What is needed even more than the much-discussed buffer strip law adjacent to public waters is a buffer law between politicians and food-producing farmers. I have worked on Minnesota legislation since 1972, and it is obvious that the state’s legislators and public-policy people are becoming more and more removed from their agricultural roots.
This has put more responsibility on those organizations that say they represent farmers at the State Capitol. Farmers have expected them to keep a watchful eye on what the Legislature and the governor are doing. These organizations are failing miserably.
Two laws that passed recently should be held up as examples of their failures. One is the buffer strip law. For a law with such far-reaching effects on the food-producing farmers of rural Minnesota, it should have been vetted in further detail in the legislative process, with guidance from those claiming to represent farmers at the Capitol.
Two days after last June’s special session ended, I asked a Dayton administration official: “How did you get that thing passed?” His response (with a chuckle): “Did you miss the public hearing in the coat closet at the governor’s residence 10 minutes before midnight?” He went on to further explain that it was a trade at the end of the special session. A large dairy wanted to get rid of the private-citizen arm of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and, for that, the dead buffer strip law was brought back to life and passed. I asked another Dayton administration person about it, and was told it happened because no farm organization objected.
At a recent informational meeting on buffer strips, a representative from the Minnesota Farm Bureau said that there were other things we needed and that this was why the legislation was allowed to pass. At that meeting, no one really knew what was in the bill, as is evident by the recent decision by Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders (“GOP deals setback to buffer rule,” Jan. 30).
As a fourth-generation Minnesota farmer, I support legislation that helps to clean up our public waters, but I do not support stupid legislation that will harm the state’s food-producing farmers. Rather than depending on our farm lobbyists, we need real farmers to be a part of this discussion. This buffer strip legislation should be held up as an example of failed farm legislation.
Another example is the 2014 U.S. farm bill. The legislation was passed in January of that year, and by November, local U.S. Department of Agriculture officials still did not know what was in the final bill. I supported a “no farm bill” approach. (I think that is what really passed.) Special-interest groups and large agribusiness concerns wrote the details after the bill passed. Congress had no idea what was passed.
I do not fault legislators or Congress for these failed pieces of legislation. I blame the farm lobbyists who claim to represent today’s food-producing farmers for not doing their job. They pretend to represent farmers when they are actually representing their own organizations first and large agribusiness second. Real farmers need to show up and keep an eye on political activities that will have a significant impact on their own family operations as these two pieces of failed legislation are having and will have. Consumers need to also show up and help farmers so they will continue to be there to produce affordable and healthy food, now and into the future.
Harlan Anderson farms near Cokato, Minn.