Victory in Discrimination Lawsuit on Behalf of Minnesota Farmer

The Upper Midwest Law Center (UMLC), serving as local counsel alongside the Pacific Legal Foundation, has successfully concluded a federal discrimination lawsuit brought by Lance Nistler, a white farmer from Beltrami County, Minnesota. The lawsuit led to significant changes in the eligibility criteria for the state’s Down Payment Assistance Grant program.

Despite meeting all eligibility requirements and being selected ninth in the grant lottery out of 176 applicants, Nistler discovered that he was placed at the back of the list due to the program’s prioritization of so-called “emerging farmers,” including racial minorities, women, and individuals from young, urban, and LGBTQIA+ communities. He sued Governor Tim Walz and State Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen earlier this year. Before the case reached trial, the Minnesota legislature revised the eligibility criteria.

Governor Walz signed the agriculture omnibus spending bill at the end of May, which removed the reference to “emerging farmers” from the grant program. The revised program now targets farmers earning under $100,000 in gross income, as well as growers of hemp, cannabis, and other specialty crops like fruits and vegetables.

“This legislative change is a significant step towards ensuring fairness and equality in state grant programs,” said Doug Seaton, President of the Upper Midwest Law Center. “Our victory in this case underscores our commitment to fighting discriminatory practices and upholding the principle of equal treatment under the law for all Minnesotans.”

The case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Eric C. Tostrud following the legislative changes. The updated criteria now focus more on material conditions and market access, aiming to support a new generation of farmers without discriminatory language.

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