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Minnesota Legislature

Stepped-up confinement at deer farms, fighting chronic wasting disease aims of ag omnibus bill

Members of the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division listen as Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen testifies on the omnibus agriculture and food finance bill April 2. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Efforts to contain farmed deer and the spread of chronic wasting disease are included in the omnibus agriculture and food finance bill for the 2020-21 biennium.

The House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division on Tuesday undertook a walk-through of the delete-all amendment that is expected to become the omnibus bill, HF2200, later this week.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin), the bill would appropriate $225.17 million in the upcoming biennium for the Department of Agriculture ($203.6 million), Board of Animal Health ($13.7 million), and Agricultural Utilization Research Institute ($7.8 million).

The total exceeds Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget by only $366,000.

Garnering most attention from members were provisions relating to farmed cervidae (deer, elk, moose), including increased fencing and gating requirements, a three-year moratorium on new farm registrations for white-tail deer, mandated depopulation and disposal of herds with one or more chronic wasting disease infected animals, and tagging provisions for newborn deer.

Expressing support for many of the provisions, Craig Engwall, executive director of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, questioned the lack of funding for development of a rapid post-mortem chronic wasting disease test that hunters could deploy in the field.

Officials from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine had asked for $1.8 million earlier this year to fund research into early detection of chronic wasting disease that could be performed on either dead or live deer.

Such a test is of interest to hunters, according to Engwall, as is improving means to reduce movement of deer carcasses through processing and disposal. Hunters in the association view chronic wasting disease as an issue extending beyond farmed deer, he noted.

Gary Olson, vice president of the Minnesota Deer Farmers Association, went further in his criticism, saying the provision requiring depopulation of a herd with an infected animal made no sense.

“[Any] response should be in line with science,” Olson said.

Advances in live testing and development of genetically chronic wasting disease resistant deer make such a requirement unnecessary, he said.

Some concern also arose over a disclosure provision that would require potential buyers of a former farm to be notified of the need to maintain fencing five years after a property was last used for deer farming.

Paul Eger, vice president of governmental affairs with Minnesota Realtors, asked the division to consider holding back the provision for clarification, saying it failed to address future liability issues.

The current standard in real estate “is to the best of the seller’s knowledge,” Eger said, which acknowledges information can be lost over the course of time. If the disclosure requirement is to be stricter for former deer farms, he argued, there needs to be a plan in place to ensure that knowledge is maintained.

Questions over the disclosure provision prove how serious the question is and how great the need is for strong measures, according to Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul).

“We don’t know what the long-term resilience of this disease is,” Hansen said.

Concern was also expressed over a provision requiring newborn deer be tagged within 24 hours of birth. Tags large enough to read at 50 feet, a requirement of the provision, could be too large for some newborn animals, said Tim Spreck, representing deer farm owners.

Discussion and markup of the omnibus bill is scheduled Thursday, when additional amendments are likely to be heard.

The companion, SF2226 sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), is scheduled to be acted on Wednesday by the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance Committee.

Additional provisions in the House bill would:

  • double penalties assessed by the Agriculture Department against people found to have damaged lands in the state recreational system through pesticide use;
  • lower applicator fees for rest area custodians applying pesticides for the Department of Transportation;
  • extend the Agricultural Fertilizer Research and Education Council by an additional five years, along with extending the fertilizer inspection fee funding council grants by five years and modifying eligible projects relating to metropolitan areas;
  • restrict nursery stock from being labeled as pollinator friendly if systemic pesticides are detectable in the plant;
  • amend the definition of industrial hemp and make the crop legal to possess, move, process, sell or purchase, and require the Agriculture Department to apply to the USDA for regulatory authority over industrial hemp, as well as develop and report upon a regulatory framework for regulating THC by Feb. 15, 2020;
  • exclude a liquor store’s gross sales of off-sale alcoholic beverages when determining food handler license fees;
  • allow the Agriculture Department to use $5,000 from the 2019 wolf depredation payment appropriation to compensate the University of Minnesota Extension for assessment costs;
  • require the Agriculture Department to examine and report on methods to cultivate and support beginning farmers, with special focus on women and people of color;
  • require the Center for Rural Policy and Development to study and report on the economic benefits of community solar gardens on farmers and local farm economies by Jan. 15, 2021;
  • modify grain buyer definitions and requirements relating to cash sales of grain, including inspections, bonding and credit contract extension;
  • reduce minimum annual inspections for licensed public grain warehouses and allow them to maintain an irrevocable bank letter of credit in lieu of a surety bond;
  • add $325,000 to the Ag Emergency account and appropriate $600,000 for the incident management team;
  • add $50,000 to the Farm Advocates program and $150,000 for farmer mental health outreach;
  • increase allowable expenditures by $700,000 for the Urban and Youth and the Good Food Access Program each year; and
  • increase allowable expenditures to $900,000 for the Farm to School Program in Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021, and allow reimbursement to schools for purchases from participating farmers.

The following bills were incorporated, in part, or in whole into the omnibus agriculture and food finance bill:

 


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