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Lawsuit claims unequal treatment in Minnesota’s farmland program

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(The Center Square) – A Northern Minnesota farmer claims his race and sex placed him at the back of the line to receive a $15,000 grant for aspiring farmers to buy farmland.

The case is Lance Nistler v. Walz, et al., filed in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota with pro-bono help from the nonprofit Pacific Legal Foundation.

The complaint says Lance Nistler was picked 9th 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 and any remaining funding may be awarded to non-emerging farmer applicants in the order of 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, Minnesota, to grow soybeans, oats and wheat.

In 2023, The Minnesota 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.

The lawsuit also targets Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen. Gov. Tim Walz’s office hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.

Pacific Legal Foundation Attorney Andrew Quinio said the program’s design is “unfair.”

“Minnesota believes Lance Nistler is less deserving of a farm because he has the wrong skin color and sex,” Quinio said in a statement. “It is unfair for the government to advantage or disadvantage anyone for benefits based on immutable characteristics like race and sex. Lance Nistler seeks to be treated equally with any other prospective farmer.”

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