Minnesota Senate passes agriculture relief bill

The governor looks at a corn stalk
Farmer Gene Smallidge shows Gov. Tim Walz and Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen an example of his drought-damaged crops last September.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News 2021

The Minnesota Senate unanimously passed legislation Thursday that provides financial relief to farmers who were hit hard by last summer’s drought.

The $10 million bill includes $7 million for grants of up to $5,000 for livestock and specialty crop farmers. There’s also money to reimburse the Rural Finance Authority for drought relief loans that have already been processed.

“The sooner we can get this through, the sooner we can get relief, a shot in the arm to our farmers that are having to scrape every week to figure out a way to get feed and forage for their livestock because of the shortage of supply last summer,” said Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, who is the chair of the Senate agriculture committee and the bill’s chief sponsor.

The bill also includes money for avian influenza testing and other emerging animal diseases. The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at the University of Minnesota would receive $1 million.

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Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said Minnesota needs to be ready for future challenges.

“This is the kind of money that we spend to prepare so things are not a lot worse,” Frentz said.

Lawmakers began discussing drought relief last summer for a special session that never materialized.

The House passed a drought-relief measure earlier this month.

Lawmakers in the House will need to decide whether to accept the Senate version or go to a conference committee.