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Minnesota Legislature

Ag panel gets first look at supplemental finance bill

Members of the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division got a look at the supplemental agriculture finance bill Thursday as they consider how to help a sector being buffeted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re going to be facing some really tough times with the budget, but also we’re also facing tough times in the ag sector,” said Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin), the division chair and sponsor of HF4490. “There’s just a lot of heartbreak within the ag community.”

House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division (Remote Hearing) 4/30/20

The division is scheduled to consider amendments and vote on the bill May 5.

Among the proposed spending is a $25,000 increase in fiscal year 2021 — to $292,000 — for farm advocate services. Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter) questioned whether that is enough.

“I think $25,000 would certainly help,” said Peder Kjeseth, director of government affairs for the Department of Agriculture. “Our farm advocates are certainly seeing a lot of work right now.”

The delete-all amendment to the bill also includes the following increases in fiscal year 2021:

  • $675,000 to the University of Minnesota to purchase testing equipment for the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, including equipment and supplies needed to respond to incidents of African swine fever;
  • $150,000 for assistance to farmers and value-added agricultural businesses whose markets and operations were negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic;
  • $100,000 for farm safety grants and outreach programs; and
  • an additional $50,000 for additional community outreach on farms and rural mental health services including the 24-hour hotline, service availability and mental health forums. The bill adds suicide prevention training, mental health awareness and training for farm and rural adolescents as eligible expenditures.

The bill’s net impact on the General Fund is $1 million.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

Up to 6% of total program dollars each fiscal year are to go to promote and administer farm safety grant and outreach programs to farmers and schools.

Poppe said the Senate companion, SF4395, sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) also spends $1 million, but is different in some areas, although both bills have funding for the veterinary laboratory and farm safety advocates.

Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) is glad those large items are in both bills. “It looks to be a pretty good bill,” he said.

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