MORGAN, Minn. — Minnesota legislative leaders on Wednesday, Aug. 4, said they'd push to take up a package of drought relief measures for farmers when they return for a special legislative session next month.
During a visit to Farmfest, Gov. Tim Walz and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said they'd work to compile a bipartisan package of financial relief proposals and relaxed regulations in September when legislators return to decide how the state should spend $250 million for frontline workers. And after a visit to the farm show a day earlier Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he was also open to the proposal.
Agriculture industry leaders said crop insurance and other federal supports could help ease the financial burden for farmers hit hardest by the drought, but they said state lawmakers could help provide a quicker solution. And they urged legislators to consider helping those farmers who might not benefit from federal programs.
Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said he'd been collecting feedback from farmers at Farmfest on what measures could help them withstand the drought in the long term whether that was mobile water units for livestock, fencing for newly opened acres or help to transport hay.
“The state sometimes can move much quicker than the federal government … I also think that’s where the state can step in and say we’re committed to the cattle industry, we’re committed to this,” Petersen told Forum News Service.
As dry conditions continue to bear down on large swaths of the state and livestock farmers struggle to feed their animals, farmers are facing painful decisions over selling off cattle, the agriculture leaders said.
"If there are a few things we can do to keep livestock farmers on the land before they have to sell, we should do them," Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said.
Walz, Hortman and Gazelka said they'd heard from farmers about their biggest needs in dealing with the dry conditions and the trio said they expected lawmakers could strike a deal on a proposal that could come up for consideration in September.
Disaster relief funding already set aside by the state could be used to offset some of those hardships, Walz said.
"I think there are state things we can do. In talking to the cattlemen's associations, they've got things that they can do," Walz said. "They're pushing us and I'm pushing my commissioners."
The governor has the authority to call special sessions and he, Hortman and Gazelka have said they would have to agree on policies and terms for a special session before Walz would bring lawmakers back.
"It sounds like something that should be a real bipartisan issue and one we could work across party lines and get done," Hortman said.
In a statement, Gazelka said he would be open to taking up a targeted relief package as part of a September special session and he'd heard from farmers about the impact of the drought while at Farmfest on Tuesday.
A working group crafting a proposal to divvy up $250 million for frontline workers who had to quarantine or take time off to recover from COVID-19 faces a Labor Day deadline to submit its recommendation and a special session could be called soon thereafter.