Agriculture funding bills headed to conference committee

A bill funding the state’s agriculture department and related programs is on its way to conference committee following a vote today on the House floor.

The House passed the bill, HF2278, on a 70-58 vote. On April 13, the Senate passed its version of the agriculture funding billSF1955, on a bipartisan 58-7 vote.

“There are differences in these budgets, but it’s clear that legislators were listening to farmers when they drafted these bills,” said Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) President Gary Wertish. “At our November convention, our members said lawmakers should focus on expanding local and regional meat processing, helping new and emerging farmers, expanding their investment in soil health, funding biofuels infrastructure, funding cooperative development grants and funding programs to shorten supply chains, help farmers develop new markets and respond to challenges like emerging animal diseases.”

MFU is particularly pleased to see language to establish a grain indemnity fund in both the Senate and House versions of the bill.

“We’ve been calling for the state to establish a grain indemnity fund since the Porter elevator went under in 2015 and we’re going to continue working to get this protection passed into law as the 2023 session enters its final weeks,” Wertish said. “Too many farm families have been hurt by elevator failures to not enact this safety net. We feel strongly about this issue, because our members and others who market grain are among the least protected in the nation. Thank you to Sen. Rob Kupec, DFL-Moorhead, and Rep. Ethan Cha, DFL-Woodbury, for leading this important legislation.”

In the conference committee, legislators from both chambers will work to resolve differences in the ag funding bills. After the conference committee negotiates a compromise agricultural funding bill, it will go back to both the House and Senate. If approved by members of both chambers, it will go to the governor’s desk for his signature.

As the Legislature enters its final month, MFU continues to work on its priorities, including:

Making health care affordable and accessible, including expanding MinnesotaCare through a public ‘buy-in’ option that will improve choices in rural Minnesota and lower costs through competition. A provision to establish a public option and increase oversight of hospital mergers passed in the omnibus health and human services appropriations bill, SF2995, authored by Sen. Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington. The bill passed Wednesday on a 35-32 vote. MFU has also been working to establish a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) to rein in prescription drug costs.

Limiting corporate control and ensuring competitive markets by defending Minnesota’s Corporate Farm Law, strengthening capacity at the state Attorney General’s office to bring cases against companies who use their power to abuse farmers, consumers and workers, and passing Right to Repair. The state government budget bill, HF1830, that passed the House Tuesday on a 70-59 vote, contains funding for new antitrust attorneys and one-time funding to establish a multistate litigation fund. Rep. Ginny Klevorn, DFL-Plymouth, is the bill’s chief author.

Expanding local and regional processing. Bills providing scholarships to the meat processing training programs at Central Lakes and Ridgewater colleges, funding incentives for employee retention, establishing a meat processing navigator position at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and expanding support for processors seeking to startup or expand their business were included in the agriculture omnibus bills passed by both the House and Senate.

Creating climate resilience. Agriculture committee chairs Sen. Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud, and Rep. Samantha Vang, DFL-Brooklyn Center, prioritized funding to promote soil health, promote alternative crop research at land-grant universities and establish a climate coordinator position to bring more federal conservation dollars to Minnesota.

The 2023 Minnesota legislative session began Jan. 3 and must end by May 22.