MORGAN ZEGERS: Minnesota sued by farmer over program prioritizing grant for 'racial and sexual minorities'

A Minnesota farmer is suing the state for a program allowing racial and sexual minorities to be first in line to receive a $15,000 grant available to aspiring farmers to purchase coveted farmland.

Lance Nistler, a lifelong Minnesotan and farmer, aspired to own his own land to grow in-demand crops. After hearing of the state’s Down Payment Assistance Grant Program, which offers individuals living in Minnesota the opportunity to apply for a grant worth up to $15,000 that they can place toward the purchase of farmland.

In his lawsuit filed against the state, Nistler’s lawyers said that his application was denied, despite Nistler being the “model individual” because of his “race and sex.”

The lawsuit explained that to qualify for the grants, applicants must be Minnesota residents earning under $250,000 annually in gross agricultural sales, “provide the majority of day-to-day labor on the farm they planned to purchase for at least five years, and could not have previously owned farmland.” The grant would initially be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Rural Finance Authority; however, after the program quickly grew in popularity, additional funds were allocated by the state legislature in May 2023, doubling the program’s budget.

The latest bill that expanded the program’s funding also “significantly changed how the funds would be awarded,” according to Nistler’s complaint. “[T]he bill requires the MDA to prioritize ’emerging farmers,’ as set forth in section 17.055 of Minnesota Statutes.”

Instead of awarding funds on a first-come, first-served basis, the bill requires the MDA to
prioritize “emerging farmers,” which is defined in section 17.055 of Minnesota Statutes as farmers who are “women, veterans, persons with disabilities, American Indian or Alaskan Natives, members of a community of color, young, LGBTQIA+, or urban, and any other emerging farmers as determined by the MDA commissioner.”

Eligible applicants would first be placed in a lottery and drawn at random; however, after the initial lottery, the lawsuit claims, “the applicants would be reordered to provide emerging farmers preference over non-emerging farmers.”

“Minnesota believes Lance Nistler is less deserving of a farm because he has the wrong skin color and sex,” Pacific Legal Foundation Attorney Andrew Quinio, who is representing Nistler, said. “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.”

This piece first appeared at TPUSA.

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