Minnesota ag groups applaud Gov. Tim Walz's budget proposal
Among other items, a Minnesota soybean leader said the Port of Duluth is still a major factor for success for the state and the country.
MANKATO, Minn. — Included in Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's series of budget proposals is over $100 million to support farmers to grow their businesses while expanding the state’s biofuels infrastructure, building soil health and supporting new and emerging farmers.
A week before Walz released his two-year budget proposal, the state's ag groups shared their hopes for it with him. Leaders from both the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and Minnesota Corn Growers Association met with Walz during the annual MN AG Expo in Mankato.
Bob Worth, who has farmed for more than 50 years on his family farm in southwest Minnesota, is the president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.
"He talked ag, and that's what he needed to do," Worth said of Walz's speech at the expo. "I feel that he wants to do a lot of good things. If he can get the House and the Senate to follow along is going to be tough."
Worth said he's confident that the soybean and corn associations have Walz's ear when it comes to ag policy.
Top issues that Worth brought up in the annual meeting with Walz were biodiesel and rural infrastructure, which were both included in Walz's budget proposal, called "One Minnesota Budget."
In a presentation to Minnesota House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee on Jan. 24 , agriculture department staff addressed plans to create a grain indemnity fund , which failed in the last session, and to increase a fertilizer inspection fee by 25 cents per ton of fertilizer sold.
Worth said he expected to see an increase for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in the governor's budget proposal.
"The ag budget is something that's passed real quick, but we'd like to see it increased," he said.
He said the soybean growers association wants to see more money in the ag budget allotted for the Port of Duluth, which he said is poised to be an important tool for moving soybean products to the United Kingdom and other European countries.
Tom Slunecka, CEO for the Minnesota Soybean Reseach & Promotion Council, said the Port of Duluth is still a major factor for success for the state and the country.
"It's really the port that won World War II, because of all the iron ore that came out of there," Slunecka said. "But it's been a long time since we've invested in it."
He said the Port of Duluth is a "direct route" to new markets in Europe. Worth said it's more expensive to ship out of the Gulf of Mexico or Pacific Northwest. He called it a "great thing for farmers."
Slunecka said he was "very pleased" with Walz's work for the state's ag industry in his time as governor so far.
"Ag is the mainstay here in Minnesota — I mean we have other large industries, but nothing's quite as big as agriculture," he said. "(The Walz administration's) dedication to renewable diesel, biodiesel, ethanol, I think is very, very key for driving the economics of our state, and the fact that we have a fantastic Department of Agriculture."
He said that along with having the support of Walz, the state's biodiesel industry has had support from the two previous governors.
"With biodiesel, we're in a good spot there," he said. "We're B-20 here in Minnesota, the largest mandate anywhere in the United States, and so Minnesota is clearly a leader when it comes to biodiesel."
In September 2019, Walz announced his intent to adopt a pair of California mandates — governing low-emission vehicles and regulating zero-emission vehicles. Slunecka said he disagrees with the decision to act unilaterally and force electric vehicles on the ag sector, which is not equipped for them yet.
"We're a long ways from electric trucks and electric tractors, and we need to keep our foot on the diesel pedal, if you will, to make sure that biodiesel remains profitable so that those producers of that product will continue to be here in our state," Slunecka said.
What's in it?
Included in the agriculture portion of Gov. Tim Walz's budget proposal is $500,000 in grants to help meat, poultry, egg and milk processors start up, modernize or expand their businesses. To promote locally raised and processed meat and poultry, Walz recommended expanding the Minnesota Grown program, which is designed to promote products that were grown or raised on Minnesota farms.
The One Minnesota Budget also continues the Agricultural Growth, Research, and Innovation (AGRI) program which provides financial assistance for activities that advance Minnesota’s agricultural and renewable energy industries. The budget plan proposes additional funds to the AGRI Biofuels Infrastructure Investment Grant program to promote the continued sale and use of higher ethanol blend biofuels and give drivers more affordable options at the gas pump.
Also in the proposed agriculture budget: $150,000 to hire a meat processing liaison, $4 million to expand the soil health financial assistance program, $4 million to fund investments that improve water quality through the Ag Best Management Revolving Loan Program, $300,000 to hire a climate coordinator, $3 million in funding for biofuels infrastructure so more consumers can access higher blends of biofuels, $1.5 million to replenish the ag emergency account, which is used to to respond to avian and prepare for African swine fever, and $700,000 in grants to farmers' market hubs for aggregation, staff training and program development.
Agweek reporter Jeff Beach contributed to this report.