Commentary

A legislative agenda for Minnesota’s family farmers

What’s needed: Bold, long-term investments in the well-being of farm families, a more resilient and fair food system, and expanded opportunities for new farmers

January 12, 2023 6:00 am

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

With the start of a new legislative session comes a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Legislative leaders are faced with a historic $17.6 billion projected surplus — by far the largest in history — and a DFL trifecta for the first time in nearly 10 years.  

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) has been advocating for family farmers and rural communities in Minnesota since we were first organized in Jackson County in 1918. When I reflect on that history, I can’t help but think about how future leaders of our organization will look back on 2023.  

For my part, I’m motivated to ensure that 2023 is remembered as a year when Minnesota made bold, long-term investments in the well-being of farm families, creating a more resilient and fair food system, and expanded opportunities to build a life in agriculture.  

First we must take real steps to make health care affordable for working families. You might expect our first priority to be a subject for discussion in the agriculture committees, but as one MFU member shared at our annual convention in November, ‘If there’s one thing you could do to make it easier to farm, it’s figure out health care.’ 

As small business owners, our family farmer members disproportionately purchase health insurance on the private market and are hit hard by high premiums and the lack of choice between health plans in rural areas. These costs cut into their farm income and push too many farmers off the land, seeking a second off-farm job with insurance, or going without health coverage all together — a decision that could prove financially devastating.  

For years we have advocated for expanding MinnesotaCare with an affordable, public buy-in option that will increase competition and provide a high-quality choice for farmers. This is the year we finally get it done.  

Second, we can make foundational investments in creating a level playing field for farmers and other small business owners being crushed by corporate monopolies. Since 1952, the farmers’ share of every dollar spent on food has declined from 50% to less than 15% today. The high prices you face at the grocery store benefit the shareholders of large powerful corporations, not family farmers.  

Minnesota can fight back against corporate concentration by investing in the Office of the Attorney General’s antitrust team while also passing reforms that promote competition, like Right to Repair, prohibitions against price gouging, and strengthening our state antitrust laws.  

Third and finally, we need to double-down on our nation leading Beginning Farmer Tax Credit and help more young people start farming. Much like homeownership, land is how farm families build generational wealth and earn their place in the middle class. Young families are central to the health and vibrancy of our rural communities, schools and small businesses. This investment can ensure they have a real shot at building a life there.  

What unites MFU’s priorities — and what was a motivation for farmers joining together in Jackson County in 1918 — is making our rural economy fairer for the farmers who work hard to feed us every day. The Legislature can do that this year. Farmers are counting on it.  

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