Dismissed by the Pioneer Press: Making farmers' voices heard on water quality

Before last weekend’s water summit hosted by Gov. Mark Dayton, two Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) farmer-leaders submitted guest columns to both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press. We thought it was important that farmers were part of the discussion in the days leading up to the summit.

Unfortunately, the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press did not agree as both guest columns went unpublished. Perhaps the two newspapers were confused by columns that contained actual ideas for solutions and agricultural insights instead of the usual finger-pointing and political blame-game rhetoric.

We thought both guest columns deserved to see the light of day, even if our state’s two largest newspapers did not agree. So, we’re going to publish them here on Minnesota Cornerstone.

The first column was written by St. James farmer and MCGA first vice president Harold Wolle. The second column was penned by Plato farmer Brian Thalmann, who also chairs MCGA’s production stewardship action team.

Wolle’s column can be read here. Thalmann’s column is below. Thank you to both Harold and Brian for taking the time to try and share with the non-farming public what’s happening in the area of water quality from a farmer’s perspective.


Brian Thalmann

Brian Thalmann

By implementing highly targeted conservation practices that fit specific areas of our state’s diverse agricultural landscape, Minnesota farmers are working harder than ever before to protect our rivers, lakes and streams. We’re also working to make our voices heard on water quality. Farmers want to be heard on this issue because we have many solutions to offer, and the issue directly impacts how we earn our living.

It’s inevitable that Gov. Dayton and other high profile officials typically receive most of the media coverage on water quality. But let’s not allow politics and partisan bickering to drown out the voice of the farmer. After all, we’re the ones impacted by new regulations. We’re also actively working to offer meaningful solutions.

Much has been written in the local press about the governor’s pledge to “take on agriculture” and use water quality to build his legacy during his final years in office. This type of rhetoric might generate clicks on a newspaper website, but it doesn’t do anything to actually move us toward improved water quality.

Instead of “taking on agriculture,” I’d like our leaders to help improve cooperation among all Minnesotans in order to achieve the shared goal of protecting our waterways. I’m hoping that the governor’s water summit in St. Paul on Saturday can be a step in a more collaborative direction.

Through initiatives such as Minnesota’s corn check-off – a voluntary one-cent “fee” collected on every bushel of corn sold – farmers fund and support millions of dollars in third-party research and programs that seek real-world solutions to water quality challenges. Striking the perfect balance between growing food for the entire world, maintaining a profitable farm operation and protecting waterways is not easy, but it’s what farmers are striving to do each and every day.

One of the most important things we’ve learned is the need to make conservation practices as precise and targeted as possible. Minnesota’s farmlands are unique. What works on one farm might not work on other farms. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution.

At the upcoming water summit, it would be worthwhile to discuss making additional resources and support available for farmers to implement more targeted, on-the-ground precision conservation practices. On some fields buffer strips and grass waterways make the most sense. On others, buffers might not be as effective as larger-scale practices such as conservation tillage, cover crops or a saturated buffer.

These are the types of efforts that would help provide the measurable water quality progress Minnesotans were hoping for when they voted to pass the Legacy amendment tax.

Are farmers perfect when it comes to water quality? No, we make missteps just like anyone else. But rest assured, we’re making the necessary investments and putting in the work to actively seek solutions. Water quality is an important part of what we do.

Often, we only hear about the doom and gloom statistics of our state’s rivers and streams. There is no doubt that the challenge in front of us is large and it deserves our attention, but it’s also important to point out progress when appropriate. For example, a recent report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency showed reductions in five of seven major pollutants in Minnesota waterways over a 30-year span.

That’s meaningful progress that we should build on, not cast aside.

I know many of my fellow farmers will be attending the governor’s summit. We’re going to keep working to make our voices heard and to play an even bigger role in developing solutions to protect our waterways. By focusing less on finger-pointing and more on targeted precision conservation practices, building on existing research efforts and improved collaboration, water quality is a challenge our state will be able to overcome.

**Brian Thalmann farms in Plato, Minn., and serves on the Minnesota Corn Growers Association board of directors.**

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