MINNEAPOLIS — Farmers in northwest Minnesota need emergency assistance to deal with difficult — if not impossible — harvest conditions, Gov. Tim Walz wrote in a letter to the secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The first-term governor said after visiting farmers in East Grand Forks who described the situation as “unprecedented” and “catastrophic,” he submitted the request to free up disaster loan funds for farmers in need. In North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, farmers faced spring flooding that delayed planting as well as record rain and snow in October that prevented or delayed harvest or destroyed crops.
After surveying the damage, Walz asked for a disaster designation to be issued for Becker, Clay, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, Roseau and Wilkin counties in an effort to “triage” damage. Wet weather in the area made fields unworkable and impassible. And some crops molded in the fields, while others, like sugar beets and potatoes became lodged in frozen soil.
“It’s not a fix but it might provide some of that safety net to kind of soften the blow a little bit,” Walz told reporters on Nov. 7.
To be eligible for the emergency declaration, 30% of a crop must be lost. USDA officials were beginning to assess the damage Thursday and said they were close to determining whether North Dakota’s emergency assistance would be declared.
“Our disaster programs are just to soften the blow. They do not make everybody whole on their losses and they don’t always fit every situation,” said Bill Northey, USDA undersecretary of farm production and conservation. “We want to be able to make sure they’re fitting as many situations considering those producers are in really challenging financial times right now.”
Northey met with Walz on Nov. 7 and spoke to a group of farm and food industry leaders in Minneapolis. He was set to visit northwestern Minnesota and North Dakota the following several days to assess the damage to crops.
“I want to hear from producers the challenges they’re facing,” Northey said. “We’ll get to some farms, we’ll have a couple town hall meetings in Minnesota and North Dakota.”
Steve Linder, an Oklee, Minn., farmer, said he’d been able to get his wheat harvested early, but soybeans proved to be a challenge with mud in the fields. He said he’d likely wait until spring to harvest his corn.
The 64-year-old said he was glad to hear agriculture officials were considering declaring the emergency conditions in Minnesota, but didn’t know if freeing up low-interest loans was the right answer.
“That’s kind of a mixed blessing,” he said, noting that it could require several additional loans to pay back the disaster loan. “It’s better than nothing, I guess.”
Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said he expected farmers who had didn’t need operating loans in recent years might not be so lucky this year and he said the administration was beginning conversations with ag lenders about what help they might be able to provide.
“It was hard this year, the last two years it’s been hard and farmers would call and tell me, ‘I’m not going to get my operating loans this year.’ And then they’d skate by,” Petersen said. “I have no idea how some of the farmers are going to do it this year.”