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Hearings begin on omnibus agriculture finance bill

By Jonathan Mohr
Lobbyists and interested persons peruse through the omnibus agriculture finance bill before an April 10 walk-through of the bill. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Farmers who need help navigating the sometimes confusing regulatory roadmap of state government would have a new resource to steer them to their goals if a provision of the omnibus agriculture finance bill eventually becomes law.

The House Agriculture Finance Committee began its hearings on HF1437, as amended, Friday afternoon. The bill would appropriate $76.5 million during the upcoming biennium for a number of different agriculture programs that have been discussed throughout the session.

This includes the provision establishing an ombudsman office in the Department of Agriculture created to provide “one-stop access” for people who need assistance when trying to obtain or renew licenses, follow rules or resolve disputes with state agencies.

House Agriculture Finance Committee

Committee Chair Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), sponsor of HF1437 – which was laid over until Tuesday – said he worked to include as many people as possible in the process of crafting the bill.

“I believe everybody who wanted to have a hearing of a bill, we did grant that,” Hamilton said.

A number of testifiers spoke in support of the bill, which currently has no Senate companion, including representatives of the Minnesota Farmer’s Union and the Great Plains Institute.

However, Dan Skogen, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute government relations director, told the committee he was disappointed his organization was being asked to take a 30 percent funding cut in a year when more money was available for agriculture.

The bill slices the AURI appropriation by $2 million during the upcoming biennium to $5.2 million. Skogen said he knew Hamilton had done what he could to preserve the funding, but that higher targets for the committee were needed.

Hamilton said there would likely be a number of amendments to the bill when the committee holds its next hearing.

What would HF1437 do?

The bill includes measures that would:

  • establish a new grant program to provide financial and technical assistance to eligible cities around the state that create urban agriculture development zones;
  • create three production-based bioenergy grant programs, to be administered by the Department of Agriculture, to encourage advanced biofuel, renewable chemical and biomass thermal production;
  • form an Agriculture, Research, Education, Extension, and Technology Transfer Board to award grants to projects that help Minnesota achieve long-term agricultural productivity;
  • triple the annual income limit for home cooks and gardeners who sell their products to the public and require sellers to attend a safe food handling course every three years;
  • fund a farm-to-foodshelf program that compensates agriculture producers for the costs of harvesting and distributing surplus vegetables and produce to charitable organizations;
  • fund grants to Second Harvest Heartland for the purchase and distribution of fresh milk to charitable organizations;
  • commission a livestock industry study to identify causes of growth or decline of poultry and livestock production in the Upper Midwest over the last 10 years;
  • commission a feasibility study of importing baitfish into the state for resale; and
  • establish a pilot program to train inmates at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center for careers as butchers upon their release.

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:

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