Legislative Update: Farmers and local governments agree water buffer law is not ready

2017 Minnesota Session

One of the most important issues we have discussed during this legislative session is the need to make modifications to the water buffer law and to delay its implementation. The law was originally passed in 2015 and is scheduled to take effect on Nov. 1st of this year. Unfortunately, the law is just not ready to be implemented.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) has taken a leadership role in communicating with lawmakers, the news media and the public about this bill. Last week, MCGA led a group of 18 farm and ag organizations, and local officials in a letter sent to Gov. Dayton and legislators, urging them to come to a satisfactory agreement on the critical modifications that are needed for this new law to be effectively implemented.

Language to modify the water buffer law and delay its implementation was placed in the environment and natural resources finance bill, which gained final approval in both houses last week. On May 12, the Governor reiterated his strong intent for the buffer law to be implemented on Nov. 1 and vetoed the bill. The bill will now be a component of the end-of-session negotiations between the Governor and House and Senate negotiators.

As currently written, the water buffer law requires Minnesota’s farmers to remove land from crop production along water bodies and ditches and turn the strips into perennial vegetation to protect water resources from runoff pollution and stabilize banks. While farmers agree with the intended outcome of the law, there are many issues that still must be addressed. Tens of thousands of acres of Minnesota’s productive farmland will be impacted by this new law, and it’s important that everyone understand what compliance means before we can move forward.

Various state officials have acknowledged the implementation of the buffer law would be complicated. This reality has been validated by many who say they are currently confused by definitions for public and private ditches, as well as the amount of productive land that would need to be turned into perennial vegetation to comply.

Although two years have gone by since the law passed, buffer law provisions such as approved alternative practices were only released last month. The late release of this information will make compliance more difficult since most farmers are now in their fields planting this year’s crops and may not be able to meet requirements by Nov. 1.

In addition to the many questions that need to be answered about the law, the current law lacks suitable compensation for removing farmland from production. The taking of productive farmland without some compensation and/or tax relief is especially troubling at a time when farmers are experiencing multiple years of low prices and financial stress.

Minnesota’s farming and agriculture community continually work to improve and better 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 general philosophy is one reason why MCGA embraced a bold vision last fall to have Minnesota corn farmers become the most sustainable and environmentally responsible farmers in the nation.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD

The voices of Minnesota’s farmers and rural residents matter. Considering the importance of changes needed to the state’s water buffer law, MCGA urges you to communicate directly with the Governor and your legislators and voice your support for improvements to the law. Click here for more information and to send a personal message to them.

FARM TAXES/TRANSPORTATION ALSO IN NEGOTIATION

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn at midnight this Monday, May 22 and major issues are still unresolved. Other ag-related bills that concern tax relief for farmers, pesticide regulations, transportation and Department of Agriculture operations will also be part of the end of session negotiations.

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