Minnesota farmers suffering financial losses from one of the driest seasons in decades could get grants or loans thanks to a $ 10 million farm aid proposal that Governor Tim Walz presented on Friday.
But the timing of the relief dollars is tied to an unrelated political showdown at the State Capitol.
“We have to keep the people on the land. We have to make sure these producers stay here,” Walz said, noting that he heard from families who sold their herds of cattle during the summer drought. “We think it’s a piece to help fill the void.”
The DFL governor said he hoped lawmakers could pass the plan, along with helping frontline workers in the event of a pandemic, in a special legislative session in early October. But Walz – the only person who can call a special session – has remained firm that he will not bring lawmakers to Capitol Hill to pass these proposals unless Senate Republicans pledge not to impeach the government. Commissioner of the Department of Health, Jan Malcolm.
GOP lawmakers, some of whom disagreed with Walz and Malcolm’s approach to COVID-19 vaccines and masks, said they would not make such a deal.
Walz examined the dry corn and soybean stalks at Gene Smallidge’s farm in Hastings on Friday before presenting details of the back-up plan. He said the state was in a good financial position to spend an additional $ 10 million in aid to farmers.
The impacts of the drought have been uneven, with producers in parts of the state appearing to suffer significant losses or even shutting down their businesses while other areas have been spared.
Many farmers purchased crop insurance through the U.S. Department of Agriculture or received other federal assistance to help them get through the difficult season, but state officials noted that federal programs were not enough.
Livestock producers and people with specialty crops are among those who have been excluded from federal assistance, Walz said.
“There are no safety nets for people like me,” said Kathy Zeman, director of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association, which has a certified organic livestock operation. “Little ag in this state is a billion dollar industry that nobody knows we have to grow. That’s what it does. That said, okay, it won’t cure you, but it will help you. But it recognizes your worth. “
The Walz administration’s plan would involve $ 5 million in grants, giving ranchers of livestock and specialty crops the first chance to apply. The dollars could be used to cover needs such as water reservoirs, irrigation equipment and wells. An additional $ 5 million would be distributed as zero-interest loans through the Rural Finance Authority’s Disaster Recovery Loan program to help offset lost income due to lack of rain or expenses that insurance did not cover.
The state plans to provide between 500 and 1,500 grants depending on how much people request, and the grants could reach up to $ 5,000, Agriculture Department Commissioner Thom Petersen said.
“The good thing is that it’s scalable,” said Petersen. “If lawmakers want to help more farmers we can go higher, if they want to help a little less we can go less.
While the way forward for a special session is uncertain, Republicans and Democrats on Friday expressed a desire to help farmers.
The success of the farm economy is critical for the rest of Minnesota, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement after Walz’s announcement.
“House DFLers will continue to work with Governor Walz and Senate Republicans to put together a package that will help members of our farming community who have been negatively affected by this historic drought,” said Hortman.
Petersen has contacted the Legislature to put the back-up plan in place, GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller of Winona noted. And Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said he was working on farm relief that could include quick-response grants and property tax refunds. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Westrom said ranchers are in a particularly difficult situation with their lack of crop insurance and a shortage of fodder to feed their animals.
“Until then, their property tax bills will still become due this fall, along with other fixed expenses,” Westrom said in a statement. “So any one-time aid program would help demonstrate our appreciation for the important role the farming community plays in our state.”
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044