The financial threshold farmers must meet to participate in the state’s debt mediation program may increase for the first time in more than 30 years after the House passed the omnibus agriculture policy bill 109-25 Wednesday.
The program began in 1986 as a process farmers could use to renegotiate or restructure debts, and allow a cooling-off period while exploring solutions. The $5,000 debt limit was set at that time and has not changed since.
Anderson said a lot of work has been done over the last couple of years to study the program and the increase was needed to bring it up to date.
“Inflation has really taken place on the farm scene, and what we’re really trying to do is bring the numbers up to the 21st century,” Anderson said.
Anderson also successfully offered an amendment that would require the Department of Agriculture to report to the Legislature every five years on what the minimum eligible debt amount would be, if adjusted using the United States Department of Agriculture’s Index of the Cost of Production.
This would provide for future debt-limit corrections.
The bill now travels to the Senate where Sen. Bill Weber (R-Luverne) is the sponsor.
Amendments to the bill
Several other amendments were also adopted during debate on the bill.
The most contentious was one that would expand nuisance liability protections for feedlot operations to include facilities of all sizes. Advocates said the measure is needed to guard against nuisance lawsuits that can hurt agricultural producers, while opponents argued it would remove valuable protections for neighbors troubled by problems such as odor.
Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) characterized opposition to the amendment as “an attack on agriculture;” while Rep. John Lesch (DFL-St. Paul) said the provision would take away “the last line of defense” people have against these issues.
An amendment by Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker) was also adopted. It would modify the rules governing cottage food producers – home cooks and gardeners who sell their products to the public – to allow them to also donate their products to charities and other organizations trying to raise money.
Under current law, when two parcels of land over 20 acres are next to one another, and one of the landowners decides to put up a fence, the other landowner is required to pay half of the cost.
The amendment removes that cost-share requirement unless there are livestock on each side of the fence.
HF1717, as amended, also includes measures that would: