As session ends, new pathway opens for clean-water crops

A farmer drives a combine harvester over a field of Kernza. Text over the image says "MNLEG 2024"

We’ll be advocating for critical investments in clean-water crops such as Kernza, as well as more support for the local businesses nurturing their use. (Photo by Dodd Demas for FMR)

Belt-tightening from DFL leadership meant there wasn't much money available this session. And even then, sustainable agriculture programs felt the squeeze more than usual, resulting in a lackluster — yet in some ways, still encouraging — year for clean water crops at the Capitol.

Although we once again secured strong bipartisan support for Forever Green and business development grants (read more in the April 11 update below), neither bill made it into the final omnibus package. This wasn’t a huge surprise. 2024 is not a supplemental budget year, and the Legislature is facing some tough questions about the state’s finances in the near future.

While we’d hoped there might be some space for Forever Green and sustainable agriculture to receive another year of bipartisan state support, the financial reality meant it wasn’t in the cards this year. 

Fortunately, that isn't the end of the story.

A Senate champion's recommendation

Sen. Torrey Westrom, a Republican from Elbow Lake who is a longstanding backer of these programs, offered a solid recommendation. He suggested we build upon our work with the Clean Water Council and his colleagues in the Legislature by seeking new funding through LCCMR (via the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund).

Two proposals for clean-water crops were submitted:

  • One proposal would provide $500,000 to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for a third round of grants for local businesses working with clean-water crops (read about the first recipients here)
  • The second proposal would provide $5 million for continued crop research and development through the University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative

As the session wraps, those requests are in the early stages. We anticipate hearing back this summer.

While this path wasn’t exactly what we’d planned heading into the session, we continue to be encouraged by the support decision-makers are showing for clean-water crops.

April 11: Silver lining emerges despite a budget squeeze

Lawmakers have been adamant from the start of the 2024 session that legislative business would be more narrowly focused than last year, which saw the passage of more significant spending and policy measures than at any time in recent memory

Frustratingly, sustainable agriculture seemed to be getting squeezed once again. DFL leadership gave the agriculture committees a relatively meager slice of the budget pie to work with — making it unlikely that clean-water crops and Forever Green will receive more than a token amount of extra funding this session. As we wrote in a joint letter to Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders, decision-makers "should be given a budget target with room to support Minnesota’s farm and food systems holistically, allowing them to take advantage of proposed strategic opportunities for one-time investments included in the Agriculture budget." (Read the full letter here.)

There’s a silver lining. We continue to see enthusiasm for these initiatives across party lines, with Republicans and Democrats in both the House and Senate sponsoring bills for Forever Green and the “Developing Markets” grant program

And there’s still hope: An early backer of our work, Sen. Torrey Westrom, made the strategic suggestion that we pursue alternative support from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which distributes proceeds from the Minnesota state lottery. In late March FMR teamed up with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to submit an application for the “Developing Markets” grants program, and Forever Green staff submitted one of its own applications to help support ongoing research into clean-water crops. 

Regardless of what happens during the legislative session this year, we expect those applications to move forward and come under consideration by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources in the next few months.

Going forward

If you want to keep track of where these efforts go, keep this page bookmarked. We’ll be updating it throughout the legislative session whenever there are new developments. We’ll also share opportunities for you to weigh in and make a difference by sending a message to your legislators. 

Feb. 22: What we’ll be advocating for at the Capitol

We’ve seen a lot of exciting developments with clean-water crops since the 2023 legislative session wrapped.

As the 2024 legislative session gets underway, we’re hoping this undeniable groundswell continues to grow. We’ll be advocating for critical investments in clean-water crops and more support for the small businesses working to make them flourish. 

What does that look like? Here are two priority pursuits:

More grants for small businesses nurturing clean-water crops

Money awarded via the state’s “Developing Markets for Continuous Living Cover Crops” program is already being put to good use.

But it’s still not enough to meet demand. The number of small businesses applying for this financial support far outpaces available funds.

This session, we’re urging lawmakers to pass a third round of funding for this program, so we can ensure these local businesses have the support they need as they grow strong regional supply chains for clean-water crops. 

All of this benefits soil, water, biodiversity and economic development in the state. 

Filling equipment and data gaps

When launching a new crop in the marketplace, it’s important to make sure farmers are still protected by our federal “safety net." Programs like crop insurance and conservation assistance minimize risks to farmers and incentivize sound management. Accessing that safety net is a multistep process involving numerous agencies, businesses and growers — all of which operate on their own timelines. Every delay out of the starting block compounds down the procedural line, pushing a clean-water crops future further and further into the distance.

The Forever Green Initiative, which is leading development of many clean-water crops, needs stable funding to ensure their work can move forward in a timely, productive manner. We’ll be asking legislators to approve funding for: 

  • Critical data collection and research efforts (for example, to help get winter oilseeds into federal crop insurance programs)
  • Equipment and infrastructure gaps that, if not addressed, will hold back how quickly and efficiently seeds can be shared with farmers

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