Governor calls on legislature to approve drought aid subsidies and replenish revolving farm loan funds, especially for farmers without a federal safety net
ST PAUL, Minn. – Governor Tim Walz calls on state lawmakers to invest $ 10 million to help farmers still reeling from the historic drought conditions that have hit the state this summer, especially growers who cannot count on federal safety net programs.
He presented the plan to reporters who gathered at the Gene and Louise Smallidge Farm south of Cottage Grove on Friday, surrounded by Minnesota Farmers Union chief, Minnesota Farm Bureau and Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen.
“In July and August, we lost 20 dairy farms every month, so we lost 40 dairy farms and the state is going to plunge to less than 2,000 dairy farms,” said Commissioner Petersen.
“Right now, 27 percent of Minnesota’s pastures are in very poor condition, 20 percent in poor condition. We have seen a record number of cattle sold in the upstate. Time is running out.”
He said cattle ranchers and specialty crop producers are particularly vulnerable because they don’t have the same options for insurance and other federal help to cover their losses.
Farmers’ Union president Gary Wertish said the issue could not wait until the next regular legislative session, so he hopes the legislature will address the issue in a special session in early October. Herders had to buy hay when they could find it after grazing became impossible.
“I have been on farms in the summer, where there was no more grass in the pastures,” Wertish told reporters. “They were already feeding – it was June – they were already feeding on their winter supply just to survive.”
The proposal includes $ 5 million for “quick response grants” for cattle ranchers and growers of specialty crops, who typically won’t receive as much help from federal safety net programs. Some examples of eligible costs provided by the governor’s office included water tanks, pipelines, water wagons, water transport, wells, and irrigation equipment.
“Our grants would go up to $ 5,000 to producers they apply for. We would spend the first million dollars on special crops and livestock and then we would see how the requests come in, ”said Commissioner Petersen.
The remaining $ 5 million would be used to replenish the Rural Finance Authority’s Disaster Recovery Loan Program, which can provide zero-interest loans to farmers for lost income that is not covered by insurance. harvest or other USDA programs.
Janssen Hang, director and co-founder of the Hmong American Farmers Association, said the aid will be vital for vegetable growers who have been rocked by lack of rainfall at key times in the growing season.
Hmong farmers wore rain gear on Friday as they worked the fields at the HAFA farm in Coates, Minnesota, preparing for the Saturday farmers markets. But Hang pointed out that the greenery you see now has arrived very late in the season.
The governor stressed that Minnesota farmers play a vital role in feeding the rest of the nation and the world, and keeping families on farms is important to avoid further consolidation in the industry.
“The reason it makes a difference for you personally as Minnesotan is that we have to keep people down to earth. We have to make sure these producers stay here and continue,” Walz said.
“None of these programs will make these people whole, but it will help them stay on earth.”
Gene Smallidge, who has farmed for 60 years, showed Walz and Petersen the stark difference between corn and soybeans that had been irrigated versus those in corners of fields that relied solely on rainfall.
The watered corn was 10 feet tall and had full cobs, while the other corn plants were stunted and had produced tiny partial cobs of corn. The irrigated beans had turned golden brown and looked ready for harvest, while the other beans were stunted and full of leaves that had sprouted from the recent rains.
He said these leaves made it impossible to harvest them at this point, but there is a chance some could be salvaged after drying later in the fall.