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Ag funding bill passes Ways and Means

By Janet Kubat Willette
jkubat@agrinews.com

Date Modified: 04/25/2013 7:04 PM

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ST. PAUL — A bill funding the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Board of Animal Health and Agricultural Utilization Research Institute passed the House Ways and Means Committee on April 12.

The agricultural funding is in HF976, which also includes environment and natural resources funding.

Most of the debate in the Ways and Means committee centered around the environment and natural resources portions of the bill.

But Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, asked if ethanol producer payments were included in the bill.

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, the bill's author, said ethanol producer payments have been paid in full.

Paymar then asked what the money in that account is being used for.

Wagenius admitted she wasn't expecting that question, but said the money is for the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation Program.

Earlier in the session, discussion of the AGRI fund had derailed the agriculture policy bill in committee, with some legislators advocating legislative control of the $10 million each year.

The bill now requires that the agriculture commissioner report on how the funds were used and accomplishments no later than Feb. 1, 2014, and Feb. 1, 2015.

The legislation also asks that the commissioner consider creating a competitive grant program for small renewable energy programs for rural residents.

The areas the money is to be targeted to include: Developing new markets for Minnesota farmers by providing more fruits and vegetables for school children; facilitating the start-up, modernization or expansion of livestock operations; facilitating the start-up, modernization or expansion of beginning and transitioning farms; research on conventional and cover crops; and biofuel and other renewable energy development.

The bill also includes $700,000 for pollinator habitat and an increase in water fees.

The Department of Natural Resources permitted many wells without knowing if there was water available, Wagenius said. They really don't know in a lot of parts of the state if water is available. The DNR isn't able to do the job it's required to do under statue without a fee increase, which begins implementation under this bill.

Water use permitting fees increase for agricultural irrigation increase to $22 per 1 million gallons.

This takes effect Jan. 1, 2014, if adopted.