I am a farmer. My wife and I have college degrees and advanced degrees. I studied, and have years of experience in, business and agronomy. We have two young children. My wife and I care about and advocate for the well-being and development of people in our community and beyond.
The editorial “Brown Co. leaders failed on well testing” (Jan. 9) presents farmers as lacking compassion for others and failing to understand the importance of well-testing.
As a member of the Brown County Corn and Soybean Growers Association and the Brown County Farm Bureau, I would like to clarify some facts about this situation.
I live in the farmhouse I grew up in and I farm land that has been in my family for 150 years. I care about the land and the water I use for agricultural purposes and drinking. I have received the Outstanding Cooperator of the Year award from the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District. My farm is located in Stark Township, Brown County, and has a variety of soil types, including sandy loam. I have over 10 percent of my acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). I use a cover crop on over half of my acres to prevent erosion.
Yes, I live here and care for my land and water.
The issue at hand is that I and other farmers in this area are opposed to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) requesting the testing of well water in Brown County. Brown County already makes well-testing opportunities available to residents. Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories, a testing lab in New Ulm, runs nitrate tests for well water at a cost of $17. It is also advised to run a coliform bacteria test for another $18, as drinking water has zero tolerance to bacteria.
The Brown County Public Health Department runs a program, in which we participated when our children were born, that sends a free water-test kit to every family in the county with a newborn. The department was not aware of any known cases of blue baby syndrome, an issue raised in the editorial.
It appears that the MDA wants to conduct these tests of its own in order to regulate how we farm. The free kit that the MDA is offering only tests for nitrates, not bacteria. Bacteria is also harmful, and without testing for it, one might conclude wells are safe simply because the test shows negative results for nitrates, when in fact they may not be.
There are also other ways, besides farming, that nitrates can enter water systems, such as natural occurrence in the breakdown of organic matter.
What is the true intention of the MDA? Safe water or something else?
It is unfortunate that we have this distrust toward government agencies such as the MDA. However, it has been years in the making. I hope everyone realizes that if there is no perceived problem, a government agency will not get funding to fix a problem. Finding a way to declare a problem allows an agency to receive money — even at the expense of poor research.
We simply want to use solid science when making our decisions on natural resources, as opposed to making decisions out of fear and misinformation.
Nitrogen management is a complex endeavor. It would be most beneficial to work cooperatively with the MDA; we just question the purpose of its actions.
I do not want more regulations on my farming practices. No farmer in the country would intentionally overapply nitrogen. Do you know what it is used for? Explore. Educate yourself. Farming is a challenging occupation. We are mindful in our practices.
Prices of corn are low, and farmers certainly don’t want to spend more than they need to. With more regulations and paperwork, small family farms will continue to be driven out of business.
Please understand the complexity and entirety of this situation.
Keith Lendt is a farmer in Brown County, Minn.