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Minnesota ag leaders urge action on drought relief: 'Every day that ticks by is hard for us'

Lawmakers are working on a plan to aid livestock producers and specialty crop farmers hit hardest by historically dry conditions this year. They could return to St. Paul later this year to approve it.

Agriculture Commissioner Petersen.JPG
While on one of the few rainy days this summer, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen talks about the heavy impact the drought is having on farmers during the Ag and Energy Research Center Field Day on Aug. 27, 2021. Rebecca Mitchell / Pioneer Journal
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ST. PAUL — State agriculture industry leaders on Tuesday, Oct. 12, called on Minnesota lawmakers to approve $10 million in emergency funding for farmers hit hardest by historically dry conditions in the state.

Gov. Tim Walz and his administration last month proposed the relief package for farmers and livestock producers who sold off animals or lost their crops due to the drought. But lawmakers have not yet been able to reach a deal on that package or a plan for sending $250 million to frontline workers who remained on the job during the pandemic.

Until legislators can agree, a special legislative session to approve the spending plans can't move forward. And in the meantime, the demand for disaster recovery loans could outstrip the roughly $3 million available through the state's Rural Finance Authority, Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen told state lawmakers.

"If we don't do it every day that ticks by is hard for us," Petersen said. "We think that the state has some dollars right now and that it would be wise to invest to help some of these farmers make it through the winter, pay a bill or two to get through the winter."

The state earlier this year opened up zero-interest loans for farmers whose operations were affected by the dry conditions. And as part of the $10 million relief proposal, the state could make available $5 million more for disaster recovery loans and $5 million for rapid response grants to livestock producers and specialty crop farmers.

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Those are the groups hit hardest by the drought since they struggled to keep animals fed as grazing land dried up and smaller fruit and vegetable crops dried out without the water they needed.

READ MORE ABOUT DROUGHT RELIEF MEASURES:

Farm industry group leaders said the extra funding could help producers weather the next few months and supplement other state and federal resources aimed at keeping them afloat. They warned against approving funding that could make farmers ineligible for federal support programs.
"We really want to target relief so it goes to the ones that actually need it," Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said. "Keep in mind, we want to keep as many farmers on the farm as possible."

Members on the legislative panel said they'd continue working on a relief plan and said they were hopeful about reaching an agreement in the coming months.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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