Dayton administration kicks MN farmers while they are down

BWSR proposes steep fines for buffer noncompliance 

A week of tough news got even worse for Minnesota farmers. That’s because Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration is proposing an amendment to the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) administrative penalty order (APO) for the implementation of buffers under Minnesota’s buffer law that would ding farmers tens of thousands of dollars in fines due to noncompliance.

Without the amendment, MN Statutes 103B Subd. 12a clearly states that a county or watershed district with jurisdiction or BWSR may issue a fine “up to $500 per parcel” for landowners in noncompliance.

The amendment changes the APO to state: “An annual penalty will be assessed based on the total linear feet of riparian frontage on a parcel. The penalty will be due on day one of the 11th month after the noncompliance notice was issued. The penalty may be repeated at the discretion of the county or watershed district.”

“This proposed amendment is concerning,” says Joe Smentek, director of public affairs for the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA). “This new action by BWSR would exceed that legislative authority by 100 times what was authorized in statute.”

Smentek, an environmental attorney, says this overreach will be costly to farmers. According to the proposal, farmers who do not attain compliance after an 11-month period will be subject to an annual fine. The penalty amount is determined based on the following parameters:

Linear feet of riparian frontage

Penalty amount per linear foot

Greater than 0 to 100

Greater than 100 to 500

$200-$500

$50-$200

Greater than 500-1,000

$30-$50

 Greater than 1,000

 $25-$30

“This makes no sense,” Smentek says. “This proposed rule penalizes small violators disproportionately greater than large offenders by reducing the fine per foot. That’s like putting someone in jail for five years for punching someone in the face but only giving them three years for murdering that same person.”

Based on worst case scenarios, a farmer with a violation of 100 feet of linear riparian footage could face a maximum annual penalty of $50,000. Likewise, a violation of 500 linear feet could carry a maximum penalty of $100,000. If a person has 1,000 linear feet in violation, the maximum penalty would again be $50,000, and if a person had more than 1,000 linear feet in violation, the penalty could surpass $30,000.

MSGA Vice President Jamie Beyer says the news is discouraging because after the 2017 session, farmers were left with the understanding that the fine would be $500 per parcel.

“Farmers are doing their best to comply with all these regulations from the Dayton administration,” Beyer says. “These regulations are costly and unnecessary. To burden small farmers when farm income is down an average of 50 percent since 2013 shows this administration clearly does not understand farmers or rural Minnesota.”