The Minnesota Senate unanimously passed a bill May 18 to aid farmers with safety, mental health, production and advocacy.

The legislation, headed up by Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, chair of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance Committee, passed through committees earlier this year without opposition and took into consideration the stressed agricultural economy.

While discussing the bill on the Senate floor and highlighting recent food chain disruptions in Minnesota and the nation, Sen. Westrom said, “This bill hits on the greatest needs we have in our rural areas and agricultural community. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, so we have to do what we can to protect our food supply chain and our farmers. They are in a dire situation, as processors and restaurants are shut down. Supporting farmers is the key message here.”

The bill focuses on safety in multiple facets, Westrom said.

On a preventative level, there is an appropriation to fund research through the Veterinary Diagnostic Labs (VDL) at the University of Minnesota. Improvement of the technology and efficiency of this disease testing lab was one of the key requests from every agriculture commodity group in the state, according to Westrom.

Research at the VDL will improve the response ability of the state from large scale animal diseases, such as the Avian Flu and African Swine Flu, Westrom said.

Grain bin and silo safety was also a focus in the Senate with grants to help farmers buy grain bin safety equipment and technology. Westrom said the measures follow years of horrific injury and death in grain bin or silo accidents and are hoped to lessen those incidents in years to come.

COVID-19 response was the defining portion of this year’s legislative session and is included in Senate File 4395, Westrom said.

Eligible farmers working to refinance their operations may receive loan origination fee grants, which can account for up to 50% of the value of loans taken out during the COVID-19 crisis.

For production, $20,000 was appropriated to expand local meat markets for local business and processing capacity.

Grants were also made available to local grocers for personal protective equipment. Many small grocers and food handlers had to unexpectedly invest in protective equipment such as masks, plexiglass shields and educational materials.

Farm advocate services may be eligible for reimbursement through the federal CARES Act, Westrom said. The services not only help farmers in a financial crisis but connect them to mental health resources.

Connection to these services is vital, Westrom said, as farmers are at high risk for untreated mental health crises, especially in this difficult agricultural economy.

“We salute the farmers in the state for the wonderful work they have done to keep our food supply chain alive during this difficult time,” said Westrom.