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Health care a top issue among ag community at Faribault listening session

Minnesota Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen, Rep. Kristi Pursell and Sen. Aric Putnam were on the panel

Faribault listening session.jpg
Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, Rep. Kristi Pursell and Sen. Aric Putnam on the panel for the listening session held in Faribault, Minnesota on March 18, 2023.
Noah Fish / Agweek

FARIBAULT, Minn. โ€” Minnesota lawmakers heard from producers across southern Minnesota on topics such as health care, grain indemnity fund and diversification during a March 18 listening session.

The panel for the listening session, held at South Central College, were Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, Rep. Kristi Pursell and Sen. Aric Putnam.

Pursell is vice chair of the Minnesota House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, while Putnam is chair of the Minnesota Senate Agriculture, Broadband and Rural Development Committee.

"A lot of meetings I go to for work, you think we're going to hear a lot about hardcore farm issues, but we hear about health care, time and time again," Petersen said. "Health care and broadband."

Mike Peterson, who operates Twin Oaks farm in Northfield with his wife and two sons, spoke on issues they're having with affordable health care.

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"I'm not smart enough to fix health care, but I can tell our story," he said. "We have a handicapped son, he's 30 years old and lives in our home. He's high-functioning but needs a personal care attendant on a minute-to-minute basis."

Peterson said that he and his wife are able to look after him on nights and weekends, but caretakers are needed for the rest of the time. He said the reimbursement rate for the in-home caretakers of their son are under $15 an hour.

"There needs to somehow be, on that side of the in-home health care budget, something improved, because the wage reimbursement is below what we pay basically to take care of livestock," he said. "We feel like by keeping him in our home, we're giving him a better life experience, and I think we're saving the system money, when he's under our roof."

Linda Larson, president of the Dakota County Farmers Union, spoke after Peterson about her daughter who has "cognitive and physical disabilities," who lives in a group home.

Larson said because of the low unemployment rate, her daughter was able to get a job at Walmart.

"She makes more dollars per hour than the care attendants who work to take care of her, and I won't even try to describe how hard those people work," she said. "There really is a disparity in the wage of those people working in group home and long-term care facilities, and so we really hope that you will advocate for us on that."

Grain indemnity fund

Several farmers spoke of the importance to the grain indemnity fund legislation, which cleared the agriculture committees in both chambers.

The legislation, HF2718, operated by the Department of Agriculture would provide sellers between half and all money owed when a grain buyer fails. It's a move that brought praise from groups like the Minnesota Farmers Union, which put on the listening session in Faribault.

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"This area got hit kind of hard by the last two failures that we had," Petersen said.

Petersen said he also took notice of a lot of questions regarding the diversifying of agriculture in Minnesota.

"We have such an already diverse sector, but there's more things that we could do, so it's really good to hear firsthand some of the issues that we're debating right now at the Capitol," he said.

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at nfish@agweek.com

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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