On Monday, May 17, the Legislature officially adjourned in accordance with its constitutional deadline. That said, as of yesterday the bulk of negotiations that will make up the final two-year budget agreement had just begun.
That’s because yesterday Governor Tim Walz, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) and House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) finally reached a global spending agreement that provides needed guidance for conference committees from agriculture to health care to begin negotiating their respective budgets. While the agreement came long past their self-imposed deadline and just hours before both bodies adjourned, legislative leaders celebrated this agreement and highlighted the challenges that had made a budget deal illusive including remote work and vast ideological differences. You can read the broad two-page deal here.
Important for MFU members, joint budget targets included $10 million in new investments in the agriculture budget. This is short of the $11.5 million increase the House had proposed, but by far and above the zero increase put forward by the Senate. The deal also includes $70 million for broadband, a historic investment, and provides $75 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to fund summer learning programs.
“We appreciate the work that the Governor and legislative leaders put in to set budget targets and are encouraged to see new investment in agriculture on the table,” said MFU President, Gary Wertish in a release.
The $10 million target for agriculture reflects MFU’s call for a strong agriculture budget and leaves room for needed new investments including:
- Expanding small and mid-scale meat and poultry processing.
- Biofuels infrastructure to expand the use of E15 and higher blends.
- Support for emerging farmers and assisting in land access and farm transitions.
- Expanding the Farm Advocate Program.
- Funding the noxious weed program.
- Funding the Market Bucks and Good Food Access programs.
- Expanding Farm to School and early care programs.
You can read about MFU’s priorities for in this letter to committee members here. These priorities and others will be negotiated ahead of an expected Special Session on Monday, June 14. In order to have bills ready, the budget deal stipulates that conference committee chairs must negotiate budgets by Friday, May 28 and have policy disagreements reconciled by June 4. The final deadline for passing a budget is June 30 when funding expires and the state could face a shutdown.
Budget targets are an important step forward. That said, it’s important to note that significant policy issues including police reform and accountability, car emissions standards, and the Governor’s emergency powers were not included in the agreement and still need to be addressed.
Outside budget talks, the agriculture conference committee, led by Chairs Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) and Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko), met over the weekend to reach an agreement on some limited policy changes. These changes, which were approved on a bipartisan basis in both bodies include:
- A 5-year reauthorization of the Farmer-Lender Mediation program, while retaining the 90-day timeline. MFU worked hard on this provision and is glad to see the future of the program secured going forward.
- A deal to help producers who sell food under Minnesota’s Cottage Food exemption from licensure by allowing LLCs to participate and allowing participants to sell pet treats.
- An exemption from licensure for people who process less than $20,000 of wild game or fowl (or up to 200 deer) per year.
- Adding another livestock producer to the Board of Animal Health and ensuring that at least one of the four producers on the board is a member of one of Minnesota’s 11 Native tribes.
- Requires a report on proposed changes to the Agricultural Chemical Response and Reimbursement Account (ACRRA) program and not increasing the program’s cap, which could result in increased costs for farmers.
- Other policy changes that can be found here.
“We’re especially pleased that Farmer-Lender Mediation is reauthorized in this policy bill,” President Wertish said. “We’d like to thank Rep. Todd Lippert (DFL-Northfield) for pushing for this program throughout the pandemic to support farmers in financial crisis.”
Legislators and the Governor also reached an agreement to conform with the federal government forgive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans from state income taxes. This is important to many farmers, including sole proprietors, who received these loans during the past year. The Department of Revenue (DOR) is currently working on a solution to ensure that people don’t have to refile their taxes due to this agreed-upon change.
Energy highlight: ECO Act passes floor votes
A significant overhaul of the state’s energy conservation programs, championed by Sen. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City), Sen. Nick Frentz (DFL-North Mankato) and Rep. Zack Stephenson (R-Coon Rapids) was approved by both the House and the Senate and will get the Governor’s signature. This bill, the Energy Conservation and Optimization (ECO) Act, was supported by MFU because it stands to lower energy costs, create jobs in rural areas, and contribute to combatting climate change. It builds on the popular Conservation Improvement Program (CIP), which members have used to finance energy efficiency projects on their farms.
“The Conservation Improvement Program has been saving Minnesotans money on their utility bills for nearly 40 years and we’re pleased its legacy will continue,” said Michael Noble, executive director of Fresh Energy. “This bill is a powerful model for how stakeholders and legislators can collaborate on policy that will benefit all Minnesotans and help the state meet decarbonization goals in an equitable way.”
The language in the ECO Act is the result of significant stakeholder input from electric co-ops, municipal utilities, investor-owned utilities, the state’s largest natural gas utility, clean energy advocates including Center for Energy and Environment (CEE) and Fresh Energy, consumer advocates including the Energy CENTS Coalition and Citizens Utility Board (CUB), and others. The ECO Act is a critical component of Governor Tim Walz’s plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from electricity in Minnesota by 2040.
Read more from Fresh Energy here.
National Farmers Union and Group of Cattle Producer Organizations Hold Historic Talks to Address Problems in Marketplace
National Farmers Union (NFU) recently joined five other organizations that represent cattle producers to agree to work jointly on issues in the cattle marketplace.
On Monday, May 10, member-leaders of American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Farmers Union, R-CALF USA, and the United States Cattlemen’s Association met in Phoenix, Ariz.
These groups convened at the request of Livestock Marketing Association to discuss challenges involved in the marketing of finished cattle with the ultimate goal of bringing about a more financially sustainable situation for cattle feeders and cow-calf producers.
“Unfair markets and a lack of competition in the beef industry has been extremely harmful to producers and consumers alike, especially during the last year,” said NFU President Rob Larew, who was among the participants in the meeting. “Many sectors within agriculture, including beef, are dominated by just a handful of multinational corporations. The time for action is long overdue, and NFU is glad to be a part of this effort to bring strong, swift, and meaningful reform.”
The group talked openly and candidly about a wide range of important issues facing our industry today, including but not limited to:
- Packer concentration,
- Price transparency and discovery,
- Packer oversight,
- Packers and Stockyards Act enforcement,
- Level of captive supply, and
- Packer capacity.
The group also agreed to each consider these action items:
- Expedite the renewal of USDA’s Livestock Mandatory Reporting (LMR), including formula base prices subject to the same reporting requirements as negotiated cash and the creation of a contract library.
- Demand the Department of Justice (DOJ) issue a public investigation status report and as warranted, conduct joint DOJ and USDA oversight of packer activity moving forward.
- Encourage investment in, and development of, new independent, local, and regional packers.
This unprecedented meeting brought together diverse producer organizations to identify issues and discuss potential solutions. These issues and action item lists are not comprehensive, due to time constraints of this meeting. Attending organization representatives were pleased to have reached consensus on many issues and are committed to the ultimate goal of achieving a fair and transparent finished cattle marketing system.