Growers, farmers, entrepreneurs and researchers from across Minnesota gathered at the Capitol recently to express their support for the continuous-living-cover crops being developed by the Forever Green Initiative.
“How often do you get the chance to work on a crop that, in my opinion, is the most direct way to address the mounting climate and environmental challenges that our state faces today, while encouraging entrepreneurship?” asked Ben Penner, a farmer and the vice president of Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative, during a Feb. 8 Senate Agriculture, Broadband, and Rural Development committee hearing. “This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”
That event was the first of two recent hearings (the other held Feb. 28 in the House Agriculture Finance and Policy committee) regarding two complementary bills related to Forever Green’s work. A combined 11 individuals testified in support of the legislation.
One of the bills (SF 1314/HF 1492) would ensure the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative gets the funding it needs to continue advancing continuous living cover crops such as Kernza, winter camelina and hybrid hazelnuts. These crops have the potential to keep excess fertilizer nutrients from entering Minnesota’s waters while diversifying the state’s farm landscapes and boosting rural communities.
Anne Schwagerl, a grain farmer from western Minnesota and vice president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, told the House committee members that the type of investment included in the bill is “central to the successful development and commercialization” of these perennial and winter-annual crops.
The crops, she continued, will “help our family farmer members across the state of Minnesota add value and diversity to their farming operations, deliver important ecosystem benefits and remain resilient in the face of climate change.”
The other bill (SF 1353/HF 1645) channels start-up funding to the small- and mid-sized supply chain businesses that bring these crops from the farmgate to consumers. Seed processors, food makers and other local entrepreneurs need early assistance to create the new markets for these emerging crops, but once such systems are up and running, they can be a key contributor to the Minnesota ag economy.
"Everyone involved in agriculture feels a surge in consumer demand for food that's produced using regenerative agricultural principles,” said Mac Ehrhardt during the Senate hearing. “You might think that’s just folks who shop at Whole Foods, but it’s not.”
Ehrhardt is the president of Albert Lea Seed, which last summer hosted a legislative event about continuous living cover crops and supply chains. (Here’s a story about the event published by AgWeek). In his testimony, Erhardt noted a significant surge in demand from growers for Kernza and winter camelina seeds, as well as the need for the “system knowledge and agronomic best management practices that farmers need to plant these crops successfully on their farm.”
Legislators on both committees also sampled food products made using crops in the Forever Green portfolio, including: Kernza crackers from Twin Cities-based start-up Perennial Pantry, hazelnut snackers made using Midwest-Grown Hazelnuts, and Climate Smart Kernza Grains cereal from Cascadian Farms, a General Mills company.
“Put something tasty in front of [people] and that builds a customer base,” Forever Green Initiative Associate Director Dr. Mitch Hunter commented during the Senate hearing. “That trickles down to creating a market for the farmers.”
The chairs of both committees (Sen. Aric Putnam and Rep. Samantha Vang) laid over the bills for possible inclusion in future budget bills. Lead authors in the Senate are Sen. Judy Seeberger (SF 1314) and Sen. Heather Gustafson (SF 1353); on the House side, Rep. Ginny Klevorn (HF 1492) and Rep. Jeff Brand (HF 1645).
The hearings come on the heels of a flurry of positive news stories about the Forever Green Initiative and continuous living cover principles, including in Harvest Public Media, Public News Service, Agri-View, Star Tribune and Minnesota Alumni.
Thank you to everyone who came out to testify at one or both of these hearings, including:
- Christopher Abbott, founder of Perennial Pantry
- Mac Ehrhardt, president of Albert Lea Seed
- Randy Ellingboe, retired drinking water protection manager at the Minnesota Department of Health
- Alexandra Griffin, graduate student at the University of Minnesota
- Wilber de la Rosa, farmer and manager of Farmer Outreach and Technical Assistance with the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance
- Anne Schwagerl, grain farmer, member of the Board of Directors of the Perennial Promise Growers Cooperative, and vice president of Minnesota Farmers Union
- Dan Skogen, director of Government and Industry Relations for the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute
- David VandenEinde, vice president of Global Fats & Oils R&D at Cargill
And many thanks for the support from the Forever Green Partnership, including Friends of the Mississippi River and Minnesota Environmental Partnership, in helping to put the hearings together.