Legislative Update – April 19, 2022

Today the legislature returns from break with just five weeks to reach deals on legislative proposals for education spending, healthcare, taxes, public safety, agriculture. This is all against the backdrop of a $9.25 billion budget surplus—by far the largest in state history—and without a constitutional mandate to get anything done. As always, MFU is working hard to ensure that legislators understand the needs and perspectives of Minnesota’s farm families.

On Tuesday and immediately after returning from break, House and Senate Conferees will meet to develop a consensus proposal for drought relief. This follows both bodies passing their respective versions last month—the House on March 10 and the Senate on the 31.

“I want to reiterate how important it is that you act quickly,” shared MFU President, Gary Wertish, in written comments to the committee. “Livestock and specialty crop producers continue to face needs related to last summer’s historic drought. We continue to hear from members who are struggling to feed livestock until their pasture is ready, purchase inputs for spring planting, or finance water infrastructure investments that will make them more resilient going forward.”

In his letter, he shared support for non-competitive, easy to administer ‘rapid response grants’ to help livestock and specialty crop farmers with drought related expenses. On these grants, he asked conferees to:

  • Expand eligibility to more counties, which will avoid confusion on the part of producers and make the program easier to administer. The drought impacts were inconsistent and a proposal that limits to certain counties will inevitably leave out producers who need and expect this relief.
  • Reserve allocations for Specialty Crop and Livestock producers instead of capping the amount that can go to either category. This will again help avoid confusion and allow MDA to best meet the need.
  • Allowing “up to $10,000 per eligible livestock farmer or specialty crop producer,” which will give the department flexibility to meet producers’ needs.
  • Allowing for more grants, by allocating $7 million to the program.

He also shared support for replenishing the Rural Finance Authority’s (RFA) disaster loan account, including by:

  • Dedicating $5 million or more to the revolving loan account. Farmers in Minnesota are now facing two disasters with avian influenza (HPAI) on the rise. This will lead to more pressure on the account.
  • Expanding eligibility to more producers by adjusting the gross income requirement. This will allow more young and emerging farmers to access the program as they ramp up their operations.

Over the break, Senator Kent Eken (DFL-Audobon) announced his retirement after 20 years in the legislature. Eken is a strong champion for family farmers and a valued and reliable partner to MFU including on rural education funding, ag tax relief, flood mitigation, and soil health. In announcing his retirement, he joins House Ag Chair Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko), House Tax Chair Paul Marquart (DFL-Dilworth), and 32 other legislators.