Commentary; to MDA – Who Will Speak for Agriculture? 31 Jul 17

Farmers Under Fire – Who Will Speak for Agriculture?

This Commentary from TRF Radio News Director, Key Teeters, and may feature comments not necessarily those of KTRF Management, Staff or Sponsors

It must feel like a double whammy; The Northwest Minnesota Farm Community as State Government continues to take a hammer and fist approach to policy based on perception instead of fact, cloaked in that most capricious of words, “prevention.” Well, in the case of the “Draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule,” prevention is little more than a lie – with farmers painted black as potential polluters and a non-existent problem white washed as – what was the word, oh, yes – “prevention.”

It was a word used over and over again, as farmers met face to face with officials from the State Department of Agriculture, in listening sessions that pointed an accusing finger at the long standing farm management practice of fall fertilizer application – labeling thousands of local acres “vulnerable” without a shred of evidence to prove it.

What we do know is that decades of accredited rural, residential well water sampling; required by every foster childcare placement and routinely done by rural families – along with new technologies in nitrogen root zone testing and soil sampling – prove that farmers in this corner of the state know their business. It was the one point both sides agreed on last week; nitrogen contamination of ground and well water is not a public health concern in Northwest Minnesota. And the credit for that goes to farmers and best management practices all across this well-educated corner of the State.

There were a lot of comments exchanged in listening sessions this week, but the one that stands out is Tim Osowski, president of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers – who seemed to sum it all up when he said, “What problem are we trying to solve here … “

What we have here is not a problem, but an agenda – and what boils my gizzard is that the finger of blame is being pointed at some of the best water stewards in the state.

Since when is policy based on guilt by association and testing hundreds of miles away on crop and in ground water conditions that will never exist in Northwest Minnesota?

The legacy of the Northwest School of Agriculture, the University of Minnesota, the wisdom of our Fathers – and by golly the Great Howard Person – runs clear and strong through all of us and no one is going to risk that legacy on misapplication that would be immoral, ineffective and – let’s just say it – wastefully expensive.

At the end of the day, we can’t protect Minnesotans with an ambiguous Draft Nitrogen Rule. We won’t protect a single soul by pointing a finger at a farmer – we need to be pointing directly at ourselves, making well water testing easily available to every rural family. If you live in Northwest Minnesota, you will most likely never find nitrogen contamination, but there are other contaminates much more likely to do harm, and that is the kind of “prevention” that is worth a pound of cure.

Talking with farmers over the past few weeks, perhaps of greatest disappointment is the attitude of the agency that they have always relied on for guidance, regulation and support. Someone said last week the State Ag Department “has gone rogue.” It seems to me that is not far from the truth, and without the truth, who’s going to carry our story to the city folk at the State Legislature in St. Paul?