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Minnesota Legislature

Supplemental ag finance bill advances with tweaks to deal with pandemic

A House division made a few tweaks to the supplemental agriculture finance bill Tuesday, primarily to deal with the coronavirus pandemic that is leading dairy farmers to dump milk and chickens, and hog farmers to euthanize animals as restaurant demand nosedives and processors idle due to sick workers.

The House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division amended, then approved the delete-all amendment that was discussed at its last meeting, and unanimously voted to refer HF4490 to the House Ways and Means Committee. The companion, SF4395, sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) awaits action by the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin), who sponsors the bill and chairs the division, said the two bills each would spend $1 million, and are “90% to 95% in agreement.” She expects an amendment will be needed in once an agreement is reached.

The amendment to the delete-all amendment approved Tuesday would:

  • reduce by $400,000 the second-year appropriation for avian influenza research at the University of Minnesota;
  • increase the fiscal year 2020 appropriation for the agricultural growth, research, and innovation program by $200,000, to $14.553 million, with additional priority on meat and poultry processors in fiscal year 2021;
  • increase by $25,000 in fiscal year 2021 farm safety grants and outreach programs, to a total of $125,000, with $75,000 for grain storage facility safety grants and $50,000 for outreach;
  • appropriate $175,000 in fiscal year 2020 for grants to farmers who have been approved for farm debt restructuring loans guaranteed by the United States Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency or Rural Finance Authority loan programs to cover the loan origination fees; and
  • appropriate $125,000 in fiscal year 2020 for grants to grocery stores to develop safety procedures, update and retrofit locations, purchase personal protective equipment for employees and educate the public on the need to follow safety procedures during the coronavirus pandemic.

Poppe said the Senate decided to reduce funding for researching avian flu to spend more money dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesota grocers sought the assistance, she said.

“We know that avian flu can come back again,” she said. “So it’s definitely something that we don’t want to disregard.”

Poppe said the amendment would also reduce a proposed increase in funding for the rural mental health program from $50,000 to $40,000 and increase supplemental funding to farm advocates from $50,000 to $60,000. She said the Senate has a $100,000 increase in farm advocate funding, compared to the House’s $50,000, so they bumped it up to increase capacity, particularly in southwest Minnesota where there is more need.

Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter) said there’s only so much the state can do, and he hopes the state can count on federal dollars to help.

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