by Brian Devore | May 22, 2009 • It was no surprise that the overall budget for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture had to be cut 8 percent during the recent legislative session. But by the time the final gavel fell, budgets for two key sustainable/organic MDA programs ended up being slashed by a combined average of over 75 percent. When a few successful programs are singled out for such disproportionately rough treatment, it’s not exactly a “we all share in the pain” situation. It’s beginning to smell like the folks on high don’t like any type of food and farm system that threatens the status quo.
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The Senate and House Agriculture Finance committees shaped an Agriculture Finance Bill that cut the annual budget of the MDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant Program from $160,000 to $100,000. That was bad enough. But before signing the bill, Gov. Tim Pawlenty took a line-item veto pen to it and eliminated one year of funding, making for an almost 70 percent overall reduction in this program.
This is a crippling blow to a program that has been a major driver of sustainable (and conventional) farming innovations in the state over the past few decades. Farmers who qualify for these grants are able to do the kind of on-farm research that they would normally never have the resources to undertake. The results of this research are reported in the internationally-respected Greenbook.
Other cuts were even more extreme. The annual budget of the MDA’s Organic Cost Share Program was slashed from $100,000 to $10,000, mostly as a result of pressure from Rep. Al Juhnke, Chair of the House Agriculture Committee. This program provides funds to help farmers and organic providers cover part of the cost of organic certification.
While two sustainable/organic agriculture programs with a track record of success were all but eliminated, funding was continued for the Livestock Investment Grant Program. Under MDA’s current qualification criteria, the Livestock Investment Grant Program favors factory farm livestock operations. The details of how money for the grant program will be spent are largely left in the hands of MDA Commissioner Gene Hugoson, who has been a consistent proponent of corporate agriculture interests.
That sustainable and organic agriculture fared so poorly this legislative session is due to a lack of vision on the part of Gov. Pawlenty, as well as the House and Senate leadership, especially Rep. Juhnke and Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Jim Vickerman.
While it’s too late to undo the severe cuts sustainable and organic agriculture underwent during the session, we can push for funding to be made up in a supplemental budget next legislative session. It should also be kept in mind that the Governor’s “unallotments” could damage these programs even further. If these cuts concern you, the leaders you should direct your comments to are:
* Sen. Jim Vickerman, Chair, Agriculture and Veterans Policy and Finance Committee. You can call him at 651-296-5650 or send an e-mail.
* Rep. Al Juhnke, Chair, Agriculture and Veterans Finance Committee. You can call him at 651-296-6206 or send an e-mail.
* Gov. Tim Pawlenty. You can call 651-296-3391 or 800-657-3717, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, e-mail LSP’s Bobby King at email@example.com or call 612-722-6377.
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