Farmers who want more say in water quality regulations may be pleased by a provision in the omnibus bill the House Agriculture Finance Committee began to consider Wednesday.
Sponsored by Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), HF895 would establish and help fund local farmer-led water management councils to develop best management practices and projects to improve water quality.
That provision is one of dozens in the omnibus agriculture finance bill, which the committee amended Wednesday and is expected to vote on Friday. It would appropriate $118.47 million in net General Fund spending during the upcoming biennium to fund the Department of Agriculture, Board of Animal Health and Agricultural Utilization Research Institute.
Hamilton said the bill has a slight increase in spending, but the total is nearly the same as the base budget Agriculture Department officials presented to the committee after the February Budget and Economic Forecast.
Whitney Place, the department’s government relations director, said her agency believes the bill contains a number of good initiatives, but does have concerns, including a “lack of investment” in areas such as plant pathogens, pests, noxious weeds and pollinator decline. She said the bill would also require the department to absorb increased operating costs, and failure to fund the governor’s full $127.6 million budget proposal could impact delivery of services.
Hamilton said the bill does contain provisions to address each of those issues and that funding for operating costs would remain the same rather than the increase the department had requested.
The revised budget proposal Gov. Mark Dayton released last week includes $1.5 million for grants to new farmer-led councils, which he would like to develop a prioritized list of projects to help improve water quality. The omnibus bill supports that plan.
Minnesota Corn Growers Association Executive Director Adam Birr told the committee Dayton approached industry groups late last summer to come up with ideas to address the state’s water quality challenges. The concept of farmer-led councils was then developed to give farmers more ownership in the process, especially in light of looming buffer regulations.
“We’re trying to provide an opportunity for famers to really have a say, use the innovation and creativity they have to provide some input on on-the-ground practices to address this water quality issue,” Birr said.
However, Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) said a vast amount of money has already been spent on working to improve water quality and is concerned the proposal would duplicate those efforts.
“I don’t want $1.5 million going to coffee and donuts for meetings out there to talk about stuff; we’ve done that,” he said.
Birr said the funding would primarily be used to hire coordinators who would work with the councils to help them leverage all the state resources and private help available. He added the groups would give farmers the “latitude” to come up with whatever solutions work best in their areas.
Hansen agreed the councils could work if they focus on people who currently aren’t doing anything rather than the “altruists” who have already walked through the door.
“There are folks who will just not do this,” Hansen said. “Even if we provide them with the money.”
What else would HF895 do?
HF895, as amended, also includes measures that would:
What’s in the bill?
The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part, or in whole, into the omnibus agriculture finance bill:
The latest numbers are a $517 million swing from the November forecast
The state’s latest economic forecast projects a budget deficit of $188 million for the current two-year biennium, and a $586 million deficit for the 2020-21 biennium
The budget process explained — and why it matters