SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today, the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee approved an assistance package for livestock farmers and specialty crop producers harmed by the drought of 2021. The legislation, authored by Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL – Esko), the committee chair, includes $5 million worth of grants and other direct financial assistance, as well as an additional $5 million for the Rural Finance Authority’s revolving loan account targeted toward drought relief.
“During an incredibly tough time for farmers who are dealing with a variety of increased costs and other lingering difficulties due to the pandemic, we developed this relief package by listening to farmers and delivering what they need to recover from last year’s harsh drought,” Rep. Sundin said. “I’m particularly proud of the way this legislation targets support to smaller family operations, specialty crop producers, and emerging farmers so they have the necessary resources to get past these challenges and ensure Minnesotans can access healthy, nutritious food for their families.”
Since last spring, drought conditions have harmed farming and livestock operations across Minnesota. Farmers and ranchers experienced a lack of access to forage crops and hay, while specialty crop producers, such as farmers market growers, couldn’t access traditional crop insurance and other federally backed financial assistance.
The bill appropriates $5 million to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) to provide grants up to $10,000 for drought-related expenses. Of that amount, the bill reserves $1 million for livestock producers, $1 million for specialty crop producers, and $500,000 for farmers market vendors who are livestock or specialty crop growers. The bill also requires MDA to do outreach to emerging farmers about the relief programs. The legislation prioritizes farms in counties classified as D4, the United States Department of Agriculture’s most severe drought category, followed by farmers in D3 and D2 counties.
Additionally, the legislation provides $5 million for the Rural Finance Authority’s revolving loan account for drought assistance and eases some requirements to qualify for the loans.
Minnesota farmers and ranchers offered support for the proposal including Liz Dwyer of Dancing the Land Farm in Clearwater, Miles Kuschel, a rancher in Cass County. Thom Petersen, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, shared his support for the investments, as did Stu Lourey of the Minnesota Farmers Union and Krist Wollum of the Minnesota Cattlemen's Association.
The proposal will next be considered by the House Ways and Means Committee. Video of today’s hearing will be available on House Public Information Services’ YouTube channel. Documents and other information from the hearing will be available on the committee webpage.