On Monday, Jonathan and I presented at a conference in Omaha. What is the one recommendation from most people on what to do with our fun day? Head to the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. We weren’t disappointed! This is just one of the 359 photos I took at the zoo yesterday.
Things have been quiet on the blog lately. We have been enjoying time with family in addition to farm work and meetings.
On June 27th, we attended the wedding of our niece and new nephew-in-law. Laura rode with us, and we met Anna and Doug at our hotel. Jonathan hadn’t seen Anna or Doug since we parted ways in Stuttgart, Germany in January, so he was anxious to see them. Christina and I were able to visit them on our way back from New York in May, but it was still so good to get hugs from them again. It was so nice to be able to spend time playing games, visiting, and laughing together.
It’s funny, as much as I cherish my friends – whether they are In Real Life friends or Social Media friends – and my family, I seem to have troubles nurturing those relationships. Maybe it’s because of my fear of being a bother, or not wanting to look foolish, I’m not sure. I think we all have those insecurities, and put up walls from time to time to protect our hearts. The thing is, when those walls go up, we miss out on the human relationships that we crave.
I think Anna and Doug’s visit, and the impromptu gatherings with family and friends surrounding their visit here have made me realize how much I need to nurture my human connections, and how, in the grand scheme of things, those relationships are the important things in life. The point isn’t to just comment on things I disagree with or where I see an educational opportunity. The point is to build the relationships so that when a disagreement happens, it doesn’t ruin that relationship. In many conferences and workshops we hear about how to advocate for agriculture by building relationships with our consumers, but I think we also need to build relationships with other advocates.
Thanks, Anna and Doug, for the visit, and for making me see the importance of nurturing my relationships!
Agriculture is under attack by the Environmental Protection Agency, individual states, and federal judges. It is time to get involved, and make your voice heard. What is the most effective way to get your message across? By joining a farm organization.
This past March, I had the opportunity to visit Washington DC with the Minnesota Farm Bureau. This was my 4th trip to DC with Farm Bureau, but my first trip as a member of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Board of Directors. I came away with three things I think everyone involved in agriculture should know.
Every farmer should belong to a farm organization
I know, I know. We’re all really busy, and it’s tough to take on one more thing. But what if that one more thing makes your job easier in the long run? For example, fourteen Minnesota Farm Bureau members traveled to Washington DC together in March. That is a small fraction of our membership. We were speaking on behalf of all Minnesota Farm Bureau members that week. When we met with our Congressmen and Senators, they knew we are speaking with a unified voice for all of our members.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been to the Minnesota State Capitol for our Day on the Hill visits. It’s another trip that I love, and it’s an easy one day event for us. The messages we bring to our elected officials, whether state or national, are those that came from our members in the policy development and voting delegate sessions that happen every year. Your voice in your county matters.
Politics may not be your thing, but it affects everything
When I first got involved in Farm Bureau, politics weren’t my thing. I had kids to worry about, I was taking on a few more farm responsibilities, and just didn’t think my opinions mattered anyway. The more I got involved with Farm Bureau, the more I realized how much of our livelihood depended on our elected officials. I started paying attention, embraced the opportunities to attend legislative 101 type sessions at our Leadership Conferences, and learned how the political process works. Then, Jonathan and I won a trip to Washington DC with the Young Farmers & Ranchers group, where we learned how powerful the Farm Bureau voice can be. I went in to that trip pretty wide-eyed, and came home fired up…in a good way. I gained a new respect for those who work hard at getting our message in front of the House and Senate every day. I know I couldn’t do it!
Every farmer should go to Washington DC at least twice
Why go twice? Isn’t once enough…a been there done that kind of thing? As I mentioned above, my first trip to Washington DC was pretty much a wide eyed experience where I was taking in so much information, and seeing for the first time how politics affects agriculture at the national level, that I really didn’t feel like I made much of an impact. When we went on our second trip, I was much more comfortable about speaking up in our meetings, and felt that I was making a difference. In March, one of our Congressmen expressed how he appreciated how Farm Bureau speaks with a unified voice, since they represent all sectors of agriculture. He mentioned how we are a lot like Congress in that we have to learn how to take all of the different voices and come together in agreement on our policies. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. The group on this spring’s trip was very diverse, which really brought home our Congressman’s point. We had beef, dairy, pig, conventional, and organic farmers in our group speaking as one.
Whether it is the American Farm Bureau addressing the issues surrounding the EPA’s Waters of the United States rule, or the Minnesota Farm Bureau addressing Governor Dayton’s buffer strip campaign, our elected officials take note of our message, whether or not they vote the way we would like, at least they know exactly where we stand. That is the impact of a unified voice.
Jonathan and I were attending graduation open houses on a rainy day this weekend, and noticed how the water was standing in fields near drainage ditches following a pretty intense downpour. There was one field in particular, where the buffer strip is about 5 feet wide at its peak. This narrow buffer is good to prevent accidental applications of fertilizers or pesticides onto the banks of the drainage ditch, but it would never be crucial in filtering surface drainage. Why? The land runs up hill to the ditch bank. The standing water shows where the low spots are.
This photo was taken along the county road, so the ditch in the foreground is road ditch. When you follow the curve of the crops, you will see on the left hand side the strip of grass. That is the edge of the narrow buffer. Look how far back the water is standing.
Here is another view of the same ditch, and the same field, taken from a little farther down the road.
The ditch bank is fully intact, and doesn’t have water flowing from the field over the crown and into the ditch. This is a good example of how site specific buffer strips make sense. I would have to agree, too, with the NRCS buffer strip study that stressed the importance of site specific buffer strips, and not having that be the stand alone way to achieve the water quality results we are looking for. As more farmers are going back to no-till or minimum till methods, implementing cover crops, and using variable rate technology, our water quality will continue to improve.
Farmers are not opposed to installing buffer strips. Farmers are not opposed to clean water. Farmers are opposed to a one-size-fits-all-one-method-will-fix-all way of thinking. We cannot forget the importance of site specific buffer strips, nor the importance of a little common sense.
I come from a pretty close family, and love hanging out with my brothers and sisters. Even though they make me mad at times, I still love them.
When we read 1 John 4: 20-21, I’m not sure that the meaning is just our immediate siblings, but brothers and sisters in Christ. This verse challenges me when I feel hurt by another Christian…it makes me not want to love them. But I must. I am challenged to love those who are not fellow believers as well…because some day they may become a brother or sister in Christ. This is one area I’m working on with my real life relationships as well as my online relationships.
Water Quality. We hear the term in the news, in press conferences, and in editorials surrounding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton’s proposals to regulate land use primarily in agricultural areas. What is water quality, and what does it have to do with land control?
The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Rule, which would redefine what the term “waters of the U.S.” means, has a host of issues. However, the way they are selling their proposed change is in the name of water quality. Thing is, their rule change has nothing to do with water quality, since all the waters in question are already covered by the Clean Water Act. What it does talk about at length, is jurisdiction. The EPA thinks it can do a better job at implementing the provisions of the Clean Water Act than the states can. I don’t know about your state, but Minnesota is doing a great job at identifying impaired waters, establishing a game plan, and achieving it. Personally, I think states, who involve people who live and work in the watershed, are much more effective at protecting water quality than Washington bureaucrats who have probably never set foot in the watershed they are trying to regulate.
So, what is the point of redefining what constitutes a water of the United States if it isn’t going to change the national water quality standards outlined in the Clean Water Act? Could it be power? Control over agricultural lands? The Rule would broaden the scope of the EPA, and basically puts them in the business of regulating a farmer’s activities, which is not what Congress intended. If your land happens to be within the boundaries of the newly defined significant nexus, you may need a permit from the EPA to do ordinary farming practices. Farmers are already working towards the water quality goals of the watersheds their land is in. On our farm, we have taken advantage of voluntary programs, and federal farm programs that encourage soil and water conservation. We have planted marginal lands into Conservation Reserve Program grasslands, planted living snow fences, and use cover crops. Soil samples, plant tissue samples, and manure samples are tested to determine the correct rate of manure application each fall. We are doing what we can to meet or exceed the standards set for the watershed our land is in.
Redefining the Waters of the United States in the name of water quality is deceiving…a red herring. The EPA is simply looking for more ways to control what happens on the land. Land owned by farmers and landowners who are already complying with CWA standards.
Water quality has also been a hot topic on the state level in a few states lately. In Minnesota, Governor Mark Dayton has asked for a 50 foot riparian buffer strip along all rivers, streams, and ditch banks and everywhere water flows “most of the time”. Sounds good on the surface, but like the EPA’s WOTUS rule, the Governor’s plan has some major flaws.
