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Crop development program would get $10 million under approved bill

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Legislators are considering whether to provide extra funding to a University of Minnesota program that develops new crops, cropping systems and supply chains.

HF661, sponsored by Rep. Ginny Klevorn (DFL-Plymouth), would dedicate $5 million in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 from the Clean Water Fund to the Forever Green Initiative.

It was approved 9-0 with four abstentions Wednesday by the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee and referred to the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee. Its companion, SF1506, is sponsored by Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls) and awaits action by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Finance and Policy Committee.

The Forever Green Initiative has focused on developing crops that can withstand winter, when fields are bare and most vulnerable to erosion and nutrient loss.

That has included Kernza, a type of a wheatgrass sold commercially in bread, cereals and snacks.

Gov. Tim Walz has proposed $1.94 million for the program in each year of the 2022-23 biennium. But in a letter to legislators, supporters said the additional dollars would allow the initiative to hire faculty necessary for successful plant breeding.

They also said state investment in the program has historically been leveraged many times over in federal grants and other funding.

In addition, they said Forever Green crops can diversify crop rotations and farm-income streams, protect drinking water and public health and create new economic opportunities for Minnesota family farmers.

Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck), who abstained from voting, supports the program but said he doesn't think the committee had enough discussion, adding he'd like to know about previous funding levels.

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