University Professor Ready to Learn as New Minnesota Senate Ag Committee Leader – Agweek

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

Putnam, a Democrat from St. Cloud, was named to his leadership post just before the Minnesota Farmers Union state convention and went to the November 19 event to be introduced.

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

Putnam was elected to his second term in the Minnesota Senate in the November general election, with the Democratic Farmers and Workers Party flipping enough Senate seats from red to blue that the party now controls both houses of the legislature and Governor Tim Walz won a second term.

Thom Petersen.jpg

Thomas Petersen

Walz reappoints Thom Petersen as Agriculture Commissioner and Putnam is scheduled to meet with Petersen for Thanksgiving. For Putnam, who teaches at St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, that’s part of his crash course before the 2023 legislative session begins on Jan. 3.

“My day job is as a scientist, so I’ve already asked for about 10 books on agriculture,” Putnam said. “I’m going to try and put together a tour of different parts of the state for January because you get a better sense of how farming matters differently in different parts of the state.”

Putnam replaces Republican Senator Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake as chairman of the Senate Ag Committee. During the 2022 Legislative Session, Senator Erin Murphy of St. Paul was the lead Democrat on the committee, which Putnam was not on.

On his choice as chair of the Ag committee: “I think it’s a sign that the caucus is trying to prioritize voting in Minnesota. Why I have it, I guess, because I’m not from the 612,” Putnam said, referring to the Twin Cities area code.

Agriculture was one of the few areas where the Minnesota legislature got something done during the 2022 session, when Republicans controlled the Senate and Democrats controlled the House.

Drought relief and funding to respond to the highly pathogenic bird flu were among the issues discussed.

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

Petersen said disease response is still a top priority.

“Making sure we have the resources to deal with avian flu and the potential African swine fever outbreak in our state,” Petersen said. “We got hit pretty hard last year. The (bird flu) virus kind of hung around.”

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

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

Some things that are important for the Ag department for possible financing:

  • Value added processing.
  • Meat processing.
  • Soil health and development of third crops.
  • Biofuels.
  • Bringing in the next generation of farmers.

“We will look at very high demand through bonding to ensure that our Rural Finance Authority has enough money to provide loans to farmers. Our start-up farmer loan is our number one loan,” said Petersen.
Putnam said a new generation of farmers is a priority.

“One thing that’s important to me, from talking to farmers, my community and just from my day job, I’d like to see us do some really intentional work to get more people into farming, especially young people,” Putnam said.

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