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Assistant commissioner at Dept. of Ag emphasizes 'place for all types of agriculture'

OLIVIA -- Helping young people get started in agriculture and promoting a growing local foods economy in the state are priorities for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture under its new leadership.

Matthew Wohlman, a newly appointed assistant commissioner in the department, also emphasized that it will continue to promote conventional agriculture and the adoption of new technologies in the field.

"There's a place for all sizes and types of agriculture in Minnesota,'' said Wohlman in a presentation Monday evening at the annual meeting of ProAg in Renville County in Olivia.

Wohlman is a Renville County native and owner of a fifth-generation family farm in the county. He was appointed assistant agricultural commissioner in January by new Commissioner Dave Frederickson, a Murdock native. Wohlman previously served as an outreach director for Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz, and as a legislative aide for State Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, now the lieutenant governor under Gov. Mark Dayton.

Minnesota's aging farm population has the attention of the new governor, according to Wohlman. "We have twice as many farmers over the age of 65 as we do under the age of 35,'' he told the audience. He said the administration is making a push for beginning and immigrant farmers.

Wohlman said the administration sees the growing local foods movement as a new market for Minnesota farmers.

The assistant commissioner is optimistic that the Department of Agriculture will weather the state's budget crisis. The governor has instructed all departments to implement a 15 percent budget cut. That represents an approximate $11 million cut to the department.

The Department of Agriculture has already merged the marketing and financial assistance divisions to reduce costs.

The department is planning to make good on state subsidies to ethanol producers this year, but take out $9 million from what would be ethanol subsidies in the second year of the biennium, he said.

Wohlman said legislation in the House and Senate is very close to what the governor is proposing for the department's budget. One estimate has the difference at $1.2 million, he said.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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