ST. PAUL, Minn. — Thom Petersen, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, said it was a jam-packed week leading up to the Minnesota State Legislature reconvening for session on Feb. 11.

The commissioner said the department hosted visitors from Colombia and Taiwan to discuss trade relationships. The department of agriculture sees itself as "real ambassadors and connectors," said Petersen.

"We're lucky to be home to a lot of big agriculture companies in Minnesota, from Land O' Lakes, General Mills or Hormel," said Petersen. "So it's really important for us, those relationships."

He said that discussing delegations back and forth, and respective needs is crucial to keeping Minnesota's ag economy stable.

"(Colombia and Taiwan) are both very interested in trading with us, and very friendly to the United States and to Minnesota in particular," said Petersen.

Petersen said work around export market relationships has "really been heightened" this last year with the Chinese market cut so much.

"We've been really focused on growing our other markets, which we have done," said Petersen. "After losing a big bucket in China, we went after some of our smaller buckets."

Most of those smaller bucket countries like Taiwan and Colombia have a growing middle-class, said Petersen, which means they have more disposable income to buy protein.

"Those are growing economies we are trying to be aggressive in," said Petersen. "Hopefully we can continue to pull out of the downturn we've had for the last five to six years."

Legislative work

The focus for the ag department will be a bonding request for the Rural Finance Authority, that distributes a suite of loans to Minnesota farmers.

"We're running precariously low on funds," said Petersen.

He said on Feb. 6 that the department had about two weeks of funds left, so they were hoping to pass a bonding proposal early in the session to fund the Rural Finance Authority to the tune of $50 million.

"Which we think would do about two years of loans," said Petersen.

The RFA includes user finance loans, beginning farmer loans, restructure loans, livestock loans and more.

Another priority in the regular bonding bill will be money to keep up with the MDA's lab, which provides data and analytical support critical to protecting the state's food supply, ag industry and environment.

"Having that lab is important for our farmers and our agriculture economy," Petersen said.

Other legislative priorities are the continued awareness and resources for farmer mental health, as well as farm safety.