Dairy farmer Bonnie Haugen told a congressional subcommittee on Tuesday that the 160 cows she raises on a hillside in Fillmore County impact more than butterfor those in her corner of the state.
"What I do on my hills truly does impact water quality," said Haugen, speaking before a Subcommittee on Environment hearing on regenerative agriculture practices. "The rain drops landing on you may have landed [first] on my cows' backs."
Haugen is a firm believer that the practices she implements on her farm have global significance.
Tuesday's hearing on Capitol Hill opened with Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat and the subcommittee chair, arguing that regenerative practices can "lower carbon emissions, provide clean water, clean air, and rebuild farm communities."
Dairy farms — especially large, concentrated feeding operations with hundreds of cows — have been accused of polluting water systems with excessive manure. But the drive to get bigger or go out of business has created an uncomfortable tension for many Minnesota dairy farmers.
Haugen, owner of Springside Dairy on a southeastern Minnesota farm 50 miles from the Mississippi River, said she practices regenerative agriculture on her 270 acres, rotationally grazing her dairy cows and maintaining diverse forage on her pasture, including clover.
Critics of regenerative agriculture maintain the practices — while environmentally laudable or even productive for yields — aren't economically sustainable for all, if even most, commercial farmers.
Rep. Mike Flood, a Nebraska Republican, critiqued Haugen during questioning Tuesday, asking another witness — Brian Lacefield, director of the Kentucky Office of Agricultural Policy — if he'd been in the room when Haugen shared the size of her dairy herd.
"Can you tell me how many farmers make a living in the state on Kentucky on 160 dairy cows?" asked Flood.
Lacefield replied that it is few.
Another Republican congressman, Rep. Pat Fallon, of Texas, suggested any federal move by the Biden administration to mandate regenerative agricultural practices would lead to destructive consequences for consumers.
"Without us," said Fallon, "Humanity would be suffering from chronic hunger."
Regenerative agricultural practices are less a strict list of rules and more a system of practices for farmers to embrace, such as no-till, cover cropping and reduced usage of synthetic pesticides, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Still, witnesses on Tuesday, including other farmers and a soil scientist from the University of Maine, acknowledged the appetite for progressive agricultural practices isn't immune from market forces, including growing concentration.
Haugen said 29 years ago, a dozen dairy farms resided within 3 miles of her family farm. Now there is only one.
"What I've seen in my community mirrors nationwide trends," she said.