Cooperative Network recently signed onto a letter urging Governor Dayton and legislative leaders to delay implementation of the new buffer law due to its current provisions. A host of agriculture stakeholders groups, commodity groups, and county commissioners throughout the state also signed onto the letter, which advised the legislature and Dayton administration to come to a satisfactory agreement this session on critical modifications that are needed for the new law to be effectively implemented.
Specifically, the letter stated changes were needed in the classifications of private vs. public ditches, clarifications on what constitutes acceptable alternative practices, and indicating that some form of compensation and/or property tax relief for the taking of productive farmland out of production is required. The letter also stated that if modifications were not made prior to May 22, implementation of the new buffer law would be extremely challenging for the following reasons:
· There are provisions of the buffer law that are not clear and it is causing confusion among both farmers and local government officials
· Local government officials throughout the state are having problems interpreting the new law, and helping farmers with compliance will be very challenging
· Crop farmers are already in the field with planting, beginning their busiest cycle of the year through the fall harvest – getting into compliance by Nov. 1 would be a real hardship
· Approved alternative practices were released just last month with more information forthcoming, making it extremely difficult for land owners to both decide and implement alternatives prior to the beginning of the planting season
· With these alternative practices being crucial for many farmers concerned about the loss of productive land, more time to implement is necessary
The letter also stated that the lack of financial consideration for the taking of productive farmland is troubling, especially at a time when farmers are experiencing multiple years of low prices and financial stress. It also stated that a delay in implementing the effective date of the buffer law would not only allow farmers to have the time to understand the law and how best to get into compliance, but also give local government officials more time to decide how to best enforce the law. With no sufficient funding in place for county boards and watershed districts, executing the buffer law will be a major issue for local officials.
Cooperative Network testified earlier this session at a joint Senate committee hearing with our concerns regarding the buffer law, citing many of the reasons above. We stated our support for alternative practices that would enable farmers to comply with the buffer law, as well our support for maintaining and improving the quality of the state’s waters, and that when implementing any state water quality program, cost-sharing resources should be provided to farmers who install buffer strips. We also stated that elected officials, on the state and federal levels, as well as regulators at all levels of government, should collaborate with cooperatives and their member-owners on regulations that are not overly restrictive and that promote the production of food, fiber and energy. We closed our testimony by stating our opposition to burdensome regulations and excessive enforcement, and that cooperatives in general continuously try to find common ground on matters as they concern environmental health and safety on the farm.