The Minnesota Senate passed Senator Torrey Westrom’s, R-Elbow Lake, agriculture budget bill Wednesday, April 14.

The bipartisan bill, Westrom said, supports agriculture, rural development and rural COVID-19 recovery. It’s focused on helping Minnesota farmers while spurring innovation in the agriculture industry and provides resources for broadband expansion throughout the state, he said.

“Our budget gives resources to Minnesota farmers, so they are able to continue to lead the world in agricultural innovation and development,” Westrom said in a news release. “We focus on making sure the needs of our farmers are met by investing in value-added agriculture. We invest in reliable biofuel infrastructure and eliminate unnecessary regulations to free our emerging industries.”

The legislation helps the agricultural community recover from the pandemic by strengthening the state’s ag sector supply chains and invests in helping more meat processing facilities expand and grow, according to Westrom.

“Ultimately these investments will provide more jobs, improve our processing efficiency, and provide more purchasing options for consumers,” Westrom said.

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The Senate agriculture budget gives historic funding to the Border-to-Border Broadband Grant program at $40 million over the next two fiscal years. This funding will develop permanent broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas, Westrom said, adding that the funding matches a critical need that has become apparent in the wake of COVID-19.

The bill also provides a $3.5 million grant to improve biofuel infrastructure by allowing gas stations to sell higher blends of biofuels.

“This investment helps Minnesota continue to lead the nation in pioneering clean homegrown fuels, like E-15,” Westrom said. “Additionally, the budget includes grants for farm safety equipment and allows the creation of a grain storage facility safety curriculum.”

Mental health outreach on farms and additional mental health services are also included, which continues funding for the existing 24-hour crisis hotline.

“COVID-19 has had a profound impact on all of our lives,” said Westrom. “Many Minnesotans have lacked reliable internet access for work, school, and everyday life. This has damaged our economy, especially in Greater Minnesota, and caused our students to fall behind. This budget helps our underserved communities recover and finally allows them the opportunity to compete in the global market. With adequate ‘bandwidth’ across Minnesota, rural communities can flourish and compete with the world.”