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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz Signs $100M Rural Internet Bill

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday signed an agriculture and broadband spending bill into law. The new law earmarks $100 million in funding for rural Internet expansion.

Rows of young soybean plants on a farm in Minnesota.
(TNS) — Topped by $100 million for rural Internet and a safety net for farmers on grain sales, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, May 18, signed an agriculture and broadband spending bill into law.

"Agriculture is central to our state's identity, and this bipartisan law will empower Minnesota's farmers, ranchers, and producers to succeed for years in the future," Walz said in a signing ceremony at a farm near Finlayson, north of the Twin Cities. "From protecting producers with the state's first grain indemnity fund to making a $100 million investment in expanding high-speed broadband and supporting Minnesota's emerging farmers, this budget provides security for our farmers and producers and ensures we can continue growing and innovating in our nation-leading agriculture industry."

The bill includes $10 million to establish the state's first grain indemnity fund, providing protections for farmers who might be owed money when grain buyers or elevators become financially insolvent.

Other highlights of the bill include:

  • Support for emerging farmers: Funding will expand the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Emerging Farmers Office, which allows additional staff to focus on the needs of emerging farmers, and immigrant and BIPOC producers and business owners.
  • Soil health equipment grants: The bill provides $1.25 million to build on the new Soil Health Financial Assistance Program that began as a pilot in 2022. The grants will help farmers implement soil health management practices by awarding funds to access specialized equipment.
  • Forever Green Initiative: Funding supports the University of Minnesota and the Forever Green Initiative.The initiative brings together researchers, local groups, private-sector partners, and non-profits to advance and commercialize new high value commodity crops for conservation purposes.
  • Good Acre LEAFF Program: The bill provides funding to support The Good Acre's Local Emergency Assistance Farmer Fund which provides underserved farmers with new market channels by paying market-rate prices for their produce, all of which is then donated to hunger-relief organizations across Minnesota.
  • DAIRI Program: The bill provides $4 million for the Dairy Assistance, Investment, Relief Initiative. The program provides financial assistance to Minnesota dairy cow operations that produced less than 16 million pounds in 2022 and that enrolled in the Dairy Margin Coverage Program, a federal dairy risk protection program.
  • Safety, health and wellness: The bill will fund farm safety outreach and equipment cost-share payments to farmers; stress and mental health outreach, promotion, and support to farmers and others in the agricultural community; and a pass-through grant to the Minnesota FFA Foundation to engage FFA chapters in addressing stress and mental health.
  • Ag emergency account: The bill includes $1 million in fiscal year 2024 to replenish the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's Ag Emergency Account, ensuring the agency is ready to respond to ag-related emergencies in a timely manner.

Minnesota has been an exception to the rule in the Midwest by not having a grain indemnity fund and efforts to create a fund in previous sessions had failed. If there a financial failures and the fund drops below $8 million, farmers may be assessed a small fee on grain sales to replenish the fund.

The fund had been a priority of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

"This bill invests in the foundation of Minnesota's economy — family farm agriculture — while looking to the future with its support of beginning and emerging farmers. It establishes a grain indemnity fund, which MFU has worked on since the Porter elevator failure in 2015," Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish said in a news release after the bill passed both houses of the Legislature on May 11.

©2023 the Grand Forks Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.