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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL)

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Minnesota House approves drought relief package

Thursday, March 10, 2022

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today, the Minnesota House of Representatives approved a package of legislation to help livestock farmers, specialty crop producers, and communities harmed by 2021’s historic drought. Authored by Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL - Esko) and Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL - South St. Paul), the proposal provides grants, loans, and other direct relief for farmers. The funding is targeted to small operations unable to access federal crop insurance, and includes measures ensuring equity in the grant process. Additionally, the legislation helps communities recover from the drought by providing grants to local and tribal governments to replace trees and seedlings killed during the drought and to improve water management. 

"On top of challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year's drought was devastating to Minnesota's farmers and ranchers. They play a critical role not just in our state economy, but toward ensuring we all have healthy food to put on the table," said Rep. Sundin who chairs the House Agriculture Committee. "With the growing season just around the corner, they deserve financial relief right now. We’ve been listening to farmers, and these important investments reflect what they’ve requested so they can recover from these difficulties and once again have the opportunity to thrive."

“The ongoing drought has affected forests throughout Minnesota,” said Rep. Hansen. “This bill provides for reforestation in urban, suburban, and rural communities. Protecting our public natural resources is critical in conserving water and mitigating climate change.”

Since last spring, drought conditions have harmed farming and livestock operations across Minnesota. Climate change is a major source of more frequent extreme weather swings, including persistent drought. Farmers and ranchers experienced a lack of access to forage crops and hay, while specialty crop producers, such as farmers market growers, couldn’t access traditional crop insurance and other federally backed financial assistance. 

The bill appropriates $5 million to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) to provide grants up to $10,000 for drought-related expenses. Of that amount, the bill reserves $1 million for livestock producers, $1 million for specialty crop producers, $500,000 for farmers market vendors who are livestock or specialty crop growers, and $100,000 to reimburse farmers for expenses to transport hay and forage. The legislation also provides $5 million for the Rural Finance Authority’s revolving loan account for drought assistance and eases some requirements to qualify for the loans. The legislation prioritizes farms in counties classified as D4, the United States Department of Agriculture’s most severe drought category, followed by farmers in D3 and D2 counties.

To ensure small farming operations, including those run by people just starting out in agriculture, immigrants, specialty crop producers, and farmers market producers can access drought relief, the bill requires MDA to perform outreach to emerging farmers about the relief programs. To ensure equity and fairness, grant recipients will be selected randomly following a five-day hold of applications, improving prospects for farmers with limited internet access or language barriers to receive funding.  

“Last summer, we experienced one of the most severe droughts in the state and it has adversely impacted communities across the state. This drought relief should’ve passed last year,” said Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL - Brooklyn Center), vice chair of the House Agriculture Committee. “Let’s show Minnesotans we can work together to support our most vulnerable farmers and communities to recover their losses and build a more resilient state against climate issues.”

“Minnesota's farmers faced a historic drought. The success of the agricultural economy is critical to the success of our entire state,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “The House DFL is working to provide assistance to those who need it and to improve our state’s resiliency to be better prepared for future climate challenges.” 

Minnesota’s forests and farmlands help prevent climate change by reducing carbon emissions. If we don’t replace the trees and seedlings that were impacted by the drought, one of our most effective tools in the fight against climate change will be compromised. This could make Minnesota more susceptible to climate impacts and severe weather events. 

The drought impacted reforestation efforts across the state. In some sites, seedling mortality rates reached 100 percent. The drought also stressed existing trees, creating financial hardships for many communities. The costs of removing impacted trees and planting new ones are particularly daunting for communities struggling to manage emerald ash borer (EAB) infestations. 

The bill allocates $13.85 million to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to help communities remove and replace impacted trees and prepare for future water challenges. It provides $5.5 million to replace seedlings on DNR-managed lands that were killed by the drought and to help private forestland owners and tribal and county governments replace seedlings on their lands. The bill also provides $4.5 million for grants to help communities remove and replace impacted shade trees and purchase tree-watering equipment. An additional $3 million is included for grants to municipal, township, and tribal governments that operate public water supplies. The funds will help increase water efficiency.