Agriculture and Rural Development

Agriculture Committee slowly piecing together budget bill

The Agriculture Committee was given a $40 million target, but with that $40 million already earmarked for broadband funding, the committee has $0 in new funding to support farmers in the middle of a pandemic. A handful of bills that include funding for initiatives have been heard and laid aside as the committee starts to put together its budget bill, but it will be difficult to find funds for any new initiatives given how little Republicans are willing to invest in our farmers.

The full budget bill is expected to be put together in the first week of April. Farmers have seen an incredibly difficult couple of years, especially because of the pandemic, and need our support as they work to feed not only Minnesotans but the world, and as they find new ways to make farming sustainable.

Senate DFLers will continue their fight to support Minnesota’s farmers and our agriculture economy and will push for more funding as we head into the second half of session.

Pandemic shows border-to-border broadband is a need, not a luxury

As the pandemic sent Minnesota’s student to virtual learning, we saw the need for reliable high-speed internet across the state, and we also saw the disparities caused by not having access.

An additional $120 million is needed to finish expanding broadband to all of Minnesota and complete the state’s long-standing goal of access to quality, reliable high-speed internet for all. Republicans, however, have chosen to invest only $40 million in the program, one-third of what is needed and $10 million less than Governor Walz’ proposal.

Senate DFLers have fought for investments in border-to-border broadband and continue to do so this session as the need for broadband has become increasingly evident. Not only does broadband support our local small businesses and farmers in rural Minnesota and build the state’s economy, access to broadband also determines whether our students can access their homework or watch the TED talk assigned by a teacher.

We will continue to demand additional funding for broadband as the Agriculture Committee puts together their budget bill.

Discussion about moving Minnesota towards higher biofuel percentage continues

Minnesota was the first state to mandate the use of ethanol in our fuel supply, and state law requires that all gasoline sold in Minnesota contains 10% ethanol (E10).

The requirement supports our state’s farmers and reduces harmful vehicle emissions. Because it contains 35% oxygen, blending ethanol into gasoline results in more complete fuel combustion, reducing carbon monoxide emissions, which contribute to smog formation.

As the state looks for additional ways to reduce emissions and combat climate change, discussion is ongoing in moving Minnesota to a 15% ethanol standard (E15). Minnesota would be the first state to adopt the higher standard. All vehicles made as of 2001 can use E15, and the various proposals being heard would allow for accommodations for vehicles that cannot use E15.

There are concerns on both sides of this debate – some stakeholders are concerned about mandating an increased standard as it may place burdens on petroleum sellers to ensure their equipment can handle E15, while others are concerned that E15 is a crutch and that we should be moving more quickly towards eliminating the use of fossil fuels entirely.

Governor Walz is a strong supporter of biofuels, and there seems to be movement in both chambers towards some sort of agreement on the role biofuels will play in addressing climate change. Senate DFLers understand the urgent need to address climate change and will continue to engage in this conversation as it works its way through the Legislature.

Minnesota sees increased demand for meat processors along with concerns about safety standards

The COVID-19 pandemic closed a number of Minnesota’s biggest meat processing plants as workers got sick with COVID-19. While the closures were done in the interest of public health, it led to an incredible shortage in processing and farmers were forced to euthanize animals that would have otherwise been processed and sent to market.

The plant closures renewed a discussion about the need for smaller, local meat processors in the state. Minnesota saw $7.1 billion in livestock cash receipts in 2019 – there’s no doubt that livestock farming is a large piece of our economy, and the state should be looking to diversify its processing options to ensure we are prepared for any future disturbances in the processing system, and to better support our local farmers and economy.

The Agriculture has heard a handful of bills on this issue, including a proposal to establish a meat processing program in the state’s public college system. The program would allow the state to recruit and train meat processors that could then open local and regional meat processing businesses.

The pandemic also made it more difficult for Minnesota’s hunters to get wild game processed, as animals that would normally go to large plants were sent to more local plants and tied up processors. A bill heard in committee would exempt some processors that process wild game as a side business or hobby, often known as “garage processors”, from some of the permitting requirements for game processors. Supporters believe this will assist these small processors in staying in business and ensure that those that want to do this work are able to, as the permitting requirements can be expensive. There, are, however, concerns about exempting these processors and handling wild game meat improperly can be dangerous for consumers.

Senate DFLers see and understand the struggle of our farmers and our rural businesses and communities and will keep both in mind as this discussion continues at the Legislature moving into the second half of session.

Cottage food industry is booming, and with it comes public health questions

Minnesota passed a cottage foods law in 2015, to protect consumers while supporting small businesses making baked and canned good and other foodstuffs. The state has seen a boom in these types of small businesses since then, and the Agriculture Committee is considering changes this year to the cottage foods law.

A bill heard in committee would increase a cap on gross receipts for these businesses from $15,000 to $78,000 and require additional food safety training for all individuals that run a cottage foods business. There are also changes to registration fees and how a cottage food business can register with the state.

Proponents of the bill believe this will allow more of these businesses to be established and thrive, while protecting consumer safety. There are concerns, however, about how big a business can get before it is no longer considered a small business, and about burdens placed on the smallest of these businesses.

The bill was heard in committee and sent to Taxes. The issue remains one of the biggest sources of discussion in the Agriculture Committee, and Senate DFLers will continue to work with stakeholders to find a balance in supporting small business and consumer protection.

Senate DFLers fight for funds to feed hungry Minnesotans

The pandemic has made it impossible to ignore Minnesota’s hunger problems, as more of our families are relying on food banks to put meals on the table.

The Legislature in 2020 gave funds to Second Harvest Heartland, a food bank serving all 87 counties in Minnesota, to source local proteins and produce for individuals in the state as the pandemic drove up demands for assistance. Those funds kept countless Minnesota families afloat as the pandemic took a toll on the economy and employment rates and forced people to choose between putting food on the table and paying rent. While we may be nearing the end of the pandemic as vaccines become more readily available, the effects of it will be felt for some time to come, and the end of the pandemic does not mean the end of the hunger and food shortages Minnesotans face.

Harvest Heartland, to continue the important work of ending hunger. Senate DFLers strongly support the work of Second Harvest Heartland and will fight for this funding as we work to end hunger in Minnesota and build a state that helps everyone, not just corporations and the wealthy few.