May 8, 2023 - News

What Minnesota wants in the federal farm bill

Illustration of a cob of corn in the shape of a microphone.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

A sweeping food and agriculture bill in the works in Washington, D.C., is set to reshape the future of farming in Minnesota.

The big picture: The farm bill, which is renegotiated every five years, covers policies ranging from crop insurance to nutrition assistance.

  • Conservation, disaster preparation, rural economic development and federal nutrition programs all fall into the massive package.

Why it matters: Minnesota ranks fifth in the nation for agricultural production. The large and diverse farm industry here feeds the world and fuels the state's economy.

Plus: More than 400,000 state residents get food assistance through SNAP, which is covered by the bill.

What they're saying: "People who are not farmers and ranchers, they do have an interest in getting affordable food in America and that's all tied in with the farm bill," U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar told Axios, citing both the need to support food produced in the U.S. and the nutrition components.

Between the lines: Minnesota lawmakers are set to play a big role in shaping the final bill. Klobuchar and Tina Smith are members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, while U.S. Reps. Angie Craig and Brad Finstad are on the House panel.

  • Finstad also chairs a key subcommittee overseeing nutrition programs and other issues.

What we're hearing: Multiple state officials told Axios maintaining a strong crop insurance program is a top priority for farmers.

  • "It is one of the rare tools that we have to protect income or protect risk," Finstad said, "especially [for] young farmers, the risks can be so high."
  • Some local producers have been pushing for more affordable insurance options for smaller farms.

Zoom in: Here's a look at some of the other ways in which the final package could make a mark on the state:

πŸ€– Innovation and technology: A bipartisan proposal cosponsored by Klobuchar would provide low-interest loans to farmers who want to buy precision agriculture equipment.

  • "That's going to allow them to use less water and target their pesticides instead of spreading it over areas that don't need it," she said. "Imagine what a game changer that will be."

πŸ¦ƒ Avian flu: Minnesota is the top turkey producing state in the country. That's why officials hope the final bill includes "adequate protections and support for disease management" to address avian flu, Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen told Axios.

🌎 Climate change: From incentivizing cover crops to promoting conservation, the bill is "one of the biggest ways that we do something about climate [change]," Klobuchar said.

  • Yes, but: Finstad said Republicans want to make sure it's not a one-size-fits-all response.

πŸ‘©β€πŸŒΎ Growing the next generation: Proposals pushed by local members would seek to attract younger and more diverse farmers to the aging industry.

πŸ’» Broadband: An estimated 144,000 Minnesota households still don't have access to high-speed internet. That's a problem, especially for a growing number of families where one person farms and the other works remote from a rural area, Klobuchar said.

🧠 Mental health: A proposal U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer backed in the last farm bill directed more resources to mental health and suicide prevention programs for farmers.

  • Petersen told Axios that getting that reauthorized is a top concern given the stress many are under these days.

What's next: The current farm bill is set to expire in September. Without a deal, lawmakers could instead extend the current version to buy more time.

  • "We've had good negotiations so far, in trying to move forward," Klobuchar said. "The hope would be to get it done this year."
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