2020 Legislative Session: What Happened & What’s Next

The past few months have been harder than ever for thousands of Minnesotans. Our communities were already facing a serious farm crisis, inaccessible and unaffordable healthcare, increasing impacts of climate change, corporate consolidation across our economy, and more. On top of that, a pandemic has wreaked havoc on our healthcare system, farm and food system, and local and regional economies.

Yet, in the face of uncertain and unprecedented circumstances, Land Stewardship Project members and supporters have pulled together to build and assert our collective power:

  • Over 4,000 member and supporter contacts were made with legislators and the Governor’s office.

  • More than 2,000 LSP members and supporters, primarily farmers, signed onto our Farm Crisis Petition, calling for the Governor, state legislators, the Attorney General, and the U.S. Congress to stand up for farmers and rural communities.

  • LSP members directly advocated with key state-level decision-makers, including Attorney General Keith Ellison, Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen, and top advisers in Governor Tim Walz’s office.

Through our organizing, LSP members and supporters — with notable farmer leadership — achieved tangible legislative wins that will keep farmers on the land in the face of compounding crises. Three Land Stewardship Project bills passed with unanimous or nearly unanimous support in the Legislature — support that is rare across all issue areas. We:

ImageExtended deadlines in the Farmer-Lender Mediation Act through harvest (December 1) to give farmers in mediation time to plant and harvest, understand new market conditions and emergency government assistance, and respond to the compounding crises. This bill passed 134-0 in the Minnesota House and 67-0 in the Minnesota Senate, and was authored by Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) and Sen. Mike Goggin (GOP-Red Wing).

ImageSecured $175,000 to establish a new grant program to assist farmers in mediation with the cost of restructuring a loan. Grants will cover up to 50% of the origination fee. This bill was incorporated into the Omnibus Agriculture Finance Bill and passed 133-1 in the Minnesota House and 67-0 in the Minnesota Senate. The original bill was authored by Rep. Lippert and Sen. Goggin.

Image Secured an additional $60,000 for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Farm Advocates Program. This program works with legal advisers to help keep farmers on the land by letting them know their rights when faced with foreclosure, assisting in mediation and negotiations with lenders, and providing critical guides and resources. This bill was incorporated into the Omnibus Agriculture Finance Bill and passed 133-1 in the Minnesota House and 67-0 in the Minnesota Senate. The original bill was authored by Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter) and Sen. Gary Dahms (GOP-Redwood Falls).

Image Helped secure $100,000 in grant money for smaller meat and poultry processors to expand their capacity in the wake of temporary closure of other large processors; and $100,000 in grants for farmers and value-added food processors whose operations were affected by COVID-19.

We know that the progress that was made this legislative session was because of the work LSP members did together. We started with being told that our bills were “long shots” and ended up with unprecedented support in the House and Senate. We know what is possible when we come together and make our voices heard — and it can’t stop here. The critical legislation we achieved together this session are largely short-term solutions to keep as many people on the land in the coming months as possible. Right now, we must build on what we accomplished in order to achieve long-term, systemic changes that put people and the land first.

Our Legislature failed to take bold action on many of the systems that are failing Minnesotans:

Image There was no movement on building a high-quality, affordable and accessible healthcare system for all Minnesotans. The MinnesotaCare Buy-In bill, which would allow Minnesotans regardless of their income to “buy into” MinnesotaCare, did not receive a hearing — neither did our bill to allow farmers in mediation, regardless of their income level, to qualify for MinnesotaCare. Leadership on all sides are failing to act on healthcare when a major public health crisis brings Minnesota and our nation to its knees.

ImageThere was no pause placed on the expansion of the mega-dairy industry (dairies over 1,000 animal units). Because of the work of LSP members and legislative allies, moratorium bills were introduced in the House and Senate. Although we sparked a conversation, it isn’t enough. These mega-dairies depress the price of milk for small and medium-sized dairies, putting them out of business while polluting our air and water. More work lies ahead if we are to stop consolidation from driving most producers off the land in the next few years. We need more state leaders to put farmers and rural communities above corporate interests.

ImageDespite the effects of climate change becoming increasingly common and severe, our Legislature did not take bold action on this crisis. As farmers and rural communities experience unprecedented floods, unpredictable weather, and a changing economy, we need our state to respond with solutions that match the scale of what we are facing. COVID-19 has taught us that our economy is neither nimble nor resilient to crises and we must be prepared as the climate crisis continues to take hold.

We may be physically distant, but we can shift the public narrative and move decision-making bodies when we assert our collective power.

We, the Land Stewardship Project, are thousands of members and supporters across and beyond the region. Farmers must start listening to each other, rather than agribusiness, whose interest is not the interest of farmers or their rural communities. Farmers and allies must be in solidarity together — farmer, farmworker, rural, urban — to work to advance our collective interest. We must understand the connections between public health, fair working conditions, and economic justice for farmers, workers at processing facilities, and all Minnesotans.

  • LSP needs YOU to join our fight to achieve a just and sustainable farm and food system for all people.
  • LSP needs YOU to join our fight to achieve a healthcare system that puts people above profits and leaves no one behind.
  • LSP needs YOU to join our fight to craft climate crisis solutions that invest in small and medium-sized farms, as well as rural communities.
  • LSP needs YOU to join our fight to build an equitable federal Farm Bill that invests in our values.
  • LSP needs YOU to join our fight to stop corporate consolidation and the factory farming system that extracts control and profit out of the hands of farmers and farmworkers and leaves us with a fragile and insecure food system.
  • LSP needs YOU to join our fight to transform our decision-making bodies by electing champions of farmers and rural communities.

Thank you for supporting the Land Stewardship Project and being part of our member-led effort to put people and the land first. Please join our fight to transform our landscape, rural communities, and economy.

When we come together across geography, class, race, gender, religion, political party, citizenship status, ability, and more, we have the power to achieve a vision that centers around all people and the world we live in.

Join LSP today — we need you with us to accomplish the work ahead.

Land Stewardship Project organizer Amanda Koehler can be reached via e-mail.