MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Gov. Tim Walz proposed Friday a $10 million drought relief package for farmers and livestock producers affected by this year's historic drought.
In a statement, the governor said he understands the stress and financial hardship farmers across the state have faced this exceptionally dry year, which has been the worst since 1988.
"As governor, and as someone who grew up on a family farm, I stand with our farmers," Walz said. "This funding will provide much-needed relief to Minnesota's agricultural community and help ensure our farmers can keep feeding Minnesota and the world."
The package proposes $5 million in rapid response grants to livestock producers and specialty crop farmers, with $5,000 going to individual farms. Costs that could be covered by the grants include water handling equipment, such as water tanks, water wagons, water hauling, wells, pipelines, and irrigation equipment.
The other half of the package includes $5 million for the Rural Finance Authority's Disaster Recovery Loan Program, which makes zero-interest loans available immediately for Minnesota farmers whose operations have been hurt by the lack of rain. The program can be used to help cover lost revenue or expenses not covered by insurance, the governor's office says.
Although many farmers receive federal help for relief, the governor is seeking to buttress that aid, as many producers say the costs of irrigation and harvesting this year will be more than what they'd make from their crops at market.
While drought conditions have eased this month, this summer saw some of the worst drought conditions in state history. In mid-August, nearly 90% of the state was under severe conditions. Hit worst was northwestern Minnesota, where a swath of the state was under exceptional drought, the first year such conditions were recorded in Minnesota since tracking began in 1999.
The drought resulted in crops being harvested early, smaller yields, low water levels for lakes and rivers, wildfires in the northern forests, and water restrictions for communities in the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota.
Thom Peterson, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner, said that the governor's relief package will give livestock and specialty crop producers a chance to recoup some of their losses.
"I encourage farmers and producers to apply for these grants and loans while they're available," he said.
When speaking to reporters, Peterson said that a number of farms have closed this year, particularly dairy farms.
"In July and August, we lost 29 dairy farms each month, we lost 40 dairy farms," he said. "The state is almost...going to dip under 2,000 dairy farms."
In a statement following the governor's announcement, Senate Republicans said they would work with the commissioner and his team to find a bipartisan solution to provide support for farmers affected by drought.
"Many of Minnesota's farmers have had a tough season of drought, compounded by the challenges of COVID restrictions," said Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), the chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. "I'm working on a targeted relief package that could provide rapid response grants and property tax rebates to help our farmers and the critical role they play in our important food supply chain....In the meantime, their property tax bills will still become due this fall, along with other fixed expenses, so any one-time assistance package would help demonstrate our appreciation for the important role the agriculture community plays in our state."
The governor's office says more details on the relief package will be announced soon.
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