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December 6, 2023
Editor’s note: This is the debut of Around the MDA, a quarterly column by Thom Petersen, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
by Thom Petersen
Typically, the even-numbered years at the Minnesota Capitol are focused on policy and a bonding bill, since the Legislature sets budgets in odd-numbered years. This year may be a mixed plate, given that lawmakers are currently looking at a $2 billion surplus. While there are always unknowns when it comes to the legislative process, there are several things we can expect.
First, there will likely be discussions on how to help the dairy industry. In 2023, Minnesota lost nearly 100 dairy farms. Demand and market prices put an added strain on an already hurting industry. While the Legislature provided $4 million for the Dairy Assistance, Investment, Relief Initiative to help dairy cow operations with financial assistance, the money isn’t accessible at this time because of ties to the federal Dairy Margin Coverage Program — which must first be renewed. I anticipate parties to discuss a legislative fix that allows the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to get the DAIRI funding to dairy farmers in a timely manner.
Second, the MDA will be looking at several tweaks for some of the many policies that govern our work. This may not garner flashy headlines, but small adjustments to policies help us better serve Minnesotans. For instance, changes in the 2023 session helped us expand eligibility for our Farm to School program. More school districts and early childhood education centers can now purchase fresh local products from Minnesota farmers as a result. Policy revisions can increase productivity and access or allow the MDA to use tax dollars more efficiently.
Finally, we’ll be asking lawmakers to extend the work of two important groups. The Organic Advisory Task Force, which advises the MDA and University of Minnesota about policies and programs that will benefit Minnesota’s organic sector, is scheduled to sunset in 2024. The Agricultural Fertilizer Research and Education Council, or AFREC, is scheduled to sunset in 2025. This farmer-led program helps advance soil fertility research, technology development and education. We’ll be looking to extend these sunset dates into the future.
As we start the session, this is our chance to tell the many and varied stories of our farming and food sector to an audience of lawmakers from across the state. I encourage everyone to follow along during the session and get involved. Contact your lawmakers and tell them why supporting Minnesota agriculture is important, and I’m confident this year’s session will bring more opportunities for the growers, workers and producers who make our state’s ag economy the sixth largest in the nation.
We can succeed when we work together, and I also encourage you to contact me any time with your ideas or comments. I can be reached at [email protected].
Petersen is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
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