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Mental health and farm loans the focus of omnibus ag finance bill

More money to address mental health issues and fund loans for beginning farmers could be coming after the omnibus agriculture finance bill cleared its first hurdle Tuesday.

Sponsored by Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), HF3719 would make a few changes to appropriations for Fiscal Year 2019 included in the 2017 omnibus agriculture finance law.

They include a $217,000 increase for statewide mental health counseling services for farm families and businesses that would help fund an additional counselor position – making two statewide, and another $30,000 for the Farm Advocates program.

The bill also contains $35 million for the Rural Finance Authority, which works with local lenders to operate a number of loan programs to help beginning, and other eligible, farmers. The House funded the RFA at the same level in 2017, but did so in a separate bill.

The House Agriculture Finance Committee approved HF3719 after adopting a delete-all amendment that sparked some debate and required two votes for approval.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) requested the amendment be split to remove the final section, which would add the same controversial language included in HF2887, passed by the House as a standalone bill yesterday. It would prohibit the Department of Agriculture from adopting new nitrogen rules proposed by Dayton unless they are specifically approved by law. The governor has promised to veto that bill if it reaches his desk.

Rep. Clark Johnson (DFL-North Mankato) said including that language in the omnibus bill was a “fundamental mistake” that injected politics into the committee’s bipartisan work that he said includes “bringing together people around agriculture.”

But Hamilton said the language is needed because the department has not yet released the final version of its rule and “we are somewhat concerned about this.” He encouraged the department to release the final rule as soon as possible so the public and lawmakers could see it and said the language may not have been needed had that already been done.

Hamilton granted the request that the amendment be split and both portions were adopted – with DFL members voting against the nitrogen rules section.

Whitney Place, the department’s director of legislative affairs, said the rule would be available to the public April 24 and be published in the State Register April 30.

She also urged the committee to remove the controversial language to avoid a veto and allow the department “to implement what is an otherwise really good bill.”

Other provisions in HF3719 would:

  • extend the Minnesota Agricultural Fertilizer Research and Education Council, the education program it administers, the fertilizer surcharge and the account that holds that surcharge, all by 10 years, to June 2030;
  • establish a new RFA loan program to explore the feasibility of new renewable energy projects;
  • make several modifications to the Advanced Biofuel Incentive Program including the minimum production level and biomass sourcing requirements; and
  • add aquaculture to the definition of specialty crops available for RFA microloans.

What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated fully, or in part, into the omnibus agriculture finance bill:

 


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