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Walz signs bill aiding farmers facing foreclosure

ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz has signed a bill that stops farm foreclosures until Dec. 1 for farmers struggling with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic who elect to take part in creditor mediation.

Minnesota’s Farmer-Lender Mediation Act requires any creditor foreclosing on agricultural debt of $15,000 or more to provide the debtor a legal notice of their right to a neutral state mediator. The law normally provides for 90 days to reach agreement. But the legislation that unanimously passed the House and Senate last week and was signed Monday temporarily extends the deadline to 150 days or Dec. 1, whichever is later.

Rep. Todd Lippert, of Northfield, says his bill is meant to help farmers stay on the farm as they face packing plant and ethanol plant shutdowns, low milk prices and the need to euthanize hogs and poultry.

Paul Sobocinski, an organizer with the Land Stewardship Project who farms near Wabasso, says farmers need to be aware of their rights under the new law. He says it protects them from foreclosure through harvest time, and buys time for the markets to recover and for federal aid to come to farmers.

“Farmers need to be aware of their rights under this important new law,” Sobocinski said. “Any farmer in financial straits needs to accept their right to mediation to receive protection from foreclosure through harvest time. This buys farmers time for the markets to recover, Congress to act on farm price gouging, and federal aid to come to farmers.”

Lippert agreed with Sobocinski.

“Everything in agriculture has been thrown up in the air and nothing has landed yet. We want to provide time for farmers to plant and harvest, time for livestock and milk markets to stabilize, and for federal support for farmers to become clearer,” Lippert said.

Farmers also received help from the Legislature with the Farmers-Focused Bill to aid farmers’ financial stability, safety, mental health, and advocacy.

The bill focuses on safety in multiple facets. On a preventative level, there is an appropriation to fund research through the Veterinary Diagnostic Labs (VDL) at the University of Minnesota. This appropriation was one of the frequent asks from every agriculture commodity group in the state. Research at the VDL will protect the state from large scale animal diseases, such as the Avian Flu and African Swine Flu. Farmers’ physical safety was considered with grants to help farmers buy grain bin safety equipment and technology. These grants follow years of horrific injury and death in grain bin accidents and are hoped to lessen those incidents in years to come.

Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, chair of the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, praised the passage of the bill in the Senate on Thursday.

“Our farmers have had a difficult time over the last few years, and this spring has hit harder than we’ve seen in a long time,” Dahms said.

“This bill is about much-needed resources. Farmers require opportunities to maintain financial and mental health, as well as the means to keep themselves in business. Farmers have always been important in our state, and now more than ever we want to see them prosper.”

The House passed the legislation on Saturday and awaits Gov. Tim Walz’s signature.

“Farmers always seem to be at the forefront in taking the brunt of economic downturns and this certainly is true with the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent. “Provisions in the omnibus ag bill provide resources to help farmers work through this crisis in various ways, from lessening the financial pressures they are experiencing to mitigating the mental toll they are suffering. Agriculture is a crucial part of our economic system and, while farmers may be hurting now, they also will play an important role in getting us back on track.”

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