The Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture conference committee meets at 1:00 p.m., and Bluestem hopes that the House conferees--Jean Wagenius, David Dill, Jeanne Poppe, Rick Hansen, and Andrew Falk--can prevail on keeping $190,000 for the Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program in the final conference report.
There's no comparable language in the Senate bill for this program, which is described on the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website:
Competitive grants for up to $25,000 are awarded to individuals or groups for on-farm sustainable agriculture research or demonstration projects in Minnesota. The purpose of the Grant Program is to fund practices that promote environmental stewardship and conservation of resources as well as improve profitability and quality of life on farms and in rural areas. . . .
Eligible recipients include Minnesota farmers, individuals at Minnesota educational institutions, non-profit organizations, and local natural resource agencies. Priority is given to projects that are farmer initiated. All non-farmer initiated projects must show significant collaboration with farmers. . . .The program objectives are to research and demonstrate the profitability, energy efficiency, and benefits of sustainable agriculture practices and systems from production through marketing. Grants are available to fund on-farm research and demonstrations and may include, but are not limited to:
The program does not fund projects that duplicate previously funded projects. . . .
- enterprise diversification and organic production using traditional and non-traditional crops and livestock;
- cover crops and crop rotations to increase nitrogen uptake, reduce erosion, or control pests;
- conservation tillage and weed management;
- cropping systems to implement integrated pest management systems for insects, weeds, and diseases;
- nutrient and pesticide management including prevention of entry into water bodies;
- energy production such as wind, methane, or biomass.
It's not a big program, but one that's useful for farmers, especially those in fast-growing sectors like community supported agriculture (CSA). It's not as if traditional production agriculture is starved in either chamber's bill, so the omission of the program in the Senate bill seems a casual error that can be easily corrected.
Here's the Land Stewardship Project's position on the project (via LSP's lobbyist Bobby King:
Funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program. LSP supports the House position that provides $190,000/ year funding for this program. (HF 976 lines 6.7 – 6.20) There is no dedicated funding in the Senate position.
Here's the House staff comparison and contrast chart. Perhaps the greater problem with the Senate bill is the absence of funding for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Program, which would be developed by the Minnesota Department of Ag and a board composed mostly of farmers and local soil and water commissioners. Oddly, Republicans have objected that farmers would not have a voice in establishing the program's policies. The program is a priority of the Minnesota Farmers Union.
With the suspension of the sustainable food production diploma program at M State-Fergus Falls, a peculiar hostility to toward small-scale, innovative agriculture seems to be gaining steam among some state lawmakers and bureaucrats. This is unfortunate, as the local food movement has been a boon for small business and job creation for those who seek to serve consumer demand.
Update: Those who support fostering our state's sustainable farming sector might consider contact the senators on the conference committee to ask them to agree with the House bill and fund this modest program. Be polite to the legislative aides who answer the phones and listen to the voicemail messages.
David Tomassoni: 651-296-8017
Tom Saxhaug: 651-296-4136
Dan Sparks: 651-296-9248
Jim Metzen: 651-296-4370
Torrey Westrom: 651-296-3826
Photo: Sexy buffer strips, via MnDA.
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