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Minnesota farmer claims victory over state’s race-based grant program

(The Center Square) – A Minnesota farmer claimed victory in a lawsuit filed against the state in January that said his race and sex placed him at the back of the line to receive grants to buy farmland.

Gov. Tim Waltz recently signed legislation that rolls back the state’s policy of prioritizing “emerging farmers” based on characteristics such as race and sex.

“Thanks to the courage of a small farmer, equality before the law has been restored in Minnesota,” Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Andrew Quinio said. “Because Lance Nistler stood up for his right to equal treatment, the state will no longer disadvantage farmers based on their race and sex. We are thrilled that Gov. Walz and the state legislature responded to Lance’s lawsuit by amending the Down Payment Assistance Grant Program so that it does not unlawfully discriminate against Minnesota’s hardworking small farmers. We encourage other states to follow Minnesota’s about-face and stop violating the Constitution’s guarantee of equality before the law.” 

Nistler filed the suit in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota with pro-bono help from the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation.

The complaint said Nistler was picked ninth out of 176 people in the grant lottery and met all eligibility requirements but was placed at the back of the list because the program prioritizes “emerging farmers” when awarding funds.

“Emerging farmers” are farmers who can be categorized as racial minorities, women, or young, urban, and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

The lawsuit says the state first awards grants to all these groups. Any remaining funding may be awarded to non-emerging farmer applicants according to their lottery placement.

Nistler wanted to use the program, which offers up to $15,000 in grant funds to buy 40 acres of farmland in Beltrami County to grow soybeans, oats and wheat.

In 2023, the Legislature appropriated $500,000 to create a grant program for eligible small farmers to receive up to $15,000 to buy farmland. Eligible residents must be Minnesota residents earning less than $250,000 annually in gross agricultural sales, provide the majority of day-to-day labor on the farm they planned to buy for at least five years and not have previously owned farmland.

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