$ 10 million proposed by governor to help drought-stressed farms
After hearing the impact of drought on Gene Smallidge’s corn and soybean crops this growing season, Gov. Tim Walz told reporters at a September 24 press briefing that his administration was proposing a plan to $ 10 million drought relief.
The proposal, which requires legislative approval, would prioritize funds for specialty crop farmers and cattle ranchers.
LACK OF RAIN: This undeveloped ear of corn came from a corner of Smallidge’s irrigated cornfield. He is optimistic about getting 220 to 240 bushels per acre on his irrigated acres. However, on his mainland corn, he expects yields to range from 0 to 50 bushels per acre.
Attending the event on Smallidge’s farm near Hastings were Thom Petersen, Agricultural Commissioner of Minnesota; Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union; Dan Glessing, vice president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau; Kathy Zeman, executive director of the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association; and Janssen Hang, executive director of the Hmong American Farmers Association.
As several speakers have noted, time is running out to get the back-up plan adopted.
“It has to happen now,” Wertish said. “Farmers are now deciding whether to go out or [keep farming]. Glessing added that farmers are now making decisions on purchasing seeds and other inputs for the 2022 season.
MOISTURE IMPACT: Soybean plants shown are the same variety and both were planted on the same day. Gene Smallidge said the greenest beans (top) are on non-irrigated land and about a week to a week and a half behind the drying beans (bottom). These beans are on irrigated land. Smallidge has estimated that he will see a yield of 55 to 60 bushels per acre.
The proposal includes $ 5 million in rapid response grants to provide drought relief to cattle ranchers and specialty crop producers. Examples of eligible costs include water treatment equipment such as water tanks, water pipes and wagons, water transport, wells and irrigation equipment. Grants of up to $ 5,000 per producer would be available. The first million dollars would go specifically to livestock and specialty crop producers.
The funding proposal also includes $ 5 million for the Rural Finance Authority’s disaster recovery loan program. RFA’s disaster recovery program offers zero-interest loans immediately available to Minnesota farmers whose operations are suffering from lack of rain. Loans can be used to help cover lost income or expenses not covered by insurance.
The disaster assistance proposal would fill some financial gaps not covered by federal programs, such as crop insurance, Walz said. These programs offer some relief to row crop producers, but not to livestock and specialty crop producers.
“This proposal is a starting point,” said Petersen. “We think we have the resources and we want to show that we care. Some lawmakers also have ideas on how to help farmers affected by drought, he added. However, nothing formal had yet been proposed.
Petersen also said Minnesota lost 40 more dairy farms this summer, reducing the total number of dairy farms to less than 2,000 farms – a first in the state.
CROPS & BREEDING: Gene Smallidge and his wife, Louise (not shown), in addition to raising crops, have a herd of 75 head of Black Angus. They market their beef at 18 months through direct sale to consumers. The family owns and operates two farms near Hastings. The original farm has been in the family since 1916. At the time, Smallidge’s grandfather had built the largest stake barn in the county to hold 36 cows and draft horses. Cattle graze the pastures in the bottom of the Mississippi River.
The proposed drought relief marks a historic breakthrough for specialty crop farmers.
First drought relief packages
“This is the first time that a policy has focused on the farm and not on the unit of production, such as per acre or per hundredweight,” Zeman said. “This is the first time that the money goes to the farmer on the land.
Hang recognized the inclusion of the Hmong farming community as revolutionary.
“He’s the biggest game changer,” he said. “This administration and this agriculture commissioner see us and know we exist. By being included we are uplifted and valued.
More details on the drought relief program will be announced when they become available.