When farmers, environmentalists, city and county officials joined Gov. Mark Dayton Thursday in Worthington to discuss Dayton’s buffer proposal, one common theme became clear: Everyone wants clean water.
What wasn’t clear was why Dayton didn’t consult the agriculture groups of the state, many of which have already invested money into researching buffers and other conservation efforts to help achieve water quality.
“The way this proposal came out, it put everyone on the defensive right away,” said Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, who sat on the panel along with Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr and Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson.
Dayton started off the public meeting by simply calling anyone of the more than 200 concerned stakeholders to an open mic.
“We’re gonna have disagreements, but everyone is welcome to their opinions and deserves that respect as Minnesotans,” he said.
Minnesota Soybean Growers Association Director Joel Schreurs of Lincoln County addressed Gov. Dayton’s public comments that farmers “need to look into their souls when it comes to water quality.”
“I would say farmers already do this,” Schreurs told Dayton. “I wish you would have come to commodity groups at the start. I think we could have worked together on this instead of what we have now. All I ask is that you work with the commodities instead of throwing them under the bus.”
At times the public meeting was contentious, but Dayton was honest in his opinion and to the point with some of those who disagreed with his plan.
“It’s not about taking your land,” he told Tim Waibel, a farmer from New Ulm and a Minnesota Corn Growers Association director. Dayton cited the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report that found many of the lakes and streams in southwestern Minnesota aren’t meeting the water quality goals for the designated use.
“Kids can’t swim, people can’t drink clean water. … That’s the problem we’re dealing with,” he said. “If you don’t like my proposal, 50-foot buffers, than I would ask, what’s the solution?”
MSGA Director Bill Gordon also addressed Dayton at the public meeting. Gordon, who farms in Nobles County and has been featured on shows such as Ron Schara’s Minnesota Bound for his conservation efforts, asked Dayton to simply not require buffers as a one source cure-all.
“We have more than 250 acres of buffers on our lands but we put them where the watershed and the conservation districts say they matter,” he said. “We’re asking you not to do a rubber stamp proposal. We’re asking you to bring stakeholders like us, Soybean, Corn, Wheat Growers and bring us together with environmental groups and lets sit down and do a comprehensive program, not just a rubber stamp.”
A plea for public help
Another common theme addressed throughout the public meeting was what part the non-farming community would play in helping achieve clean water.
Bill Korth, who farms in Nobles County but lives in the town of Luverne, said he worries as much about the pollution coming from people in town as much as he does about his fellow farmers.
“As a person living in town, I’m like everyone else,” he said. I’ve gotta have the greenest lawn in town. It’s a competition. My lawn, the company fertilizes it, throws fertilizer on the driveway, on the patio. I live three blocks from the Rock River. Where do you think all that fertilizer ends up?”
Korth said he would like non-farmers, and particularly urban non-farmers to do their parts as well.
“City people need to do their part,” he said. “They are just as much a problem as the farmers and I think they need to be addressed just as much as the farmers.”
Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle agreed with Korth, but pointed to his own city as an example of how farmers and city residents can work together. He says the city of Worthington pays farmers north of the city to install 66 1/2-foot buffers to help reduce sediment into the city. While the payment doesn’t equal rent rates, he said farmers have been willing to participate in the program.
Worthington wasn’t Dayton’s only stop Thursday. The Governor and his crew also visited farmers and stakeholders in Austin as part of ongoing dialogues to try and better understand how his buffer proposal can work.
“My goal is improving water quality,” he said. “It’s not from one source and it’s not from one industry. I’m not going to cram anything down 201 legislators throats. I don’t intend to, I don’t think I should and I won’t.”
Joe Smentek, Minnesota Soybean Director of Environment Affairs, said after the meeting that farmers can take away a very important message from the public discussion.
“The governor talked about the first step we can take,” he said. “All commodity groups say they support the current law. So an easy first step that the Governor could take would be to enforce the current law and start the process of redertimining public ditches in Minnesota. That would be a great first step.”