Here are key policies the Land Stewardship Project has been working on at the Minnesota state Legislature this session, along with an action you can take:
• Resources for farmers facing financial stress. Increased funding for Farm Advocates and Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) is needed. These groups stand up for farmers facing foreclosure and other crises by letting them know their rights. The number of new cases taken on by Farm Advocates each month has doubled since the beginning of this year and will likely rise.
Status: House File 2896 (Rep. Jeanne Poppe-Austin) and Senate File 2850 (Sen. Dan Sparks-Austin) provide $100,000 for rural mental health counseling and $40,000 for Farm Advocates. In fact, much more than $40,000 is needed to address this crisis. House File 3515 (Rep. Jeanne Poppe-Austin) and Senate File 3210 (Sen. Nick Frentz-North Mankato) provide $100,000 for FLAG. The House bills have been heard and will need to be included in the Omnibus Ag Finance Bill to pass. No action has been taken on the Senate bills.
• Defending the power of the state to protect rural water quality. House File 2887 (Rep. Jeff Backer-Browns Valley) and Senate File 2720 (Sen. Mark Johnson-East Grand Forks) gut the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) authority to protect rural water quality by regulating nitrogen fertilizer application. Nitrogen fertilizer is a major contributor of high nitrates in groundwater and drinking water.
Status: House File 2887 and Senate File 2720 have been included in the House and Senate Omnibus Ag Policy Bills. LSP farmer-members testified against both bills.
• Extending the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit to a larger group of qualified beginning farmers. Last year, LSP worked to pass the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit, and now we’re working to improve the language to make it accessible for not only beginning farmers currently enrolled in an approved financial management program, but also for graduates of those programs.
Status: This language has been included in the House and Senate Omnibus Ag Policy Bills. Unfortunately, as noted above, these bills also contain rollbacks of the state’s ability to protect rural water quality.
Rural Communities & Family Farming Under Attack
Here is an example of how corporate interests and big ag are working against rural communities and family farmers at the legislature. On Feb. 26, the Senate Ag Policy and Finance Committees met for a special joint hearing to overview the state of agriculture in Minnesota.
Dr. Marin Bozic, a dairy economist at the University of Minnesota, testified “on behalf of Minnesota Milk, and as well as [his] employer,” the U of M. Incredibly, Dr. Bozic said, “I anticipate out of 3,000 dairy farms left in the state, probably over 80 percent are last generation dairies… We are going to see a number of dairy farmers that are no longer competitive… We would be doing them a disservice by offering some handouts that would prolong their hope but really there is nothing there to hope for.” He then lifted up Riverview Dairy, an 8,000-cow dairy in Morris, Minn., as the prime example of what type of operation our state resources should be focused on. (Watch or listen to his testimony, which starts at 1:06:15.)
Unbelievably, his assertions that more factory farms are inevitable for Minnesota’s future, that they should be supported by state resources, and that small- and mid-size family dairy farms are no longer viable, went unchallenged by Senators on the committees. That’s why we must speak up for strong rural communities and family farmers and demand that legislators put family farmers and rural communities before corporate interests.
Take action now by telling your legislators to stand up for family farmers and rural communities by providing critical resources for Farm Advocates and FLAG, protecting the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s authority to protect rural groundwater and drinking water from nitrogen fertilizer, and providing land access to young and beginning farmers.