As a fourth-generation family farmer, I am becoming more and more concerned about what seems to be a coordinated effort to label farmers as polluters who are doing nothing to address water-quality concerns. Between regular Star Tribune editorials (“Don’t backpedal on ‘buffer strips’ bill,” May 5), state agency reports and even comments from Gov. Mark Dayton, efforts to paint agriculture in a negative light are in full swing.
It seems that the massive finger-pointing campaign against farmers is being done to help pass Dayton’s buffer proposal in the closing days of the legislative session. Like Dayton and every Minnesotan, I too am concerned about water quality. However, as a farmer, I know that yet another law and involvement from yet another government agency will not achieve the improvements in water quality that everybody wants.
What farmers need instead of another confusing regulation are mapping tools and on-the-ground resources to appropriately target conservation practices where they will make a measurable difference. An inventory of current buffers and other conservation practices would also help to ensure that local communities actually enforce buffer regulations that already are on the books.
But enough about buffers. By now, everyone has staked out their position on that issue. I’d like to further address the developing, misguided narrative that farmers pollute our water and aren’t doing anything about it.
Conservation is something farmers practice year-round. On my farm, I use cover crops to reduce soil erosion and buffer strips to protect water quality. Most other farmers incorporate similar conservation practices.
For as long as I’ve farmed, I’ve implemented, updated, changed or improved various conservation practices on my land. I live on this land with my wife and three daughters. We use the waterways. We drink the groundwater. The last thing we want to do is pollute our valuable water resources for ourselves, our neighbors and the next generation.
Corn farmers, through their voluntary checkoff investments and partnership with institutions such as the University of Minnesota, have been supporting research that addresses ag water-quality concerns for years. You probably haven’t heard about these investments because we don’t make them to generate provocative headlines. We make them so we can continue improving.
Farming is a profession that is constantly evolving. We combine the latest research and science with our instincts as farmers to get better at what we do. Same goes for ag water quality. I’m not going to claim that farmers are perfect and blameless when the topic of our state’s water quality arises.
But the constant barrage of editorials, rhetoric and finger-pointing that labels ag as polluters needs to be dialed back. Just as we’ve adapted to growing more food on less land, farmers have been and will continue making progress on water quality.
The main thing standing in our way is divisive rhetoric and interests who are more interested in playing the blame game than in achieving progress. These types of actions don’t deliver results, just more shouting.
We don’t need more shouting. We don’t need more labeling. We don’t need more political maneuvering and the curiously timed release of another damning “report.” What we need are results.
When it comes to water quality, we’re all in this together. Results will come from increased partnership, not a ratcheting up of rhetoric and finger-pointing.
Noah Hultgren farms in Raymond, Minn., and is first vice president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.