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$10 million bill for drought relief, avian flu surveillance passes Minnesota Senate

The proposal is not final, it will now come before a panel of House and Senate members to iron out differences before it could come up for another vote.

Minnesota Senate - 013122
Members of the Minnesota Senate on Monday, Jan. 31, 2022, applauded after Sen. Dave Osmek, R-Mound, was elected as Senate president on the first day of the 2022 legislative session.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on Thursday, March 31, approved a $10 million plan to send out aid to farmers and ranchers hit hardest by drought conditions last year and to offer extra tools to detect avian influenza in Minnesota.

Senators voted unanimously to advance the funding bill after they noted the dire impact the historically dry conditions had on ranchers and specialty crop producers in 2021. The groups had less of a cushion compared to other farmers that were able to draw crop insurance last year and they had to sell off herds or watch crops wither amid the drought.

The bill to include $7 million worth of grants for specialty crop farmers and ranchers in the areas of the state hit hardest, as well as $1.5 million in loans to be administered through the Rural Finance Authority. Farmers and ranchers for months have asked lawmakers for financial support to help them weather the blow dealt by the drought.

"The sooner we can get this through, the sooner we can get relief — a shot in the arm — for our farmers that are having to scrape every week to figure out a way to get feed and forage for their livestock because of the shortage of supply last summer," the bill's author Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said.

Partisan disagreements over other provisions that should be considered during a special legislative session — including a GOP call to oust Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm — prevented the proposal from moving forward before January. And different priorities in each chamber slowed its progress over the last two months at the Capitol.

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Lawmakers also highlighted the importance of sending $1 million to the Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab to fund animal disease diagnostic equipment and another $500,000 to help the Minnesota Department of Agriculture buy avian influenza testing supplies. To date, five Minnesota flocks have tested positive for the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, of H5N1, and United States Department of Agriculture officials this week traveled to Minnesota to aid in surveillance and isolation efforts.

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health on Thursday issued a one-month ban on poultry sales and exhibitions in an effort to curb avian influenza's spread.

"This is really an urgency. We've seen the loss of a lot of livestock farmers and dairy farmers and other livestock farmers. We can't afford to lose anymore," Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Audubon, said. "We're not making the farmers whole, we're just giving them enough help — a hand up — just to get them through the next growing season."

A similar bill passed through the House earlier this month after Democratic leaders in that chamber added $13 million to replace trees and seedlings that dried out amid the drought and to set up local water infrastructure. The House of Representatives could accept the Senate version or decide to appoint members from each chamber who will be tapped to join a conference committee to iron out the differences between the two versions.

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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