Swedzinski says drought relief bill should focus on farming

MARSHALL — A drought relief package passed by the Minnesota House of Representatives last week included about $10 million in needed financial assistance for farmers. But it also included an even bigger sum for Minnesota Department of Natural Resources grants — and that was the part that Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, said he couldn’t support.

Swedzinski was one of 33 state representatives who voted against the drought relief bill last week.

“As a farmer I support drought relief,” Swedzinski said Monday. However, he said he didn’t support the package giving more money to the DNR than to farmers affected by last year’s drought. “To me, it doesn’t make any sense.”

In a Thursday news release, the Minnesota House said the bill appropriated $5 million to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to provide grants to help farmers with drought-related expenses, and $5 million for the Rural Finance Authority’s revolving loan account for drought assistance.

The drought relief bill also allocated more than $13 million to the DNR, including $5.5 million to replace drought-killed tree seedlings and $4.5 million for grants to help communities replace shade trees.

The drought relief package was passed 101 to 33, with Swedzinski among the “nay” votes.

Swedzinski said Monday that he wanted to “send a strong message” to focus on agriculture in a drought relief package. The Minnesota Senate’s drought relief bill was cleaner and more focused on farms, he said.

A $10 million drought relief bill which passed the Senate Agriculture Committee last week appropriates $6.5 million for grants to farmers affected by drought in 2021, and includes $1.5 million to the Rural Finance Authority to reimburse them for drought relief loans they have already processed or are currently processing.

The Senate drought relief bill doesn’t include funding for the DNR, but it does include $1 million in appropriations for the University of Minnesota to purchase lab equipment to test for animal diseases like African swine fever and avian influenza. It also includes funding to offset lost revenue for deer farmers affected by movement bans, and money to transfer into the state’s agricultural emergency account.


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