Minnesota Farmer


Water issues

I spent this last Wednesday at FarmFest near Redwood Falls, Minnesota.  As always, there were lots of displays and things for sale, but I always take time for some of the forums on current issues.  IMG_0674The 1:15 session was titled “Buffers, WOTUS* and other Water Quality Issues.”  Now when you get farmers talking water, you get all kinds of concern.  We are always talking about how little or how much water we have.  Water is life for both our crops and our livestock.  Water is a big deal on the farm.  Now if you add in government control of our water, you are likely to get fireworks. (*Waters of the United States, it refers to a bill that could increase government control of water way beyond what is reasonable.)

The forum brought together nine speakers from various backgrounds, mainly commodity and farm group leaders, plus the local legislator (who wrote the “Buffer” bill) and an assistant to the state secretary of Agriculture.  So here are a few nuggets of wisdom and some comments on water issues from the forum.

“We all want water quality, we just want someone else to pay for it.”  Now isn’t that the truth.  But who should pay for it.  Well it boils down to blaming the least vocal, least politically connected voices, lately that seems to be farmers.

“Currently in Minnesota about 80% of the waters that need a buffer already have one.”  That was a revelation.  When the governor started pushing for buffers along all the waters in Minnesota you would have thought we had a real problem, but most of the job is already done.  But the next one really did open my eyes.

“In many cases, waters that do not have a buffer, need something other than a buffer to protect water quality.”  Now isn’t that interesting.  So again we have politicians pushing for something that is only needed in a small number of cases and they end up creating a big fuss when the job is almost already done.

“There are no waters in the state of Minnesota that are clean enough to drink risk free, and have most like never have been.”  Now I’ve been canoeing in the “pristine” waters of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and I know that even there  you deal with fish, mammal and bird poop in the water and the bacteria they have that can cause distress in humans.  That is a remote area, in areas more densely populated and warmer that density of potential problems increases.  Waters that contain fish, entertain birds and have swimming and wading mammals, amphibians and reptiles will always contain risks for disease transmission, this is not new.

Groups that regulate farmers seem to be seeking out ways that they can push for multi-million dollar fines for doing activities that are not even in their rules to control.  Normal farming activities that are up to date and environmentally friendly to most are being levied with suits to see if the regulation will stick.  If farmers cave in, it becomes law.  “They want to face individual farmers, not farm groups.  If we contact our farm group we can combat these illegal taking of farm activities.”  As a group we can face up to those who wish to push the law too far.  The courts have been on our side, but one farmer cannot afford all of the costs of lawyers, that is where your commodity or farm group can help.  Do not suffer alone.

Now the comments turn more hopeful.

“The changes in U.S. Agriculture since the passing of the Clean Water Act in 1972 have allowed agriculture to have a smaller environmental footprint.”  Farmers get all kinds of bad press when they get bigger and increase the density of their endeavors, but the truth is once we get bigger we get more concerned about controlling all of the possible elements on the farm.  Two issues from our own farm.

1) When we raised pigs outdoors, pens were not designed to control manure runoff.  It was spread on fields at anytime of year with no concern for whether it may end up in a stream or lake.  Now every bit of manure is controlled and used as the precious resource it is.

2) Newer machines have allowed us to control crop chemicals in ways we never could before.  Now we can control our crop chemicals down to the fraction of an ounce.  This means using only enough, never too much of that expensive crop input.

“Water quality is improving in Minnesota, but as more obvious point sources of pollution are eliminated (factories and city sewage systems) the search for the next point of pollution goes to more and more diffused sources.”  In other words, we have already done the large part of cleaning up our act, if anti-pollution groups are to keep their funding they must find more places to put the blame that may not amount to much in the overall picture.

“Farm groups are being asked ‘Are we sustainable.’  Well, yes we are.  We have over 40 years of work on being sustainable.  We are not yet done on improving on our sustainability.  We now produce more food on less acres and with fewer animals than 50 years ago.”   We have less waste and fewer inputs for more yield than at anytime in my life, that means we are doing something right.

At times when we talk water issues and government policy, it seems as if everything is hopeless.  There are too few of us and we are so small.  Still if we band together, our voice can still be heard.  The courts have been good to us, if we get a chance to make our case.  Alone we are helpless, together we can protect this precious way of life that provides food for so much of the world.

 

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