Farmers are not opposed to buffers. In the right locations, at the appropriate width designed for that particular location, they can be very effective. One-size-fits-all makes no sense if the goal is improving water quality. However, the news media has been blasting agriculture for not doing their part to improve water quality, and is telling the public that we need these buffer strips to achieve water quality. When I read the proposed Senate and House bills, I was puzzled. What exactly is this water quality they are talking about? Under the Purpose of the bill, it lists “protecting water from runoff and erosion; stabilizing soils, shores, and banks; and provide aquatic and wildlife habitat.” (HF1534, MN House of Representatives) Is that what water quality is? If that is the state’s definition of water quality, we can achieve that in without a mandatory, one-size-fits-all 50 foot buffer strip.
One of the Governor’s reasons for the need for the 50 foot buffer strip is the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s latest report on the Missouri River Basin in Southwest Minnesota. As I was reading the full report, a few things stood out. Governor Dayton kept referring to how bad the water quality is, but the same report that had the media blasting agriculture for all the water woes also contained some positive news. Two of the major watersheds had improved water quality over the past 10 years. Pipestone Creek and the Rock River both showed decreases in Total Suspended Solids and Total Phosphorus, two areas of assessment that is mentioned many times in the MPCA’s report.
The other thing that I noticed is that there is no water quality standard for Total Phosphorus in streams, and there are no Nitrite/Nitrate standards in streams or lakes. When reading the chemistry results from the tested waters – where there were water chemistry reports – there were numbers present, but no parameters for TP or Nitrite/Nitrogen. If there are no water quality standards, or water quality goals, how can we know if we have achieved the desired result?
The idea of no water quality standard or goal in the proposed bill was brought up at the Governor’s Buffer Strip Session in Worthington, Minnesota. I was happy the gentleman asked the question, since I had noticed the lack of goals in the bill, but just thought I was missing a point. That question raises another one. If there are no Total Phosphorus standards for streams, how are we to know when we have reached an achievable goal? Is it the historic levels dating back before the European settlements? What if those numbers were historically high, even before the prairies were turned in to farmland? Are we just going to be chasing an unachievable number?
Spring Lake, near Prior Lake recently made a request to the EPA to change the standard for Total Phosphorus from 40 ppb to 60 ppb after a lake sediment core was studied, and it found that Spring Lake historically was high in Total Phosphorus. So, if TP was high before the land surrounding Spring Lake was turned into farmland, is it agriculture solely to blame? I don’t think so.
It remains that there are no true water quality standards set out in Governor Dayton’s Buffer Strip bill. Even when farmers are accused of not doing their part to improve water quality, the MPCA’s own documents show otherwise. So, if there is no true water quality standard in the bill, using water quality as the selling point is deceiving…a red herring. What is it that the Governor truly wants? More land.
In December, the Governor held a Pheasant Summit to address the decline in the pheasant population in Minnesota. It was there that the first mentions of a 50 foot buffer strip plan were heard. When the Governor announced his plan a few weeks later, it was not met with much enthusiasm. In January, the buffer strip idea was introduced as a way to increase water quality. Water quality is an emotional subject, and has been used as a rallying cry for the Governor’s plan to put the Department of Natural Resources in charge of those 50 foot buffers on privately owned land. In the name of water quality, farmers have been raked through the mud and have been characterized as being uncaring polluters. As mentioned above, we do many things to improve water and soil conservation on our farm. We care about water quality just as much as our friends in town do. We drink the water from our wells, we bathe in it, we use the water for recreation, and we depend on the rain for our crops. Jonathan and I are not unique in that aspect.
If the EPA or the Governor were truly more interested in water quality than control of property rights, they would support incentives for farmers, businesses and non-farmer land owners that allow for an individualized approach that takes into account the unique features of that property. Both entities need to quit deceiving the public, and call their proposals what they really are: A quest for the control of the landowner’s private property.
In our bulletin each Sunday, we have a Prayer for the Journey. I loved today’s prayer…they are words I needed to hear, and to pray. Pastor also talked about how we celebrate the resurrection every time we forgive those who cause us pain, and treat them with kindness, and love. It reminded me of a few people that have hurt me on social media, and how I no longer feel I can trust them. I need to live out this verse:
“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:23
My goals for the near future are to work on forgiving those who have hurt me, and to celebrate our common humanity instead of quarreling over our differences.
