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College Professor Ready to Learn as Minnesota Senate’s New Ag Committee Chair – Agweek

ST. PAUL – State Senator Aric Putnam admits he doesn’t know much about agriculture, but as a scholar he’s willing to take a crash course in preparation to chair the Minnesota Senate Committee on Agriculture.

Putnam, a Democrat from St. Cloud, was appointed to his leadership post shortly before the Minnesota Farmers Union state convention and attended the Nov. 19 event to be introduced.

“The first thing I said was, ‘I don’t seem cut out for this,'” Putnam said. “I still think the committee is a space to do great things for the whole state. So the full title is Agriculture, Rural Development and Broadband, so there are a lot of things I think I can help with in that jurisdiction.”

Putnam was elected to his second term in the Minnesota Senate in November’s general election, in which the Democratic Farmer and Labor Party flipped enough Senate seats from red to blue that the party now controls both houses of the legislature, and Gov. Tim Walz won one second term.

Thom Petersen.jpg

Thomas Petersen

Walz reappoints Thom Petersen as commissioner of agriculture, and Putnam was scheduled to meet with Petersen before Thanksgiving. For Putnam, who teaches at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, this is part of his crash course ahead of the start of the 2023 legislative session on Jan. 3.

“My main job is a scholar, so I’ve already asked for about 10 books on agriculture,” Putnam said. “I’ll try to put together a tour of different parts of the state before January because you can get a better idea of ​​how different farming is in different parts of the state.”

Putnam replaces Republican Sen. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake as chair of the Senate Ag Committee. In the 2022 legislative session, Sen. Erin Murphy of St. Paul was the ranking Democrat on the committee that Putnam did not serve on.

On his election as Ag Committee Chair, “I think this is a sign that the caucus is trying to prioritize voices in the greater Minnesota area. I think I have it because I’m not from 612,” Putnam said, referring to the Twin Cities area code.

Agriculture was one of the few areas where the Minnesota Legislature was able to get anything done in the 2022 session, when Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats controlled the House of Representatives.

Emergency drought relief and funding to combat highly pathogenic bird flu were among the issues raised.

The 2021 session was set to spend money from Minnesota’s huge budget surplus. The 2023 session will set the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s budget — a biennial budget of $100 million.

Petersen said responding to the disease is still a top priority.

“We need to make sure we have the resources to deal with bird flu and the possible outbreak of African swine fever in our state,” Petersen said. “We were hit pretty hard last year, the (bird flu) virus was kind of floating around.”

Petersen said he was seeking bipartisan support despite the change in Senate leadership.

“Yes, the DFL has a majority, but we still have to work on things … reach across the aisle,” said Petersen.

Some of the things that are important to the Ag Department for possible funding:

  • value added processing.
  • meat processing.
  • Soil health and development of third crops.
  • biofuels.
  • Engaging the next generation of farmers.

“We will be bonding a very large claim to ensure our rural finance agency has enough money to lend to farmers. Our home loan for beginners is our most important loan,” said Petersen.
Putnam said a new generation of farmers is a priority.

“One thing that’s important to me when I’m talking to farmers, my community and just in my day-to-day work is that I’d like to see how we really work purposefully to get more people into farming, especially young people,” said Putnam.

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