ST. PAUL, Minn. — On Jan. 24, the Walz-Flanagan administration announced their full budget proposal, which includes key Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) priorities.
“Last week at Minnesota Ag Expo, I met with Gov. Walz and shared our legislative priorities. I’m glad to see several of those priorities included in the Walz-Flanagan proposed agricultural budget,” said MFU President Gary Wertish. “Farmers are the engines that power rural economic growth and the budget proposed by the Walz-Flanagan team will add fuel to grow the rural economy.”
MFU’s priority issue this session is allowing farmers, entrepreneurs, small business owners and others who purchase health insurance on their own to buy in to the MinnesotaCare health insurance exchange. Farmers Union members identified this as their priority at their annual convention in November.
“For me, a breast cancer survivor, I don’t know how we would have been able to pay for my health care without health insurance,” said Cindy VanDerPol, an MFU member from Chippewa County. “Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S., so comprehensive health insurance coverage is extremely important for family farmers. A MinnesotaCare buy-in option is very important to us so that we can continue to do the things we love: farming the land, raising livestock and putting food on the tables of our fellow Minnesotans.”
Another MFU priority in the governor’s proposal is $5 million to jumpstart a Grain Indemnity Fund. Thirteen states, including Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, have Grain Indemnity Funds to protect farmers in the event of fraud, elevator failure or other events that result in nonpayment to producers. Minnesota farmers are the least protected of any farmers in the Upper Midwest when they sell their grain.
“MFU has argued since the Porter elevator failed in 2015 that the state’s bonding system doesn’t do nearly enough to protect farmers. As a result of inaction on this issue, some southern Minnesota farmers were hit twice within the space of 15 months,” Wertish said. “We need to get something done on this. It’s time to join the more than a dozen states who have indemnity funds to ensure that farmers receive more than pennies on the dollars owed when grain elevators fail.”
In addition to the investments listed above, MFU supports the following agricultural investments proposed by the Walz-Flanagan administration:
- Grants to startup or expand existing meat processing plants through the AGRI Value-Added Program – $500,000.
- Hiring a meat processing liaison – $150,000.
- Expanding the soil health financial assistance program – $4 million.
- Funding investments that improve water quality through the Ag Best Management Revolving Loan Program – $4 million.
- Hiring a Climate Coordinator – $300,000.
- Funding for biofuels infrastructure so more consumers can access higher blends of biofuels – $3 million.
- Expanding the Emerging Farmers Office – $700,000.
- Equipment and infrastructure grants for beginning and emerging farmers – $400,000.
- Providing services to immigrant and BIPOC farmers and food businesses – $500,000.
- Funding for the Good Acre’s Local Emergency Assistance Farmer Fund (LEAFF) – $100,000.
- Expanding staff capacity at the Rural Finance Authority – $300,000.
- Expanding the MN Grown program – $150,000.
- Providing entrepreneurial support through expanding the New Markets Cost-Share program – $500,000.
- Replenishing the ag emergency account -$1.5 million.
- Expanding farm safety outreach and equipment grants and improving mental health outreach and services – $500,000.
- Funding for noxious weed programs – $800,000.
- Grants to Farmers Market hubs for aggregation, staff training and program development – $700,000.
- Hiring an additional international trade representative at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture – $300,000.
- Supporting pollinator research at the University of Minnesota – $200,000.
- Supporting county fairs – $400,000.
The announcement concludes a phased budget rollout by the Walz-Flanagan administration.
About Minnesota Farmers Union
Minnesota Farmers Union works to protect and enhance the economic interests and quality of life of family farmers and ranchers and rural communities. MFU is a nonprofit membership-based organization. Membership is open to everyone. Learn more and join at www.mfu.org and follow MFU on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
— Minnesota Farmers Union