State agencies announce COVID responses, assistance for agriculture

As the COVID-19 public health crisis continues to have a significant impact on communities and businesses across the state, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has further evaluated its timeline for the water quality fee rulemaking process. The MPCA has suspended its current rulemaking schedule for water quality fees until after the governor’s peacetime emergency declaration has been terminated.

After the peacetime emergency declaration is terminated, the MPCA intends to release preliminary draft rule language for public comment and continue its rulemaking process. As required by state statute, the MPCA intends to seek legislative approval to spend the revenue generated from these increased fees during an upcoming session.  As it becomes available, MPCA will continue to provide information about this rulemaking on the Water Quality Fee Rules webpage and through GovDelivery updates.

MDA addressing livestock challenges

Due to market and supply/demand changes for meat products during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is helping livestock farmers and processors in addressing these current challenges.

• The recent closures of some meat processing plants around the region due to COVID-19 is disrupting traditional animal markets and the meat supply chain. MDA is working to limit this disruption for producers of smaller herds or flocks by matching them with slaughter facilities and identifying other marketing opportunities.

• Farmers with smaller herds or flocks seeking new processors, alternate markets, or increased storage, please contact  Jim Ostlie, 320-842-6910, Jim.Ostlie@state.mn.us or Courtney VanderMey, 651-201-6135, Courtney.Vandermey@state.mn.us.

• The MDA is working with existing “Equal To” processors (plants under continuous inspection that are able to produce and process meat and poultry products for wholesale within the State of Minnesota) to expand capacity. We are also developing an expedited approval process to enable plants that currently do not sell wholesale within the state to do so. If these establishments meet the minimum requirements, they will be granted a 90-day provisional grant of inspection.

• Processing plants interested in expanding their slaughter capacity, have additional processing capacity, or wanting expedited licensing, please contact Jennifer Stephes at 651-248-2566.

• MDA is providing additional financial assistance by awarding over $345,000 in AGRI Value-Added Grants to nine Minnesota meat processors. The companies will be using the funds for facility improvements, such as increasing freezer space and new equipment for slaughter and processing capacity. Many of these grantees are required to make updates to be compliant with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). This new funding is in addition to the nearly $1 million in Value-Added Grants in FY20, in which meat processors received a significant amount of the total grant funds.

• A new grant program, the AGRI Rapid Response Mini-Grant for Livestock Processing, is intended to assist processors and certain producers respond to market issues caused by COVID-19. This grant will be launched by April 30 and will be available to eligible Minnesota processors of meat, poultry, eggs, and milk and to livestock producers who need storage capacity for processed products until existing markets return or new markets are developed.

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