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Agriculture conference committee to take up MFU priorities in omnibus bill debate

ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Legislature’s agriculture budget bills have taken the next step to passage.

 

With the full House and Senate passing their respective bills, each chamber announced conferees to hammer out the final version. The conferees are:

 

  • Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) Co-Chair
  • Sen. Gene Dornink (R-Hayfield)
  • Sen. Mike Goggin (R-Red Wing)
  • Sen. Bruce Anderson (R-Buffalo Township)
  • Sen. Erin Murphy (DFL-Saint Paul)
  • Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko) Co-Chair
  • Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center)
  • Rep. Gene Pelowski (DFL-Winona)
  • Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield)
  • Rep. Nathan Nelson (R-Hinckley)

 

“The conference committees are up against the challenge of crafting a budget in a divided government, but I’m hopeful that the agriculture conferees will find plenty to agree on,” Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) President Gary Wertish said. “Agriculture traditionally has bipartisan support and is the backbone of our state’s economy, despite taking up a relatively small portion of the state budget.

 

“On behalf of our members, I’d like to congratulate Chairs Sundin and Westrom on their leadership of the committee and thank each of the conferees for serving. We encourage them to find common ground across partisan divides and support family farm priorities in their work.”

 

Both the House and Senate versions of the agriculture omnibus address MFU priorities, including:

 

  • Expanding small and mid-sized meat and poultry processing to address the bottleneck experienced by producers across the state. Both bills invest in expanding the state’s inspection program and investing more in helping processors start new plants or expand their capacity.
  • Funding biofuels infrastructure through a grant program to fuel retailers, which will expand the use of higher-octane, cleaner-burning biofuels.
  • Investing in farm and rural mental health to ensure that farmers facing stress and crisis have help when they need it most.

 

In the Senate bill, authored by Chair Westrom, MFU is glad to see investments in:

 

  • Developing a meat processing technical training program at the Minnesota State College System which incorporates slaughter through a mobile unit. This will help serve local producers, address workforce needs experienced by processors, and train new entrepreneurs to take over existing plants.

 

In the House bill, authored by Chair Sundin, MFU strongly supports:

 

  • Reauthorizing Farmer-Lender Mediation and extending the timeline for mediations, providing important relief for farmers who are facing financial crisis and are—at times—at risk of losing their home and farm.
  • Supporting the voluntary adoption climate-smart practices that promote soil health and provide other ecosystem services.
  • Funding the Emerging Farmers Working Group and an additional outreach position, which will both improve MDA’s outreach to and service of Black, Indigenous, people of color and immigrant farmers.
  • Reauthorizing Cooperative Development Grants to help farmers add value to their products and build new, more resilient models in the wake of COVID-19.
  • Assisting in land access and transition to help the next generation of farmers get on the land and build a life in agriculture.
  • Expanding the farm advocate program by increasing funding by $20,000 per year, allowing MDA to contract an additional farm advocate, providing needed capacity to the program.

 

The Legislature adjourns on midnight on May 17. A state budget needs to be approved by June 30 to avoid a government shutdown.


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