Many MFU priorities passed in 2023 legislative session

Several priorities of Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) members were included in bills passed during the final days of the 2023 legislative session, including a public option that will allow farmers to buy into MinnesotaCare starting in 2027, an extension and expansion of the state’s Beginning Farmer Tax Credit and investments to help Minnesota farmers reduce their carbon emissions and increase climate resilience on their farms.

“The 2023 legislative session has been a momentous session,” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “Not only did legislators pass a grain indemnity fund to protect farmers in the event of a grain elevator failure, but they also acted to allow family farmers to better afford health care insurance through the public option buy in for MinnesotaCare. The increase in the ag homestead property tax limit will help farmers who are dealing with rising land values and decreasing commodity prices; and the investments in climate resilience are essential in the wake of the back-to-back weather disasters Minnesota has experienced over the past few years.”

Here’s a look at some of the provisions MFU’s grassroots members prioritized in bills passed in the final days of the session.

The health and human services bill (SF2995) that passed Monday includes a MinnesotaCare buy-in option long sought by members of Minnesota Farmers Union. The public option allows farmers and others to buy into comprehensive health insurance coverage provided to lower-income Minnesotans through MinnesotaCare. The bill directs the commerce commissioner to submit a federal waiver application and implement a public option by Jan. 1, 2027.

“Passage of this language marks historic progress for the MinnesotaCare buy-in public option,” said Cindy VanDerPol, an MFU member who farms with her family in Chippewa County. “Health insurance is expensive, but essential. Thankfully, we were able to qualify for MinnesotaCare before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Without the coverage, I don’t know how we would have paid for the medical care I needed. As Minnesota continues to work toward unveiling the public option in 2027, I will continue telling my story because health care is vital to all.”

The bill also includes the establishment of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board and increased oversight of large hospital mergers.

“Our state needs more providers, especially in Greater Minnesota and rural communities,” said Dana Seifert, a MFU member from Scott County who is a physical therapist and board certified pediatric clinical specialist. “Healthcare mergers aren’t sought after by patients whose health and quality of life are impacted by department downsizing and shorter visits with their doctor. Rather, mergers are proposed in the name of improved revenue flows for healthcare systems.”

The tax bill (HF1938) includes an extension and expansion of the Beginning Farmers Tax Credit, an increase in the first-tier ag homestead limit and funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

“The Beginning Farm Tax Credit is critical to aspiring farmers like me,” said Molly Byron, a MFU member from Waseca County who is involved in transitioning her family farm to the sixth generation. “With high land prices, it is nearly impossible to farm without some kind of assistance. Young people can’t compete with established farmers. Expanding the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit will help transition farmland from farmers who wish to retire while giving the incoming generation a chance to take over a family farm.”

The environment, natural resources, climate and energy bill (HF2310) includes money to pilot a green fertilizer production incentive, technical assistance for the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources and resilience planning at the University of Minnesota.

“Green fertilizer has the potential to reduce the carbon impact of corn production by over a third,” said MFU Vice President Anne Schwagerl, who farms in Big Stone County. “Investing in locally produced green fertilizer will create economic resilience in Minnesota agriculture by creating jobs, cooperative businesses with local ownership, and more choices for farmers to access necessary inputs.”

Gov. Tim Walz signed the omnibus agriculture bill (SF1955) on May 18 at Medicine Creek Farm near Finlayson. The farm is owned and operated by MFU members Hannah Bernhardt and Jason Misik. The bill includes the establishment of a grain indemnity fund, continued support for small and mid-sized meat processors and support for beginning and emerging farmers.

For more information on MFU’s legislative priorities, go to the MFU website.

The 2023 legislative session ended on its constitutional adjournment deadline of May 22.