The omnibus agriculture and broadband bill, which would boost funding for emerging farmers, increase pesticide fees and restructure the Board of Animal Health and the Farmer-Lender Mediation program, has passed the House.
By a 69-63 vote, HF1524/SF958*, as amended, was passed Thursday and returned to the Senate, where that body's version was passed 48-18 on April 14. A conference committee is expected to work out the differences.
DFLers praise the bill's provisions that would help emerging farmers and cottage food producers, protect soil and pollinators and give farmers more time to reach agreements with creditors.
"This bill addresses both the established farmer and the emerging farmers," said Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko), who sponsors the bill with Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake). "Minnesotans deserve this."
Republicans like some provisions in the bill, such as increased funding for biofuels infrastructure and broadband funding, but said they oppose provisions such as a pesticide fee increase and changes to the Board of Animal Health.
The bill would appropriate $163.6 million from the General Fund next biennium, including $112.8 million to the Department of Agriculture and $30.7 million for broadband. Among the most notable spending proposals, it would allocate:
The bill would require eligible programs to be paid for with federal COVID-19 aid received under the American Rescue Plan rather than General Fund dollars whenever applicable.
One of the most debated proposals in the bill would increase the rate of a fee specific to pesticide sales to 0.9%, up from 0.55% for agricultural pesticides and from 0.5% for nonagricultural pesticides.
The increase would mean a farmer would pay a $9 fee on a $1,000 of agricultural pesticides instead of $5.50.
The Department of Agriculture estimates the increased tax would generate approximately $2.25 million annually beginning in fiscal year 2023. It would use the funds in part to hire personnel and buy equipment needed to monitor for three additional chemicals, as recommended by the Office of the Legislative Auditor.
Other notable provisions would:
On Thursday, Republicans unsuccessfully moved amendments that would have stricken down the proposed pesticide fee increase and changes to the Board of Animal Health.
In arguing against them, DFLers noted the auditor's recommendation and said the board needs reforming.