The Department of Agriculture comprises less 0.5% of the total state budget, and like other departments, it, too, is looking for more money.
And Gov. Tim Walz would like to oblige.
Commissioner Thom Petersen told the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday the governor’s budget seeks an additional $45.5 million above its base appropriation for the 2024-25 biennium and $71.1 million for the following two budget years. Money would be used to expand staff in a few key areas, offer new services, update technology and provide more money to popular grant programs.
The budget proposal includes $17.6 million annually for the Agricultural Growth Research Innovation Program, which grew out of ethanol producers’ payments and currently assists in the development of new products. The department would also like to extend the program’s sunset date from 2025 to 2035.
There is an ask of $5 million in one-time spending to create a grain indemnity fund, to protect growers when a buyer or elevator becomes insolvent. Neighboring states have had success with such a program, said Deputy Commissioner Andrea Vaubel.
[MORE: See the governor’s budget recommendations]
Developed with public input, the department’s budget request includes several of the approximately 300 spending ideas submitted through a public portal. Among the suggestions is a meat processing liaison, who could help smaller processors with issues such as zoning or plumbing. The department needs $150,000 annually to fund the position with half the money coming from the federal government.
The office is also looking add to its emerging farmers office and hire a full-time international trade representative.
Among other budget requests in the proposal are:
There’s no impact to the General Fund, but the department would also like to increase fertilizer tonnage fee by 25 cents per ton. Fees fund inspections, permitting and nitrogen point source evaluations. The request received extra scrutiny from several committee members.
“Keep in mind this is one more burden farmers have to bear,” said Rep. Bobbie Harder (R-Henderson).