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Hopes for cattle, dollars for cows

Published (3/28/2008)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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An issue advocated by one Republican the last six years now has a better chance of becoming law.

Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) has annually advocated for grants to help boost the state’s declining number of dairy farms.

If the idea does make it into law, he says he can thank the DFL chairman of the House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Finance Division, Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar). “Let’s just say, I am more optimistic about this happening,” Urdahl said.

Urdahl’s proposal to make grant money available for eligible dairy farmers wanting to invest in their operations was extended by Juhnke to include producers of most livestock raised in the state. And the provision is a key component in the division’s agriculture policy omnibus bill, HF3902.

The bill would allocate $2.4 million to the Department of Agriculture in Fiscal Year 2009 for grants of up to $50,000 for qualifying expenditures of at least $4,000 to a person who raises livestock in the state. This would include dairy farmers and those raising beef cattle, swine, mules, deer (also known as cervidae), bison and llamas.

However, with spending adjustments, the provision pushes the House’s recommendation up more than $2 million over the governor’s request to cut the department’s budget by $102,000 for the current biennium.

The division approved two omnibus bills March 25. The first deals with policy issues related to agriculture and veterans affairs, which awaits action by the House Finance Committee. The other, HF3981, lays out budget provisions to deal with the biennial shortfall. It was incorporated March 27 by the House Finance Committee into the supplemental budget bill (HF1812).

Gov. Tim Pawlenty would increase by $2.7 million the Board of Animal Health’s budget to address the bovine tuberculosis problem affecting some cattle herds in the northwest part of the state. He also proposes to increase the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs by $5.85 million.

It was the bovine tuberculosis issue that prompted some members to question the committee’s spending priorities.

The supplemental budget bill would allocate $472,000 in Fiscal Year 2008 and $2.56 million in Fiscal Year 2009 to the Board of Animal Health for response to the bovine tuberculosis problem. Rep. Dave Olin (DFL-Thief River Falls), who represents the infected area, pleaded for more money this year to help buy out cattle herds where the disease has been found. Calling it a disaster in the making, “You’d better find me another $10 million,” he said.

Junke successfully amended the bill in the Finance Commitee to add $3 million to the Board of Animal Health budget to address the bovine tuberculosis problem.

Both companion bills are sponsored by Sen. Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy). The companion to HF3981, SF3633, awaits action by the Senate Agriculture and Veterans Committee. The companion to HF3902, SF3683, awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

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