Last week the Chairs of the House and Senate Ag Committees released their omnibus finance bills and as it turns out, they both vary greatly in terms of how much would be allocated for LEAFF. Check out the House omnibus finance bill here and the Senate’s here. Both are a far cry from what was originally outlined in our bill HF 1727. With little time to review the language in each omnibus bill, Farm Program Director, David Van Eeckhout, and Communications Director, Nikki Warner, were both prepared to testify in the final committee hearings of the legislative session in support of LEAFF.
Up first to testify in the Senate Ag Committee was Nikki. In the Senate omnibus bill, $300,000 is allocated in FY ‘24 and ‘25 to fund the LEAFF program. It wasn’t the full amount we’d put forth in our bill, but with such low budget targets for agriculture, Nikki thanked the committee for planting a seed for LEAFF in their omnibus.
“Regardless of what happens in this room this week, a harvest is coming. It’s only an eternal optimist that puts a seed into the ground and hopes for the best and what we, the people in this room, have brought you this session are seeds. Seeds of hope and transformation for a food system that equitably ensures the integrity of our food supply, the health of our environment, and invests in the strength and resilience of our agricultural economy.
I know that with the budget targets for ag, not every seed will get planted in this budget. But thank you for planting one LEAFF and listening as we’ve shared the impact that the program, the demand from farmers, the demand from hunger relief organizations, and the demand from communities who are better fed by familiar foods.”
Watch the hearing here. Nikki starts at the 32-minute mark.
Next in the House Ag Committee hearing was David, where he expressed concern and disappointment as LEAFF’s appropriation in the House omnibus was lower that in the Senate’s ag omnibus, at just $100,000 for FY ‘25 and ‘25. Support at this level would be a huge blow to the program. The $100,000 funding level is a 60% decrease over last year and would result in reducing the number of farmers in the program from 65 to 25. It will also reduce the produce shared with communities in need by almost 75,000 pounds at a time when food shelves are in need of fresh produce more than ever.
“Unfortunately this funding falls short of offering a true emerging farmer package because it lacks market support. When I ask farmers what they need, the answers are markets, markets, markets, and markets. New and emerging farmers need access and support for entry-level markets for their products. The state investment in the initiatives I mentioned above amounts to almost $5M, but the only funding for entry-level market support is the $200K earmarked for the LEAFF program, or 4%. These investments in new and emerging farmers are helping farmers to plant the seed, but planting the seed without a market is the quickest way to end someone’s dream of becoming a full-time farmer.
Watch the hearing here. David starts at the 1:29: 30 mark.
The legislature is out on spring break until next Tuesday, April 11th. Shortly after lawmakers return to St. Paul, the ag omnibus finance bills will move for a vote on the House and Senate floors. Following that, a few members from both the House and Senate ag committees will gather behind closed doors in what is called a conference committee. There they will come to a compromise for one final ag omnibus bill which will then move on to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.
As we, and many other organizations, patiently wait to see how the final ag omnibus package comes together, there is still time to talk with legislators in the six weeks that remain in the 2023 legislative session. To help uplift our priorities around LEAFF and market access for emerging farmers, we are excited to be a co-sponsor for Land Stewardship Project’s Family Farm Breakfast and Lobby Day next week on Thursday, April 13th. The goal of this lobby day is to demonstrate the public demand for investments into LSP’s policy priorities (including LEAFF!) which you can check out here. If you’d like to join us for a locally sourced breakfast followed by the opportunity to talk to your legislators about issues you care about register here!
If you’re looking for another opportunity to put your values around local food into action, consider joining us for our Seeds of Growth event on April 15th, or make a donation to support our work today. Thank you for your support throughout this legislative session. We hope to post some good news here before the session is over. Stay tuned!
If you have questions about our legislative work or if you would like to talk about getting involved with advocating for LEAFF, contact our Communications Director, Nikki Warner at [email protected]. And be sure to follow us on social media (@TheGoodAcreMN) to watch as we make our way through the final six weeks of this historic legislative session.