Farmers Union president testifies on need for drought relief

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) President Gary Wertish today testified before theMinnesota House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee.

In written remarks submitted before the hearing, Wertish thanked committee chairman, Rep. Mike Sundin, DFL-Esko, for holding the hearing to discuss the drought and its impact on family farmers, agriculture and the food supply.

“This summer, nearly 80 percent of Minnesota faced severe drought conditions that stunted the growth of conventional and specialty crops, dried up water sources for livestock and deteriorated pasture used for haying and grazing,” Wertish wrote. “Traveling for MFU county conventions this fall, I heard firsthand the toll this has taken on not only farm operations and livestock, but also farmers and their families. MFU members who raise livestock or milk cows were forced to sell off breeding stock at a loss, simply because they could not find feed. And many small fruit and vegetable growers are struggling to plan ahead after losing much of this year’s crop to the heat.”

Also in the letter, MFU expressed strong support for Gov. Walz’s plan to provide ‘Rapid Response Grants’ to affected producers and to increase funding for the Rural Finance Authority’s Disaster Recovery Loan Program. The governor proposed the plan last week ahead of an expected special session.

Wertish also asked for support to expand eligibility for RFA loans, leverage food dollars to purchase culled livestock and help small specialty crop and livestock farmers purchase insurance.

In testimony before the committee, Wertish cited the recently announced Micro Farm insurance option designed to better serve specialty and organic crop growers and asked the state to consider subsiding premiums as it did with the Dairy Margin Coverage program, a risk management tool for dairy farmers.

“We support investing the limited funds in ways that will keep the most farmers on the land,” Wertish said. “The state’s financial support won’t entirely compensate farmers for their lost income, but it will make the difference for some farmers teetering on the edge of selling out or trying again next year.”