It’s no secret that agriculture has taken a significant hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, with restaurant closures, greatly decreased demand for corn ethanol and meat plant closures. The Legislature’s agriculture finance bill, HF4490/SF4395, stands up resources farmers need now.
“The challenges facing Minnesota’s farmers cannot be understated and the strategic resources made available by HF4490—while limited—will help the farmers, their communities and Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) continue to respond to this evolving crisis,” explained Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) President Gary Wertish of the supplemental finance bill in written testimony to the House Agriculture and Food Committee.
HF4490 includes additional resources for farm and rural mental health; MDA’s Farm Advocates; farm safety; and support for new markets for farmers who’ve lost previous ones due to COVID-19 closures.
While it’s not a magic bullet, it still provides meaningful support.
“Investing in this kind of assistance is important now as well as strategic going forward,” President Wertish said. “The COVID-19 crisis has only intensified the economic challenges farmers have been facing for years. On behalf of our membership, I thank House Agriculture Chair Jeanne Poppe and Senate Agriculture Chairs Torrey Westrom and Bill Weber for their bipartisan work on behalf of Minnesota’s family farmers.”
The Minnesota House also unanimously passed HF4599, a bill that would further extend the deadline for farmers to complete the Farmer-Lender Mediation process.
As President Wertish stated in written testimony, “extending the deadline would not only give farmers and lenders more time to reach a mutually beneficial plan for managing debt—which is warranted given the unprecedented challenges farmers are facing—but also allow them to resume this work when they are able to meet face-to-face.”
This follows a 90-day extension signed into law last month, as well as an expansion of the Rural Finance Authority Disaster Loan Program and grants to Second Harvest Heartland for food purchases.