ST. PAUL — In an effort to make it easier for people interested in farming to acquire land, a new state program will help Minnesota farmers get down payment assistance.
State Rep. Samantha Vang, vice chair of the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, drafted the bill for the program to help Minnesota smallholders and farmers of color gain access to their own farmland.
The policy was the first in a bill sponsored in the Democratic-led House by Vang and in the Republican-majority Senate by Sen. Gene Dornink.
The program offers grants of up to $15,000 per eligible farmer through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Eligible farmers must be Minnesota residents purchasing a farm, and they should provide non-state financing matching.
“Let’s say if you give $10,000, the state can offer you $10,000 to help you buy a few acres of land,” Vang said.
There are some contingencies, such as the farmer would be required to own and farm the land for at least five years or pay a penalty equal to 20% of the subsidy per year.
“Farming is a capital-intensive business, especially what’s happening today with fertilizer and fuel prices and such,” Rep. Paul Anderson said.
Vang said she wrote the program proposal after hearing from farmers across the state that access to land was a key barrier to starting or expanding operations. She said the bill will hopefully help train the next generation of farmers in the state.
“The paths to expanding an agricultural business are difficult if you don’t have the financial capital and you don’t have access to land,” Vang said.
She said she modeled the bill on similar proposals to help first-time home buyers.
“Down payment assistance is one of the direct ways we can help people become homeowners,” she said. “For that, instead of buying a house, it’s buying farmland.”
The program is not just targeting small growers, but growers of color, Vang said.
“Farmers are at least 99% white,” Vang said. “And historically, farmers of color have been disenfranchised and have not had equal access to federal support and government support and subsidies.”
She said farmers of color — many of whom have been farming for generations — are also used to having land taken away from them.
“We know farmers are crucial to our basic food needs, and we have a diverse state, so the more farmers we are able to support – especially farmers of color – we all benefit,” Vang said. .
The program also aims to help farmers currently renting land out of the uncertainty of having an owner control the future of their farm.
“A lease can come to an end, and that could decide how a farmer can develop his operation,” Vang said.
She said if farmers want to grow crops that require land to be cultivated for many years, renting can be a barrier to that.
“Access to land can affect what they grow, how long they can farm and what kind of markets they can reach,” Vang said. “For these farmers to create sustainable livelihoods, they must be able to access long-term certainty, which begins with land ownership.”
For the program, eligible farmers are required to provide the majority of day-to-day physical labor and farm management, and farmers cannot earn more than $250,000 per year in gross farm product sales.
Vang said that since the amount of money eligible under the program can only be up to $15,000, large producers will not apply for it.
“It will make a big difference for small farmers who are struggling to access that little financial boost to help them buy those first two acres of land,” Vang said.
The proposal was originally for $3 million, but it was reduced by the legislature this year to $500,000 in the current two-year budget. The program will include $1.5 million for each biennium thereafter.
“The key thing is that continuous investment – it’s not just one-time money,” Vang said. “Farmers can know that there is money out there in the long term, so whenever farmers are ready to expand their business and get into the industry, they have that resource on which they can rely. can count.