Senate, House pass ag funding bill, sending it to governor

The House and Senate passed the omnibus agriculture bill today, which Gov. Tim Walz has indicated he will sign. The bill (SF1955) passed the Senate on a 49-16 vote and the House on a 85-44 vote.

“Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) is proud to support this agriculture policy and finance bill,” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “This bill invests in the foundation of Minnesota’s economy – family farm agriculture – while looking to the future with its support of beginning and emerging farmers. It establishes a grain indemnity fund, which MFU has worked on since the Porter elevator failure in 2015, and it expands investments in meat processing, a priority of MFU members since the pandemic laid bare the inadequacies in our food supply chain. The bill also invests in climate resilience through a Soil Health Financial Assistance Program and biofuels infrastructure funding. We appreciate all the legislators who worked hard to craft this significant legislation and offer a special thanks to agriculture committee leaders Sen. Aric Putnam and Rep. Samantha Vang for their work in guiding this package across the finish line.”

Here are a few of the bill’s provisions that MFU’s grassroots membership prioritized.

Establishment of a grain indemnity fund. MFU members Martin and Lisa Phillips testified in support of a grain indemnity fund after being impacted by the bankruptcy filings of Pipeline Foods and Global Processing. They are likely to recoup only .9 percent to 1.1 percent of their losses from the Pipeline failure.

“This has wiped out many past profitable years of income and put this small farm’s life in jeopardy,” the couple wrote in testimony to the Senate agriculture committee. “We are advocating for an indemnity fund that will better protect the small farmers of this state.”

Continued support for small and mid-sized meat processors. MFU members supported funding the AGRI value-added program for meat and poultry processing, establishing a meat processing navigator position at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and funding grants for worker training, recruitment and retention.

“As a farmer and a Farmers Union Executive Committee member, I hear a lot from farmers who are facing a shortage of livestock processing. Some have had to wait more than a year to get a slot to get their livestock processed and others have to travel long distances,” said Josh VanDerPol, who farms in Chippewa County. “As a mid-sized livestock farm supporting three generations, we rely upon small meat processors to process our livestock for direct marketing to consumers. Ensuring that plant infrastructure is up to date is important for our business and the next generation of our family who are transitioning into the business.”

Helping to support farmers who are on the front lines of a changing climate, experiencing extreme weather and unpredictable growing seasons. MFU Vice President Anne Schwagerl testified in support of MDA’s Soil Health Financial Assistance program and the Forever Green program.

“This program is exciting for me because we want to continue to do more soil health work on our farm, however the cost of specialized equipment to implement more soil-friendly practices is more than we can afford,” Schwagerl said. “Long-term, we think we can implement soil-friendly practices and make them financially viable, but a state program to help us with that initial cost of adoption would be beneficial.”

Support for beginning and emerging farmers. The bill contains money to expand MDA’s Emerging Farmers office, continue the Down Payment Assistance program and expand Farm Business Management scholarships.

“It’s challenging to start a farm, especially for farmers of color,” said Jane Windsperger, who farms in Kanabec County. “Establishing an Emerging Farmers office gives all farmers a place to be trained in different skills and educated on how to grow different plants, specifically cultural vegetables. The Emerging Farmers office needs more staff so they can better help emerging farmers and identify the challenges we have.”

For a more detailed list of new biannual funding approved as part of this final budget agreement, go to the MFU website.

The legislature’s constitutional adjournment deadline is May 22.