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Lawmakers support turkey industry with cookout

Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt served turkey burgers outside the state Capitol. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Hundreds of people lined up on the lawn of the Minnesota Capitol Tuesday for a cookout featuring free turkey burgers.

Rural lawmakers served up hundreds of burgers to raise awareness about turkey products and the ongoing bird flu crisis.

Legislators from the state’s turkey-growing areas have been working together on several bills aimed at fighting the spread of avian influenza and helping the affected farmers.

Millions of turkeys and chickens have already been lost.

Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said grilling 600 turkey burgers was a way to send an important message.

“This thing is getting out of hand.” Baker said. “But we want to make sure people know around the state of Minnesota that turkey is really safe, and we need to support our industry and our growers by buying more turkey.”

Baker and other members of the Republican Rural Caucus chipped in to buy the food and organize the cookout.

The event came a day after the Minnesota House passed an agriculture finance bill that includes several bird flu provisions. The measure allocates more than $6 million for the state agencies responding to the crisis. There’s also money for low interest loans to farmers and extended unemployment benefits for farm workers.

The bill also opens the door for the state to potentially reimburse farmers for lost flocks.

With the number of birds killed in the outbreak rising, it’s been a moving target for lawmakers. But Baker said there’s been overwhelming, bipartisan support for the effort.

“For members like us that are in the thick of it and in the epicenter out in west central Minnesota, I have found the support to be enormous,” he said. “It has been heartfelt, and we’re really grateful for that.”

Another turkey-country legislator, Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, said he wants to make sure the state is ready to respond to the long-term impact of the outbreak.

“We want to make sure that we do this right,” Miller said. “I think we've handled the upfront crisis. Now it’s making the right decisions moving forward.”

The proposed spending in the agriculture bill follows an emergency allocation of $900,000 that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton already signed into law.

Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, attended the cookout and were among those helping to grill and serve the turkey burgers.

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