The 2021 Minnesota Legislative session ushered in several priorities that Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) advocated including funding to expand small and mid-scale meat and poultry processing, building out biofuels infrastructure and investing $70 million in broadband internet.
“These investments are critical as we recover from the pandemic,” said MFU president Gary Wertish. “COVID-19 shined a light on areas where we need to improve, including internet access, mental health access and access to small meat processors. The state funding for these and other Minnesota Farmers Union priorities will strengthen rural communities.”
MFU priorities funded this session include:
- Funding to expand small and mid-scale meat and poultry processing, including:
- $750,000 to start or expand meat and poultry processing plants,
- $110,000 to hire additional inspection staff,
- $150,000 to hire a dedicated meat scientist, and
- Funding for a new meat processing technical training program that includes a mobile slaughter unit.
- $6,000,000 to build out biofuels infrastructure at small fuel retailers.
- $150,000 to establish an Emerging Farmer Office and fund translation of agriculture department materials.
- $150,000 for land access and transition.
- $50,000 to strengthen Minnesota’s industrial hemp program.
- $50,000 for farm and rural mental health.
- $450,000 for the Noxious Weed Program.
- $800,000 to support Farm to School and Early Care initiatives.
Legislators invested $70 million in the Border-to-Border Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program. The funding will be split evenly over the next two years. The money will come from the American Rescue Plan’s Capital Projects Fund and the Office of Broadband Development at the Department of Employment and Economic Development must apply to receive the funds from the federal government.
“Broadband infrastructure is critical to people who live in rural areas,” Wertish said. “Whether it’s farmers using GPS and other precision technology in their operations, attracting customers to your on-farm store, attending online school or accessing your doctor through a virtual appointment, all Minnesotans need access to high-quality, reliable internet service.”
The Minnesota Legislature also reauthorized the Farmer-Lender Mediation program. Minnesota Farmers Union is a strong supporter of this program, which last year worked with more than 29,000 people. The Farmer-Lender Mediation program brings debtors and creditors together with a trained mediator to reach agreement and move forward.
“Minnesota’s Farmer-Lender Mediation program helps family farmers who are in crisis keep farming,” Wertish said. “The long-term success of that program is central to the health of our rural communities. We’re glad Minnesota will continue to lead in helping farmers and lenders meet a mutually agreeable solution to manage agricultural debt.”
Other issues relevant to agriculture this session include:
- $583,000 for the University of Minnesota to generate small-scale weather models that farmers can use to better plan crop rotations, tiling, livestock genetics and other investments that will make them more resilient to the effects of climate change.
- $6 million for the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program.
- $4 million to continue a Board of Water and Soil Resources Program to encourage the adoption of cover crops and other soil health practices.
- $4 million for the University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative.
- Funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
- Creation of a special agricultural license plate to support agricultural education.