The Minnesota water buffer law was originally passed in 2015 and is scheduled to take effect on Nov. 1 of this year. Unfortunately, the law is just not ready to be implemented.
The buffer law requires Minnesota's farmers to remove land from crop production along water bodies and ditches and turn the strips into perennial cover buffers. The buffers will contain runoff from farm fields and help improve overall water quality. While farmers agree with the intent of the law, there are many issues that still must be addressed. Tens of thousands of acres of Minnesota's productive farmland will be affected by this new law, and it's important that everyone understands what compliance means before we can move forward.
Various state officials have acknowledged that the implementation of the buffer law would be complicated. That's been validated by many who say they are currently confused by definitions for public and private ditches. And although the law passed two years ago, buffer law guidelines, including approved alternative practices, were only released last month with more information yet to come. The late release of this information makes it extremely difficult to decide on and implement alternatives since most farmers are now beginning their busiest time of the year through the fall harvest.
In addition to the many unanswered questions, the current law lacks suitable compensation for removing farmland from production. The taking of productive farmland without some compensation or tax relief is especially troubling at a time when farmers are experiencing multiple years of low prices and financial stress.
For this and other reasons, 18 major Minnesota farm and agricultural organizations, and several local government officials representing rural counties, signed onto a joint letter to Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders urgently requesting that they make needed modifications to the water buffer law by the end of the legislative session on May 22 and delay its implementation date to give local governments and farmers enough time to comply. The letter includes a diverse group of organizations including various grain, livestock and poultry commodity organizations and cooperatives and county commissioners, who will be involved in implementing the law.
We are not asking for a repeal of the water buffer law — but we must face the fact that it is not ready for implementation this year. Delaying implementation will allow farmers and local officials more time to understand the law and its recently released guidelines, and make appropriate plans to comply with its provisions. More important, an improved water buffer law will help farmers, government officials and rural communities move forward and work together toward improving and protecting our state's water resources.
Minnesota's farming and agriculture community continually work to become better stewards of the land not just because they and their families live on the land, but also because it preserves the land and water for future generations. This philosophy is one reason why the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) embraced a bold vision last fall to see Minnesota corn farmers become the most sustainable and environmentally responsible farmers in the nation.
Let's take the time to make the needed modifications to the water buffer law and provide both local government officials and farmers the information and tools they need to ensure that the law meets our shared goal of improved water quality.
Harold Wolle farms in Watonwan County near St. James and is president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. Randy Kramer is a county commissioner in Renville County and former chairman of the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources.