In the midst of a significant drought that persists across much of the state, the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee held an informational hearing Tuesday to receive an update on current conditions and discuss a proposed relief package to help the many farmers who are struggling.
Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen told members the drought is the worst in decades, likely since 1988.
In mid-August, 90% of the state was under a severe drought and 25 counties are still experiencing those conditions, while 17% of the state, mainly in northern Minnesota, is in an extreme drought.
Livestock producers and dairy farmers are faced with hay shortages and less forage to feed their animals, while some crop farmers are seeing lower yields and quality.
Petersen said that although crop farmers have a safety net in place with crop insurance, livestock and specialty crop farmers who produce fruits and vegetables don’t have equally strong safeguards, and the department’s presentation to the committee outlined the $10 million drought relief package recently proposed by Gov. Tim Walz.
It includes $5 million in rapid response grants to provide relief for livestock and specialty crop producers and $5 million for the state’s Disaster Recovery Loan Program. Administered by the Rural Finance Authority, the program would offer immediate no-interest loans to farmers impacted by the drought.
“This package wouldn’t make anybody whole, it helps pay a bill or two,” Petersen said. “If we’re going to consider drought relief, this is something we could do that would help a lot of folks.”
He said the package is scalable and the dollar amounts could be adjusted up or down depending on the need moving forward but that waiting until 2022 to take action just makes things more difficult for everyone and the state can act more quickly than the federal government to provide aid.
In a letter to the committee, the Minnesota Farmers Union expressed “strong support” for the relief package, saying the rapid response grants reflect a request it made earlier this summer and that they should be “swift to administer, easily accessible, and with no or limited cost share.”
If there is no special session called by the governor, the Legislature would have to wait to until it reconvenes Jan. 31, 2022 to act on the relief package.