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Minnesota lawmakers drop deer farmer provision from $10 million drought aid bill

The funding specifically for deer farmers raised concerns at the Capitol and threatened to slow the relief package's movement through the Legislature.

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ST. PAUL — Senators on a state finance committee on Tuesday, March 22, pulled from a $10 million drought relief bill funding specifically for deer farmers, likely smoothing the plan's path through the Capitol.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, initially proposed and another committee moved forward $500,000 specifically for deer farmers affected by extreme drought conditions last year. The provision drew opposition from Democrats who control the Minnesota House of Representatives and threatened to derail the bill in that chamber.

Westrom said he'd dropped that piece after hearing concerns about the funding. And he amended the bill to include $7 million worth of grants for specialty crop farmers and ranchers in the areas of the state hit hardest, as well as $1.5 million in loans to be administered through the Rural Finance Authority.

“In most cases, this is going to be just a fraction of the real cost but a significant help to maybe get through a couple more weeks or a couple more months of paying feed bills that are maybe behind,” Westrom said.

The proposal would also send $1 million to the Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab to fund animal disease diagnostic equipment. And the last $500,000 of the bill would be used to help the Minnesota Department of Agriculture buy avian influenza testing supplies.

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The changes approved Tuesday help to more closely align it with one passed through the House earlier this month. Democratic leaders in that chamber added another $13 million to replace trees and seedlings that dried out amid the drought and to set up local water infrastructure.

Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen on Tuesday said he appreciated lawmakers' quick action in getting a bill through the Capitol. He said it could take four to six weeks after it becomes law to start accepting applications.

“The sooner we can do that, I really feel strongly that we can help farmers pay a bill or two," he said.

The bill moves next to a Senate floor vote and, if approved there, lawmakers from both chambers could convene to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Gov. Tim Walz has said he supports the aid bill.

MORE FROM DANA FERGUSON:
Several incumbent state legislators, particularly in the Senate, edged out competitors with more extreme views on COVID-19, election security and more.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter  @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email  dferguson@forumcomm.com.

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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