Assuring the public of milk safety

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, Thom Petersen visit Gar-Lin Dairy

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EYOTA, Minn. — On June 6, Gar-Lin Dairy welcomed Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Commissioner of Agriculture Thom Petersen as well as other agriculture advocates and a small swarm of media to the farm. The visit came as part of Flanagan and Petersen’s efforts to celebrate June Dairy Month.

“We know that we have incredible dairy farmers all across the state, and also that dairy is delicious,” Flanagan said. “(It’s) one of my favorite things to consume, of course, and it’s the heart of so much of the farmers and agriculture that we have here in Minnesota.”

Flanagan and Petersen’s visit came the same day as the state announced its first positive case of H5N1.

“Milk is safe to drink and to consume,” Flanagan said. “If you love dairy as much as I do, you will continue to do so. ... Our milk is safe, and that’s the most important thing that I want Minnesotans to take away from this.”

Petersen said that he had visited with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about ensuring resources are available to help Minnesota dairy farmers with loss of milk and testing.

“Minnesota is very well prepared to handle (H5N1),” Petersen said. “We have had highly pathogenic avian influenza a couple of times (in other species).”

Dana Allen-Tully was the host of the visit. Gar-Lin Dairy, located near Eyota, is home to 1,750 cows which are milked in a 50-stall rotary parlor. The farm also includes 4,100 acres of cropland. Allen-Tully is a dairy farmer as well as the president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

“I completely respect the office, and (the) Commissioner of Agriculture — when they ask, you’re not going to say no,” Allen-Tully said. “It’s important that agriculture is seen in a positive light, and the more opportunities that we get to communicate with members that are partners as we move forward is critical. So, the door is always open.”

Flanagan and Petersen announced that the offices of Gov. Walz and Flanagan will be making two separate trade trips to Canada in June. Flanagan said Canada is a leading trade partner for Minnesota agriculture products, with exports in 2023 totaling $1.24 billion.

“We’re really excited to be able to just lift up the incredible work that is happening here in Minnesota and hopefully to expand to additional partners in Canada,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan and Petersen began their visit with a tour of the dairy where they saw a pre-fresh barn. They chatted with Allen-Tully; Duane Epland, vice chair of the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council; and Shelly DePestel, vice president of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.

Flanagan and Petersen finished the tour in a conference room at Gar-Lin Dairy that has windows overlooking the rotary parlor. There, they gave comments and took questions from the media before finishing the visit with ice cream treats.

Petersen said that if a farm bill is passed, the state will help pay for dairy insurance.

Another topic that Flanagan and Petersen discussed was rural mental health. They noted the availability of the Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline and the farm advocates program for farmers in financial distress.

“One of the most important parts of this is just talking about mental health,” Flanagan said. “It is absolutely OK for Minnesotans and Minnesota’s farmers to ask for that help and support. You are not alone.”

The day before, Petersen said, he directed a struggling farmer to the help hotline.

“It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart,” Petersen said. “I’ve known too many farmers who have taken their lives, but I’ve also known a lot of farmers who have been helped by our programs.”

Beginning farmers and farm transitions was another topic of the day. Some of the state’s programs to help new farmers are the beginning farmer tax credit, loans through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Rural Finance Authority, and the FarmLink program. Allen-Tully shared with Flanagan that land acquisition can be a challenge for new farmers and that Gar-Lin Dairy will be passed down to non-family members.

“The work around emerging farmers is incredibly important,” Flanagan said. “I want young people and young families to say, ‘We want to farm,’ and to have that be accessible to them.”

Flanagan and Petersen also commented on the issue of dairy processing in Minnesota. Petersen said that the bonding bill, which failed this legislative session, included $10 million for a dairy plant that needed to upgrade its facilities.

“One of the things that we’re looking at as a department is to try to build out existing processing that we have,” Petersen said. “In Minnesota, we have an older, aging infrastructure for our dairy, and as we look forward in the coming year or so, that’s going to be a top priority.”

Allen-Tully said good topics were covered during the visit.

“We hit on mental health,” Allen-Tully said. “This is going to be a hard year. We talked about beginning farmers and some of the things that the state has been advocating for. ... The idea that we’re going to look (at) maybe how transitions are going to look different than what they have been in the past, I think that that’s a realization that a lot of us need.”

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