of Minnesota.

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A hangup on drought relief is $13.3 million for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for tree replanting and other projects that is in the House version of the bill but not the Senate version. Both versions have $10 million for agriculture, but there are some differences to be worked out in conference committee.

Amber Hanson Glaeser, director of public policy for Minnesota Farm Bureau, would like to see the DNR funds in a separate bill.

“If that’s the controversial piece, let’s take that out and get the ag pieces out the door,” Glaeser told Agweek.

The conference committee should get to work on the bill shortly after the session resumes. Named to the conference committee were, from the House, Democrats Mike Sundin, Samantha Vang, and Rob Ecklund, and Republican Paul Anderson; from the Senate, Republicans Torrey Westrom, Bill Weber, Andrew Lang, and Gary Dahms, and Democrat Kent Eken.

Ag Department budget

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s operating budget is already set, but the Minnesota House and Senate are far apart on bills that would help the state spend some extra money it has in 2022. 

“Everything we’re doing now is things we’re trying to address with the $9 billion surplus,” Petersen said.

His department made a budget request of $50 million. The House bill is now at $60 million and the Senate bill is at $5 million.

The House bill should soon be in front of the Ways and Means Committee soon after legislators return, and the Senate bill is ready to go to the floor.

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Petersen said the bills could be in front of a conference committee by the end of the month, with a spending target set by Gov. Tim Walz and party leadership.

“I think once we get a target we can zero in on some of our priorities,” Petersen said.

Petersen said some of the priorities are the same, but the amount of funding varies greatly.

“Local meat processing is a top priority for everybody,” Petersen said. The House bill includes $4 million for that initiative alone, which includes money for items such as training, grants and inspections.

“I think COVID has taught us a lot of lessons on the importance of the supply chain, especially that meat processing arena,” Glaeser said.

Other areas with funding in both bills are voluntary soil health programs, funding for the ag innovation campus at the University of Minnesota Crookston and the Forever Green program through U of M.

Taxes

On the tax front, there is a proposal to expand beginning farmer tax credit, including money for the Ag Department to administer the program.

“They weren’t giving any staff budget when that nation-leading program was founded in 2019,” Stu Lourey, government relations director with Minnesota Farmers Union, said.

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Glaeser pointed to a provision that covers the sale of farm assets to family members, improving portability in the Minnesota estate tax law.

There’s also a push to repeal taxing on fencing equipment.

“We think this speaks to the mandate of the drought, and can help folks implement grazing plans and invest in more intentional grazing,” Lourey said.

There also is a plan to increase the Ag2School Tax Credit to 85%, which reduces the property tax burden for farmers and has helped more rural school districts pass bond referendums.

Other items:

Biofuel infrastructure: The Liquid Fuel Modernization Act is intended to help fuel retailers install equipment that would work with higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel. The money would come from a new 1.3-cent-per-gallon fee on petroleum products. The tax would raise enough money to reimburse retailers $52 million annually to upgrade underground storage tanks.

Research: Included in the University of Minnesota budget is $40 million for the FAARM project, or Future of Advanced Agricultural Research in Minnesota, in Mower County.

Weather: The are bills to address planning for extreme weather events and improving weather resiliency.

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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