There are less than 20 days left in the 2022 session of the Minnesota Legislature, and with a $9.3 billion surplus, legislators have an historic opportunity to invest in our communities. Throughout the session, Land Stewardship Project members have been advocating for funding to increase access to local meat processing facilities and for helping farmers implement soil healthy farming practices, as well as bolstering our regional food systems through increased farm-to-school funding and providing support for emerging and beginning farmers. Finally, we are continuing to push for relief for farmers negatively impacted by last summer’s drought.
Both the House and Senate have passed their versions of the agriculture funding bill off their respective chamber floors and now a conference committee of both Representatives and Senators will come together to hammer out a final Omnibus Agriculture, Broadband, and Housing Package that can be sent off to Governor Tim Walz. The key differences between the two bills are the amount of funding available: $60 million in the House proposal and $5 million in the Senate. LSP members from across the state are coming together to advocate for taking advantage of this critical opportunity to invest in our farmers and our communities at the scale we need to make an impact.
As of this writing, members of the House-Senate conference committee have not been named. Right now, we need to focus on reaching out to Torrey Westrom, chair of the Senate Ag Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller. To learn more about how to get involved in this end-of-session push, contact me at email@example.com.
What’s on the line? Below is the breakdown of what is included in both the House and Senate proposals and the funding attached:
Soil Health & Climate Change
· $6.725 million for a healthy soils grant program through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (House provided that amount; Senate only offered $50,000)
· $5 million for a healthy soils grant program through the Board of Water and Soil Resources (House only)*
· Voluntary statewide soil-health farming goals of reaching 5.75 million acres by 2030, 11.5 million acres by 2035, and 23 million acres by 2040 (House provided this funding; Senate offered a pathway to develop statewide goals)*
· Creation of a statewide soil health action plan (House and Senate both provided this)
· $9 million to develop continuous living cover supply chains (House provided this; Senate only offered $50,000)
· $6.5 million for the Forever Green Initiative (House provided this; Senate only offered $200,000)
· $22 million for Soil and Water Conservation Districts (only the House provided this)*
· $1 million for the University of Minnesota to evaluate, propagate, and maintain the genetic diversity of oilseeds, grains, grasses, legumes, and other plants — including outreach to small and Black, brown, and Indigenous farmers (House only)
· Various pollinator protections (House only)
· $10 million for incentives for the federal Conservation Reserve Program (House only)*
· To be determined: Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (bonding bill has yet to be released) *
* These items are outside the Omnibus Agriculture, Broadband, and Housing Package; Senator Jeremy Miller would be the best legislator to contact on these issues.
Meat & Poultry Processing
· $100,000 to reimburse small meat processors for food safety and business planning trainings (House provided this; Senate only offered $30,000)
· Additional $3 million for AGRI Meat, Poultry, Egg, and Dairy Processing Grants (House provided this; Senate only offered $700,000)
· $500,000 for livestock processing technical education at Central Lakes College and Ridgewater College (House only)
· $1 million for grants to secondary career and technical education programs for meat cutting and butchery instruction (Senate provided this; House only offered $500,000)
Emerging Farmers & Land Access
· $1 million for urban and youth education or urban ag community development, including up to $10,000 to the emerging farmer account (House only)
· $2.6 million for grants for organizations to provide technical and culturally appropriate services to emerging farmers and related businesses (House provided this; Senate offered only $300,000)
· $300,000 for farm business management tuition assistance with priority to specialty crop farmers, urban farmers, and farmers facing mediation; support for new urban and specialty crop instructor positions, including translation and outreach (House only)
· $3 million for and the establishment of a down payment assistance grant program (House only)
· Establishing a cooperative grant program (House and Senate)
· $141,000 to administer the beginning farmer tax credit (House only)
Local & Regional Markets/Hunger Relief
· Additional $1.6 million for the farm-to-school grant program (House only)
· $250,000 to develop a program to support direct marketing producers (House only)
· $1 million for farmers’ markets (House only)
· $2.5 million for Second Harvest Heartland (House only)
· $500,000 for the Good Acre’s Local Emergency Assistance Farmer Fund (LEAFF) program (House only)
· $10,000 to study and produce a report on the state of regional and local food systems in Minnesota (House and Senate)
· $1 million for the Good Food Access Program (House only)
Proposal LSP Opposes
· Limit the ability to petition for environmental review to the residents of the county or an adjacent county to the proposed project (Senate only)**
** This is part of the Senate environmental bill. Contact Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen, chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, on this issue. See LSP’s action alert on this issue here.
Action Needed on Drought Relief
Although farmers are now preparing to plant for the 2022 growing season, relief for last summer’s drought has still not passed the Legislature. The House proposal includes $5.1 million in rapid response grants for farmers (up to $10,000 per farmer), ensuring $1 million for livestock farmers, $1 million for specialty producers, and $500,000 for livestock and specialty producers who sell at farmers’ markets. There is also $5 million for Disaster Recovery Loans through the Rural Finance Authority. On the Senate side, there is $7 million in rapid response grants (up to $5,000 per farmer) with most of this allocated to go to livestock producers, funding for the “Ag Emergency” account and laboratory testing equipment for highly pathogenic avian influenza.
A huge hurdle delaying the passing of this drought relief package is that while the House proposal includes $13.3 million for a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) drought relief package ($5.6 million to replace drought-killed seedlings on DNR lands, $4.5 million to remove and plant shade trees and provide watering equipment, $3 million to increase public water efficiency, and $300,000 for costs associated with resolving well interferences), the Senate did not include any of this language.
What does this mean for drought relief?
On April 19, Representative Mike Sundin chaired the conference committee on the drought relief package and went through the differences between the House and Senate proposals. It is now up to Senator Torrey Westrom to “take the gavel” and continue to work to pass a final relief package. We need these legislators to come back to the table and get these critical funds over the finish line. Take action by contacting Senator Westrom, Representative Sundin, Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, and Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller. To make your voice heard, check out LSP’s action alert on drought relief.
LSP policy organizer Laura Schreiber can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.