For decades, Land Stewardship Project members have been actively advocating for Minnesota policymakers to consistently advance a bold vision for family farmers, local foods, and the land. This year has been no different. Our rural, suburban, and urban communities are deeply connected and impacted by our state’s investment in and protection of our farms and the environment.
This year’s session of the Minnesota Legislature ends at midnight today (May 20), and our lawmakers are putting together their final omnibus finance bills. Our state is facing big challenges—from a farm crisis, to a rural healthcare crisis, to climate change. This is not the time for a status quo budget. We need a budget that is bold enough to address the challenges we face.
Below is an update on where our priorities lie with the legislature and Gov. Tim Walz as we enter the final hours of negotiations on these policy proposals.
• The House version of the bill includes a slight increase in funds that could be spent on “farm-to-school” and early care grants by about $50,000. It suggests that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture use funds on a grant program that reimburses schools and early care programs when they purchase local foods, which LSP is pushing for. It creates a domestic marketing position that would include coordination of farm-to-school networks between institutions and farmers.
• The House and Senate versions of the bill both slightly increase funding for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) Farm Advocates Program from $220,000 to $267,000. Because of the current farm crisis, advocates are currently working overtime with no pay and are unable to meet the demand for their services. LSP supports investing more funding in this critical program.
• The House version of the bill includes a $50,000 grant for Farmers’ Legal Action Group (FLAG) to provide a legal assistance hotline for farmers in crisis. LSP has been pushing for a $167,000 grant to meet the needs of our farmers.
• The conference committee adopted policy language to allow a feedlot to operate and be regulated as a pasture for up to 90 days during the growing season to accommodate an undefined “extraordinary situation.” The processed used to pass this provision was undemocratic and untransparent–LSP is opposed to this.
• The House version of the bill includes reinstating the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board, which has been a top priority for LSP. The MPCA Citizens’ Board was launched when the agency was created in 1967 and was eliminated by corporate ag interests in 2015. The Citizens’ Board created transparency and accountability in the environmental review process, which we sorely need today.
• The conference committee adopted a provision that requires the permission of large-scale project proposers, such as factory farm proposers, to extend the public comment period on Environmental Assessment Worksheets past 60 days. LSP opposes this. Extending the comment period has been a rarely used but necessary tool to ensure Minnesotans are able to meaningfully engage in the environmental review process on projects that have the potential to significantly impact their communities.
• The House version of the bill fully funds the Forever Green Initiative, which is developing and marketing profitable cover crops and perennials that clean our water and build soil health; funding is at $10 million from the Clean Water Fund for the biennium. The Senate version of the bill only funds Forever Green at $2.5 million from the Clean Water Fund for the biennium.
LSP organizer Amanda Babcock works on state policy issues. She can be contacted via e-mail or at 612-722 -6377.