Have a wonderful week!
In January, Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton announced a plan to require a 50 foot buffer strip along all rivers, streams, and drainage ditches in the state. Mandating a set buffer strip width for all of those waterways means topography, soil types, and surrounding land use will no longer be determining factors in buffer strip width. This one-size-fits-all approach won’t improve water quality like we’ve been told it will.
The NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Services) published a report in 2000 that talked about the different types of water control features that would help trap soil, nutrient, and pesticides, which would help to improve water quality. In the report, they stated how using multiple methods was more effective than a single method for controlling water flow, water filtration, and pesticide trapping. Many improvements have been made in the 15 years since this report was published. Let me highlight a few for you.
The use of cover crops is a relatively new trend in our area. Cover crops are a blend of plants grown for their ability to prevent soil erosion, manage water and water quality, suppress weeds, and hold soil nutrients in place. We plant our cover crops right after our wheat is harvested which will give the plants enough time to grow well and be more effective. Other farmers will use airplanes to spread the seed before their row crop is harvested. In the 14 years that we have been growing cover crops, we have experimented with different seed mixes until we found what works best on our soil. The combination of tillage radishes and oats that we use provides two very different types of plants which is also beneficial for wildlife. The deer graze on the tillage radish leaves, and pheasants use the taller oats for cover. This is a win-win for water quality, soil health, and wildlife.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS), broadband internet, and computers in combines and tractors have made it possible to create accurate maps of every field. These maps are uploaded onto a computer, where we can then work with our local agronomist to determine what recipe each field needs to grow the crop that will be planted in it. Each recipe will be different for each field, depending on what we will be growing, the results of our soil and plant tissue tests, and the yield data from the year before. Our corn and wheat both need manure applied to supply the nutrients that the plants need to grow well. However, they do not require the same amount of manure, so we follow the recipes to make sure we are not using too much manure on the fields. We like to use cover crops as part of our recipe for our corn fields, since the tillage radish helps to keep the nutrients from the manure where the corn roots will be. This combination of conservation methods works great over an entire field to keep soil and nutrients from eroding, and doesn’t just rely on the last 50 feet before a water way.
Fifteen years ago, I never imagined all of the things computers and information technology could do for agriculture. Of course, at that time, I was still using a Nokia cell phone with an external antenna, and the iPhone was still 7 years away from being released. Now, besides most farmers having smart phones, there are computers in tractors, fertilizer spreaders, and sprayers. These computers allow farmers to use their field recipes as they are driving up and down the fields, many times driving with the aid of GPS auto guidance systems. The Precision Planting computer we have in our tractor helps our planter keep the seed planting depth at the perfect level through the variations in the firmness of the soil, varies the amount of seeds per acre according to soil type, and will shut off boxes at the end of the rows or where the rows overlap on curves so we don’t waste seed. We work with our Precision Planting Specialist to make sure our recipes are entered into to the computer correctly, and that the equipment is communicating with the computer. Fertilizer spreaders with variable rate technology are used by our friends. Their field maps and recipes are loaded into the computer, and the fertilizer is spread where it is needed. A similar system is used with sprayers when applying pesticides. The field map can be set up to avoid spraying in certain sensitive areas, and to avoid overlapping the spray with auto shut off valves. We don’t use fertilizer spreaders or sprayers on our farm, so I would encourage you to go to your favorite farmer or The Farmer’s Life if you have questions.
Flexibility is needed
On our farm, we have planted some buffer strips with the help of our NRCS Conservationist and local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). On one ditch where the ditch bank rises to the edge we have a very narrow grass buffer, which is all that is needed. We are also using cover crops, field mapping, and precision equipment. This multi-pronged approach to water quality, soil health, and wildlife habitat is a better approach than a mandate of every river, stream, and drainage ditch needing a 50 foot buffer. Some ditches or streams do not need a grass buffer, while some could benefit from one that is greater than 50 feet. Every farmer should be able to figure out what conservation practices will work best on their farm, and should be able to change those practices when needed. Farmers want to be able to hand down their land to the next generation. To do that, we need to care for the soil and water in the best ways we can. Putting all of our water quality eggs into one basket isn’t the best way to achieve that.
To read more on how this buffer strip proposal would affect Minnesotans, I highly recommend that you read this post by Sara Hewitt.