Walz budget release includes MFU priorities in agriculture, health care and climate

ST. PAUL – Today, the Walz-Flanagan administration announced their full budget proposal, which includes key Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) priorities.

“We’re glad to see the Walz-Flanagan administration address many of the issues our family farmer members brought forward in resolutions from the grassroots level,” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “Farmers are our economic engine in rural Minnesota. It’s important that we capitalize on the opportunity presented by this surplus to strengthen our ag economy by helping farmers tackle climate change, find new ways to market and otherwise make sure they can pass their farm onto the next generation.”

In addition to the priorities in the agriculture budget, the administration announced a proposal to allow a MinnesotaCare buy-in option, which MFU members have long advocated for to help control health care costs for family farmers, rural residents and businesses.

“Allowing family farmers and small business owners to buy into MinnesotaCare is a game-changer,” said Cindy VanDerPol, a MFU member from Chippewa County who direct markets pork, beef and eggs. “As farmers without access to affordable health care insurance because of our farmland assets, we always waited for the other shoe to drop. Last year, it did. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery and 33 rounds of radiation. Thankfully, we were able to buy insurance through MinnesotaCare. If it wasn’t for that coverage, I don’t know what we would have done. Here we are feeding the nation, but we can’t afford health insurance for our families. Or, if we make too much money one year, we lose our insurance coverage. Growing up, my parents owned a flower shop and didn’t have insurance either. Having the MinnesotaCare buy-in option is one less thing for family farmers and small businessowners to worry about.”

The budget proposal would also dedicate $27 million to helping farmers tackle climate change through grants to help implement voluntary soil health practices.

“Farmers are on the front lines of climate change and I’m glad the governor is bringing us to the table,” said MFU Vice President Anne Schwagerl, who farms in Big Stone County and serves on the Governor’s Advisory Council on Climate Change. “There’s a real opportunity for the state to be a partner in helping farmers not only be more resilient, but also national leaders in developing systems to cope with the changing climate.”

Another MFU priority included in the budget is the creation of a $5 million Grain Indemnity Fund. When Pipeline Foods declared bankruptcy last summer, MFU members who delivered grain to them were left unpaid. More than a dozen states, including Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, Illinois and Michigan have indemnity funds to protect producers in the event of fraud, elevator collapse or other events that result in nonpayment to producers.

“I’m excited to see the governor’s proposal to establish a Grain Indemnity Fund in Minnesota and I hope it passes,” said MFU member Andrea Koller, who raises organic crops with her husband, Chris, in LeSueur. “We lost around $82,000 in the Pipeline Foods bankruptcy. We delivered grain and haven’t seen a dime in payment. I don’t want to see other farmers go through what we went through. I hope this fund is established to protect other farmers going forward.”

The indemnity fund would be replenished though a small fee on sold grain.

In addition to the investments listed above, MFU strongly supports the following agricultural investments proposed by the Walz-Flanagan administration:

  • $10 million for drought relief, including Rapid Response Grants for livestock and specialty crop producers to recover losses and make themselves more resilient.
  • $8.7 million for livestock processing including to expand and start new plants, recruit and retain employees, support technical training and strengthen inspection.
  • Reauthorizing Cooperative Development Grants.
  • $1.5 million to help the state prepare for animal disease outbreaks.
  • $500,000 to help farmers build websites to sell products.
  • $2 million to support emerging farmers.
  • $1.5 million to help farmers markets remain resilient.
  • $500,000 to help farmers afford farm business management education.
  • $1 million to combat noxious weeds.
  • $3 million for the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota.
  • $6.5 million for food assistance, including $1.5 million for the Good Acre’s Local Emergency Assistance Farmer Fund (LEAFF).

Outside of the agriculture budget, MFU is glad to see the proposed investments in broadband development and the childcare expansion.

“This isn’t a budget year, but the surplus does present an historic opportunity to invest in Minnesotans,” Wertish said. “There are certainly things we look forward to working on with the legislature going forward, but overall, we’re glad to see these investments.”

Today’s announcement concludes a phased budget rollout by the Walz-Flanagan administration. The 2022 Minnesota legislative session begins Monday.

About Minnesota Farmers Union

Minnesota Farmers Union works to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life of family farmers and ranchers and rural communities. MFU is a nonprofit membership-based organization. Membership is open to everyone. Learn more and join at www.mfu.org and follow MFU on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Minnesota Farmers Union—Standing for Agriculture, Working for Farmers (www.mfu.org).