Gov. Mark Dayton has been busy lately as he travels around southern Minnesota touting his buffer proposal while listening to concerns and suggestions from farmers and interested stakeholders.
Dayton has been non-apologetic with his buffer proposal, telling attendees at public meetings that something needs to be done regarding water quality in Minnesota.
“If everybody is planting and growing up to the edge and if that runs off, that’s where we have these deteriorating water conditions so we need to find some way to make a determination … somebody has got to figure out how to protect the waters that are there,” Dayton said during his Northfield stop.
So what have we learned from the discussions in Worthington, Austin and Northfield?
Farmers care about water quality, and they care about doing the right thing. That much was clear from the farmers who attended any of the three meetings.
Minnesota Soybean Growers Association Director Joel Schreurs had to pause while speaking with Dayton at the meeting in Worthington, offering an apology to the Governor because he was “a little emotional about the subject.”
Schreurs calmly explained to Dayton that many, many farmers already practice conservation on their farms, and that he felt the comment Dayton made that farmers “need to look into their souls” on water quality was unnecessary.
One farmer in Northfield told his fellow farmers, “I think we need to look not at how much we’re going to get back, but how much we’re going to lose if we don’t do something.”
These types of comments were common and showed that farmers care deeply about being good stewards of their land.
Starting in Worthington and continuing to Northfield, farmers repeatedly said they would rather work with their county Soil and Water Conservation District than install mandatory 50-foot buffers, which at times may be too much buffer and at other times, not nearly enough.
“We have more than 250 acres of buffers on our land but we put them where the watershed and the conservation districts say they matter,” said MSGA Director Bill Gordon.
In Worthington, Dayton asked a farmer if he has confidence in his SWCD to help develop a conservation plan for his farm.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Yes I do.”
MSGA Director Brad Hovel, isn’t surprised that farmers are confident in their work with the SWCD.
“They are our local guys who work and know the area,” Hovel said. “They are local experts when it comes to water conservation, and they are technically trained on sound environmental practices.”
Hovel likes the idea of empowering the SWCD more.
“They are solely funded by the county,” he said. “It’d be nice to get some funding secured for the SWCD so they can do meaningful work that will have an impact on water quality.”
Dayton not married to 50 feet
While Dayton wants to see real progress and to see it start soon, he also has heard plenty of discussion on why people are concerned with 50 feet as the number assigned in the buffer proposal.
“With the feedback I got over and over, one size doesn’t fit all and you need to have somebody, maybe an individual, making a determination,” he said.
Farmers have had a wide variety of opinions on how to best handle clean water, but groups such as MSGA and the Minnesota Corn Growers Association have pointed out that enforcing current laws would be a good place to start.
“We’re asking you not to do a rubber stamp proposal,” Gordon said. “We’re asking you to bring stakeholders like us, Soybean, Corn, Wheat Growers and bring us together with environmental groups and let’s sit down and do a comprehensive program, not just a rubber stamp.”
Everyone needs to pitch in
Brent Mohn, who farms in Dakota, Scott and Rice counties, came with questions for Dayton and the panelists in Northfield. Mohn wanted to know how non-farm pollution was being handled.
“What about the impervious structures in this state, blacktop,” he asked. “How was that factored into this bill?”
Dayton deferred that question to his Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Stine.
“There are over 270 communities in the state that are already subject to individual permit,” Stine said. “They are on a plan to improve water quality through managing their storm-water runoff and certainly impervious surfaces are a problem, as are all sorts of other sources.”
Both Dayton and Stine agreed with Mohn that everyone needs to take responsibility and take action to help clean Minnesota’s water.
“This needs to be everybody,” Dayton said. “This is a starting point not an ending point. We need to look at what our own practices are as government, we need to look at urban and rural.”
Senator Bill Weber asked the Governor to sit down with all stakeholders to discuss possible solutions. He asked the Governor to declare the current bill dead.
“If this is the starting point we shouldn’t be considering the current bills,” said Joe Smentek, Minnesota Soybean Director of Environmental Affairs. “We should be looking at getting the counties the resources they need to enforce current law and should be looking at how SWCDs can best work with farmers to get the conservation practices that will work best with individual farmers in place on their individual farms.”