The discussion over the “Governor’s Buffer Bill” has taken a decided turn for the worse in the past week. Governor Dayton has stated that farmers need to “look into their souls” and back his plan.
Environmental groups and hunting advocates have been misrepresenting current law and are using pictures and poorly researched reports to paint the state’s farming community as a bunch of criminals. It is easy to go out and take a picture of a ditch with no buffer. Does that mean that the farmer involved is a criminal? No.
According to the Board of Water and Soil Resources, 64% of streams and ditches require no buffer under state law. BWSR also estimated about only 20 percent of Minnesota’s ditches require the one rod buffer under the current ditch law. Farmers with less than a 50 foot buffer on the former are law abiding citizens. Farmers with no buffer on the latter are also 100 percent law abiding.
Now, does that mean it’s a good farming practice? The answer is it depends. There are farmers that are enrolled in certified conservation plans that may only have a 10-foot buffer along most of a stream, and then a 125-foot buffer where water runs off the field.
Tim Koehler of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources said that they had done an informal review of six counties that had really pushed the current buffer requirements. In those six counties, Koehler said, the BWSR did not find widespread non-compliance, but the exact opposite. Most counties they talked with experienced widespread compliance with current law.
Does demonizing farmers get us any closer to our water quality goals? No. That is the truly sad part of this discussion.
At the end of the day, we want the same thing. Minnesota’s farmers do not want their soil in the water. They need their topsoil on their fields to maintain healthy and productive soils. Minnesota’s farmers do not want their inputs that they add to their land in the water. They need those inputs on the fields to aide their crops.
BWSR has firsthand knowledge from counties that current rules can be enforced. If the state knew that a few certain counties were not enforcing the current drunk driving laws would they demonize the drivers or the counties that were not enforcing the current rules?
Let’s stop with the pictures that show perfectly legal behavior and attempt to paint our fellow Minnesotans as criminals. It is a practice we can all agree doesn’t help water quality.
Let’s work together to stop those that are not doing their part. If it is a lack of education on the importance of buffers, let’s teach them together. If it is a lack of funds to complete the project, let’s help them find solutions.
The current buffer laws can work, so let’s work together towards real solutions and stop the name-calling and demonization.