I hope you’ve had a good summer and are starting to enjoy the fall colors. I spent much of this summer visiting with people in our community and hearing what issues matter the most to them. Also in order to do a more informed job at the legislature, I’ve been touring Minnesota looking at various farming and industrial sites to discuss issues surrounding land and water use.
Minnesota has been a pioneer in farming techniques and agricultural stewardship. As large-scale industrial farming has replaced family farms, we’ve seen many changes on the rural landscape over the years. Those changes include both economic and environmental impacts that some argue have made farming while preserving soil and water quality more challenging, if not impossible. Many of the places I’ve visited in rural Minnesota shared these concerns and highlighted efforts being made to mitigate these negative impacts.
I visited sustainable farms in Rice County and visited cover cropping and crop rotation efforts near Byron, MN that show promise on a number of fronts. A land use expo near Blooming Prairie talked about controlled manure spreading techniques to reduce the use of chemical fertilizer.
(Sen. Jensen, Asst. Commissioner of the MPCA Rebecca Flood, two farmers, Commissioner of Agriculture Frederickson, and me)
On one trip I joined the Legislative Water Commission for a tour of water related sites of interest in western Minnesota beginning with St. Cloud Water Treatment Plant, a state of the art facility with exceptional technology and planning. Our second stop was the Dean Klaverkamp Dairy that was just awarded the Department of Agriculture’s Water Certification Designation for environmental improvements.
In Cold springs we visited the Golden Plump processing plant to look at their water reuse processes; and the Cold Springs Brewery where the DNR has issued them a temporary permit to continue pumping water until 2017. At issue is the cold water spring that feeds a designated trout stream. The Cold Springs Brewery uses 150 million gallons of water a year to brew beer and make energy drinks. That amount of water draw has severely impacted a local trout stream. Scarcity and habitat impacts are a real issue in Minnesota.
On the same trip to Stearns County we visited Discovery Farms Minnesota’s Meyer Dairy. Meyer Dairy is participating in the Discovery Farms program to provide data on sediment and nutrient loss to surface waters and sub-surface waters. The innovative techniques employed at Meyer Dairy, as with other sites across the state, will help farmers reduce sediment and nutrient pollution in our waters. That’s crucial because 75% of Minnesota’s lakes and streams are impaired, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Other sites of interest on the numerous tours I participated on are the Hmong American farmers in Dakota County; the Peterson farm near Northfield showing use of cover crops and Encirca Nitrogen Management services for nutrient control; Dave Legvold’s farm, who is caring for orchids, just North of Northfield in Dakota County (Dave was also given the Department of Agriculture’s Water Certification designation for work with cover crops, nitrate prevention); Maring Dairy near Kenyon where we saw 40 pastured cows and bees; MN Poultry Testing Lab in Willmar (learned a lot about what the facility does to help producers maintain healthy flocks and update on avian flu); Minn West Technology Campus (it’s incredible to think about the number of MN technology related businesses that are leaders in agriculture); Jennie-O Turkey Store (another Minnesota company with worldwide reach and the second largest turkey producer in country); Granite Falls Energy Ethanol plant; and the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville. All were showing awareness and concerted efforts to be good stewards of the environment.
One of the last visits was to the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green research site where Don Wyse and other researchers are working on the Forever Green Initiative. They’re reinventing agriculture and assembling wonderful new talent to work on crop research that isn’t being done anywhere else in the world. Their innovative work is the result of a funding bill I passed in 2013 and was able to extend again this year. Finding new profitable crops for farmers is crucial if we want to encourage necessary crop diversity on the Minnesota landscape.
We have a duty to respond to issues constituents have and discuss ways to move forward. At the legislature we work to help farmers modernize and conserve water and soil, respond to emergencies such as the avian flu outbreak, help support rural economies, and try to make sure laws protecting our drinking water are followed.
Too often people focus on the negative and make each other feel as if they’re victims for someone else’s political gain. It’s at that point we lose sight of what the issues are and we can’t move forward. We need to recognize that we all share in the responsibility to make sure Minnesota waters are clean and safe for all Minnesotans. Cities must assure they are doing what they can to control rainwater run-off and farms need to control nitrogen pollution and sediment run off, large scale industrial agriculture without careful stewardship can be bad neighbors and ruin people’s livelihood. In most of Southern Minnesota, our water becomes unsafe to drink unless pollutants are removed. We must work together to solve these problems.
As I’ve attended, listened and spoken at dozens of events this summer, I’ve tried to bring a positive note on ways that we can preserve a place for small and mid-sized farms, grow our rural economies, and improve crop diversity. Making that possible protects our environment from contamination, provides economic opportunity, and keeps rural Minnesota thriving.
I look forward to continuing to serve our community’s interests at the Capitol and making sure we can all work together to solve these and other problems.
As always, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 651-296-5882