Budget targets shape approach to agriculture finance

Published 8:31 am Saturday, April 21, 2018

On Thursday, the House majority released its budget targets for the 2018 session. These targets are adjustments made to currently scheduled spending and are a good indicator of where priorities lie at the Capitol.

As the DFL-Lead on the Agriculture Finance Committee, I have a first row seat to testimony from stakeholders on what needs farmers and the greater agriculture industry have in our state.

This year’s budget target from the House majority for ag investments is $250,000. We passed a strong bipartisan bill last year and, while this target is a bit low, it will provide the opportunity to assist with farmers’ mental health. Having resources available for this population is vital for the survival of family farms and individual farmers across the state.

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Minnesota farmers face stress and mental health concerns on a daily basis. Commodity prices, retaliatory tariffs on pork and soybeans, and increasing input prices all impact health and well-being and our ongoing winter weather is also causing havoc. I am proud to have authored a bill which would provide additional funding for more mental health counseling support and to increase funding for farm advocates who assist farmers in many ways. Currently, there is only one full-time rural mental health counselor who is responsible for traveling around the state to meet with farmers in crisis.

Another bill I am authoring would fund a $100,000 grant to the Farmers’ Legal Action Group, which provides legal aid to farmers struggling with finances or other issues. With suicide rates in agriculture-related industries among the highest of all occupations, action needs to be taken quickly. Many compare our current level of crisis to that of the 1980’s.

I am pleased to see Gov. Dayton has proposed using $35 million in bonding for urgent funding for Minnesota’s Rural Finance Authority. The RFA offers eligible farmers affordable financing and terms and conditions not offered by other traditional lenders. As things stand, the RFA is at risk of running out of funding before the 2018 legislative session concludes next month. Demand for these loans has remained high due to Minnesota farm families struggling with low commodity prices.

Born out of the farm crisis in 1986, these loans have been valuable to both farmers and local lenders who participate. I fully support allocating these resources to the RFA as soon as possible so they can continue providing these loans to Minnesota farmers.

Since these targets still lack specifics, I am unable to provide detailed commentary on the budget adjustments. I encourage you to remain engaged in the coming weeks as our legislative work continues.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe can be reached at the Capitol by email at rep.jeanne.poppe@house.mn or by phone at 651-296-4193.