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House debates, then tables $139 million omnibus agriculture bill

Rep. Mike Sundin, chair of the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, presents the omnibus agriculture and broadband bill on the House Floor Friday. Photo by Andrew VonBank
Rep. Mike Sundin, chair of the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, presents the omnibus agriculture and broadband bill on the House Floor Friday. Photo by Andrew VonBank

- UPDATED at 8:15 p.m. with bill being tabled

Shortly after the House took up SSHF8 Friday morning, Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko) described the omnibus agriculture and broadband finance bill he sponsors as “necessary to protect our food supply, and serve consumers and producers alike.

“It funds effective, established programs, and responds to new challenges and opportunities in an effort to expand markets and move agriculture forward for the next generation and beyond,” he said.

Shortly after that, Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) moved for the bill to be re-referred to the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, and that motion was the beginning of a Republican-led filibuster that lasted for about 8 hours until the bill was tabled Friday evening with no further action taken.

House Floor Session - part 1 6/18/21

Republicans say the $139 million appropriations bill needs more committee scrutiny and debate.

“Let’s have a conversation. Let’s thoroughly vet this. Let’s put this back in the committee, and let’s do our job,” said Rep. Donald Raleigh (R-Circle Pines).

Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) sponsors the companion, SSSF25, which was debated on the Senate Floor Thursday before being tabled.

Ten amendments remain on tap to potentially be offered for adoption to the House bill. But how many will be adopted, and when a vote for passage will take place, is unknown.

What’s in the omnibus finance bill

On the last day of the 2021 regular session, the House and the Senate each passed HF1524/SF958*, a policy-only agriculture omnibus bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz.

The budget bill debated Friday would appropriate $139.4 million from the General Fund for the 2022-23 fiscal biennium, an increase of $12.7 million over base. It would appropriate:

  • $118.7 million to the Department of Agriculture;
  • $12.1 million to the Board of Animal Health; and
  • $8.6 million to the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute.

The bill would also provide $700,000 for administrative costs for the Department of Employment and Economic Development to manage the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant Program.

Sundin said separate legislation appropriating $70 million in the 2022-23 biennium to fund broadband grants through the DEED broadband grant program is expected to be introduced in another bill during this special session.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

Department of Agriculture appropriations

The proposed $118.7 million for the Department of Agriculture includes $39 million for general administrative costs for the department to manage regulatory programs, such as the divisions of Pesticide and Fertilizer Management, Laboratory Services, Plant Protection, Dairy and Meat Inspection, and Food and Feed Safety.

The bill would earmark $3.1 million of the $39 million for specific programs, including:

  • $1.7 million to upgrade equipment in the department’s analytical laboratory;
  • $450,000 in additional funding for the noxious weed and invasive plant program;
  • $350,000 for compensation for livestock destroyed or crippled by wolves;
  • $310,000 for compensation for crop damage;
  • $220,000 for additional meat and poultry inspection services; and
  • $50,000 in fiscal year 2022 for additional funding for the industrial hemp program for IT development.

Other proposed funding for the Agriculture Department in the 2022-23 biennium includes $32.1 million to the agricultural growth, research, and innovation program, which promotes the advancement of the state’s agricultural and renewable energy industries. Some of the incentives and promotions that would be funded include:

The agriculture research, education, extension and technology transfer account would get $18.6 million to fund agriculture programs at the University of Minnesota, including:

  • $4 million to fund grants administered by the Minnesota Agriculture Education Leadership Council;
  • $2 million for research on avian influenza, salmonella and other turkey-related diseases;
  • $1.2 million for the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station’s agriculture rapid response fund;
  • $900,000 for the cultivated wild rice breeding project at the North Central Research and Outreach Center; and
  • $700,000 for potato breeding projects.

The bill would appropriate $8.4 million for agricultural marketing and development, including:

  • $1.3 million for continuation of the dairy development and profitability enhancement programs;
  • $372,000 to fund grants for the Minnesota Grown promotion;
  • $200,000 for farm safety grant and outreach programs;
  • $100,000 for additional funding for mental health outreach and support to farmers and others in the agricultural community; and
  • $50,000 in fiscal year 2022 to expand international marketing opportunities for farmers and value-added processors, including in-market representation in Taiwan.

The department would be able to use any remaining agricultural marketing and development funds for annual cost-share payments to resident farmers seeking organic certification, and to assist a transition from conventional to organic agriculture.

Other proposed funding to the department includes $19.9 million for administration and financial assistance programs, including:

  • $3.4 million to Second Harvest Heartland for its six food banks in the state;
  • $2.9 million for low-interest agriculture loans;
  • $948,000 to county and district agricultural societies and associations;
  • $724,000 for farm advocate services;
  • $476,000 to state colleges and universities for statewide mental health counseling support for farm families and agricultural business operators;
  • $300,000 for grants to the Center for Rural Policy and Development; and
  • $300,000 to establish an emerging farmer office with a full-time emerging farmer outreach coordinator.

Board of Animal Health appropriations

The Board of Animal Health would receive $12.1 million in the 2022-23 biennium, a $750,000, or 6.6%, increase over the 2020-21 base.

The bill stipulates that $400,000 of the $12.1 million appropriation would be used to fund “agricultural emergency preparedness and response.”

The board’s mission is to protect the health of the state’s livestock and domestic animals through education and cooperation with veterinarians, producers, owners and communities.

Agricultural Utilization Research Institute appropriations

The bill would fund the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute with $8.6 million to continue its mission “to develop new uses for agricultural products through science and technology.”

That figure is $800,000 more than the institute’s current biennial budget, and the bill would appropriate $500,000 for “grants to organizations to acquire, host, and operate a mobile slaughter unit” and $300,000 toward hiring a meat scientist.

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