ST. PAUL – The busy 2021 legislative session is moving into the home stretch with the release of omnibus bills from committees, including for agriculture.
The House and Senate Agriculture Committees passed their respective omnibus bills this week. While there are some differences between the two versions, both address several key priorities of Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) members.
“The pandemic’s disruption of our largely consolidated food system made it more apparent that farmers, consumers, workers, and rural communities will all benefit from a food system that is more distributed, resilient, and fair,” MFU President Gary Wertish said. “The new investments outlined in this package are a meaningful first step.”
Both bills 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 Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), 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.
The House bill, authored by Chair Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko), invests in MFU priorities including:
- 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.
“Passing a balanced budget is always a challenge, especially with a divided Legislature and COVID-19 forcing most activities into virtual formats,” President Wertish said. “While agriculture is the foundation of Minnesota’s economy—generating $112 billion in economic impact and supporting more than 430,000 jobs—our budget for MDA makes up less than 1% of the state’s overall budget. We support strong investment in farmers and rural communities.
“On behalf of our members, I’d like to thank Chairs Sundin and Westrom, minority leads Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) and Sen. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul), and the Agriculture Committee members for their hard work crafting these proposals.”
Both bills have one more committee stop before being sent to the floor for a vote. After the House and Senate approve, the proposals will be negotiated in conference committee where MFU will continue to advocate for a strong budget that supports family farmers. The legislature adjourns on midnight on May 17 and a state budget needs to be approved by June 30 to avoid a government shutdown.