State agriculture leaders discuss COVID-19 impacts, beef up assistance

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This week, Minnesota lawmakers will vote on legislation that will help the agricultural industry that’s grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also heard from industry leaders about the effects of the virus. 

Tuesday, the Minnesota House Agriculture and Food and Finance and Policy Division discussed a wide-ranging bill that will help farmers in multiple ways. Included in the bill is additional money for mental health funding and safety improvements (including grain bin safety improvements) for farmers. 

The department has resources for farmers posted on its website here, and other resources to help farmers trying to cope with stress during these times here.

New additions also set up a path for farmers to get assistance if they’ve lost contracts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and allow they to diversify to whom they sell their products. 

The bill will be voted on Thursday in the House and has bipartisan support in the Senate. 

Discussions were open to the public, but were held on the phone and livestreamed through the Minnesota Legislature’s website. Public comment on the bill must be sent virtually. To do so, send an email by noon on Wednesday, April 29. 

Also part of the phone call were Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen and Minnesota Board of Animal Health’s executive director, Dr. Beth Thompson. 

Petersen discussed what the state is doing to help farmers, food producers, and food processors during the pandemic—including figuring out new ways to distribute product. Thompson echoed his notes and both stressed the negative impact the closing of meat processing plants have been. 

Thompson mentioned if plants continue to close around the nation (including in Minnesota), and they don’t start operating at 100%, by June the nation could have hog-backlog of more than four million.

State agricultural leaders were also asked about the future. Due to the daily changes, that was a hard question to answer but they did mention we should expect farms to close.

They also mentioned the importance of the mental health funding as farmer-suicide numbers were high, before the pandemic hit. 

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