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Governor proposes $240M over two years for agriculture needs

Tim Walz1 / 2
Torrey Westrom2 / 2

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has proposed spending just over $240 million over two years on the state's agriculture needs, such as meat inspectors, lab equipment and research.

His proposal will have to go through a Republican Senate and a Democratic House, and will likely be modified along the way.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, chairman of the Minnesota Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Finance, called the governor's budget a "modest one" that focuses on the state agriculture department and its duties, including hiring new staff.

It doesn't provide enough direct assistance to farmers or their markets, or communities that rely on agriculture, he said, especially at a time of low commodity prices and struggling farmer budgets. He would like to see the state invest more in value-added agriculture, which would create new products out of crops.

"The Minnesota Department of Agriculture should invest more directly in our farmers to get them over this economic hump rather than adding more full-time staff," Westrom said.

Here are some examples of where Walz proposes to spend money:

• Add two positions to market Minnesota-grown crops, ingredients and foods overseas as well as to grocery stores and institutions. Cost: $1 million over four years.

• Boost agricultural emergency preparedness and response. "Minnesota is not as prepared as it could be to respond to potentially catastrophic outbreaks such as Foot and Mouth Disease, soybean or cereal rusts, or invasive insects or weeds," the proposal says. Cost: About $2.5 million over four years.

• Fight noxious weeds like Palmer amaranth, which can wreak havoc on cropland as well as pollinator habitat. Cost: $3.6 million.

• Reduce bottlenecks at meat lockers by boosting the state's ability to inspect them. In order to resell their meat, farmers generally have to have them slaughtered at an inspected facility. Also, allow the state to conduct more complex lab tests. Cost: $1 million over four years.

• Continue the Hemp Industrial Development Program and add a full-time position. Right now, only one person oversees the hemp program statewide. The state agriculture department is expecting a "significant increase" in growers, processors and marketing entities within Minnesota over the next five years. Nationwide, there is a growing demand for hemp-based food products including cooking oil, dairy alternatives and flour for their nutritional qualities, according to Grand View Research, a U.S.-based market research and consulting company. Cost: $1.2 million over four years.

• Continue a program to fight plant pathogens and pests such as the marmorated stink bug that can harm apple growers. Cost: $1 million over four years.

• Upgrade the equipment in the agriculture department's laboratory. Cost: $2.1 million over two years.

• Monitor pesticides in surface and groundwater. Pesticides are frequently detected in surface water and groundwater and can be a source for surface water impairments and pose a risk for drinking water, the budget plan says: "Having reliable long-term data about pesticides in surface water and groundwater is extremely important for informed decision-making about imposing or removing restrictions on pesticide use to protect the environment." Cost: $700,000 over two years.

• Develop new high-dollar crops that improve water quality and help develop profitable markets through the Forever Green Initiative. These crops include intermediate wheatgrass, pennycress, camelina, and winter barley. Cost: $3.3 million over two years.

• Hire people to help farmers use best practices to protect and improve water quality. Cost: $3.2 million over two years.

• Help educate farmers who irrigate row crops about how the practice can contaminate groundwater with nitrates, especially in sandy soils common in central Minnesota. Irrigators had pinpointed an irrigation specialist as a "critical need," the budget plan said. It added, "Nitrate is one of the contaminants of greatest concern in Minnesota's groundwater," citing nitrogen-demanding crops such as corn, potatoes and edible beans as potential contributors. Cost: $770,000 over two years.

• Continue funding of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, which rewards farmers who adopt on-farm conservation practices that protect and improve Minnesota's lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. Cost: $6 million over two years.

• Reduce the contamination of groundwater due to the use of nitrogen fertilizer through testing private wells, promoting best management practices and working with local government. Nitrate poses one of the greatest risks to groundwater in Minnesota and has contaminated drinking water in some places. Cost: $5.2 million over two years

• Test private wells for pesticides, especially where nitrates have been found. Cost: $2 million over two years.