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Mental health, hemp-tracking software prioritized in agriculture budget

Expanding mental health outreach. Building online tools to track and license hemp growers. Establishing a market for Minnesota agricultural products in East Asia.

Those are among the Department of Agriculture's priorities for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years, as explained in presentations Jan. 27 and Feb. 1 to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee.

The department’s proposed $250 million budget in the 2022-23 biennium would promote and regulate Minnesota farm and food products and allow prompt response to diseases and pests that threaten state resources, leaders said.

It also would allow for continued innovation, farmer support and regulation of feed mills and fertilizer plants.

The budget would largely build on the one approved for the 2020-21 biennium. Noteworthy proposals for new spending include:

  • $2 million for low-interest loans for water-quality and pollution-reduction projects;
  • $1 million for facility grants to meat, poultry, egg and milk processors through the Agricultural Growing, Research and Innovation Program;
  • $450,000 for the state's Noxious and Invasive Weed Program;
  • $220,000 to bolster meat and poultry inspections;
  • $100,000 to fund rural mental health, including the department's 24-hour confidential support hotline; and
  • $100,000 to hire a trade representative in Taiwan, one of the largest importers of U.S. agricultural products.

Mark Abrahamson, director of the department's Plant Protection Division, said the appropriation for the noxious weed program would help continue state efforts to reduce the spread of nonnative weeds and pests.

Another $50,000 would go to completing the online tool for managing hemp licensing and data, he said, adding that hemp growers already face significant fees and shouldn't have to pay more.

Other new funds include $40,000 for the Farm Advocate program, through which farmers in need of support are paired with experienced farmers. Deputy Commissioner Andrea Vaubel said the department could use an additional advocate, particularly in Southwest Minnesota.

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