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House approves compromise Agriculture, Drought Relief, and Broadband package

Saturday, May 21, 2022

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today, the Minnesota House approved a compromise supplemental Agriculture budget investing $15 million over the next three years in farmers and food production in Minnesota. The bill also included a package of relief for farmers and communities impacted by last year’s historic drought conditions. Finally, the package includes a total of $210 million worth of new investments in broadband. Zero Republican legislators voted for the bill. 

“Farmers in our state don’t just feed Minnesotans – food grown and produced in Minnesota feeds the entire world. We’ve heard from farmers in our state who are facing some challenges, and they’re counting on us to come together to improve the outlook for Agriculture in Minnesota well into the future,” said Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL – Esko), chair of the House Agriculture Committee. “This is a good compromise to help address urgent needs farmers are facing now, like drought relief and avian influenza, while helping advance agriculture – a critical economic driver – in Minnesota into the next generation.”

The bill invests in a variety of important initiatives to strengthen farming and food production. The budget invests in the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative to promote sustainable perennial and winter-annual crops, incorporating them into existing agricultural practices. It increases investments in the Ag Utilization Research Institute, Agriculture Growth Research Innovation, bioincentive payments to promote more renewable energy sources, soil health assistance, and new funding to support agriculture emergencies.

The budget invests in grants for emerging farmers, a beginning farmer tax credit, and farm downpayment assistance grants. However, the investments in the compromise were far short of what House DFLers initially fought for.

“I am proud to see our bill pass the house floor. Minnesota should lead the way in resilient, sustainable farming, including new investments in healthy soil and water-friendly crops like Kernza,” said Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL – Brooklyn Center), vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee. “We made investments to help new farmers and BIPOC Minnesotans get into the industry. That is why our supplemental agriculture bill is focused on delivering new investments in farmers and food producers so we can maintain a strong ag economy.” 

The drought relief portion of the bill includes $13.1 million in grants and other financial assistance. Of this amount, $8.1 million is for livestock and specialty crop producers and $1 million is for veterinary diagnostic lab equipment to test for avian influenza and other animal diseases, along with a $2.5 million transfer to the Rural Finance Authority and a $1.5 million transfer to the Agriculture Emergency fund. Additionally, the package provides $5 million to replace seedlings on DNR-managed lands that were killed by the drought and $300,000 toward resolving well interferences.

The Republican-controlled Senate refused to adopt several key House DFL priorities including pollinator research, support for farmers market vendors, Farm to School investments, and hunger relief grants for Second Harvest Heartland, along with many investments to support small meat processors.

The budget’s broadband investments include $50 million over the next three years in the state’s Border to Border Broadband Grant program. The legislation also invests $60.7 million toward broadband from the federal American Rescue Plan and calls for at least $100 million from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“The strong investments under this budget compromise will help expand broadband access to more homes, schools, and businesses across the state,” said Rep. Rob Ecklund (DFL - International Falls), the chief author in the House of broadband legislation. “It’s 2022, and reliable internet access isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. I’m proud we worked together to help ensure more people will be able to get online.” 

The bill establishes a Low Population Density Pilot Program to allow certain projects to receive a 75% grant match instead of needing to meet the 50% requirement. Many townships with low populations have shared difficulties qualifying for grants because they’re unable to come up with adequate funding under the current match formula. The bill also establishes a Line Extension Program to provide grants assisting broadband providers to service to unserved locations through a reverse auction process.

A spreadsheet of the investments included in the bill is available here. Video of the floor session will be available on House Public Information Services YouTube channel.

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