At the Minnesota House ag policy committee meeting March 15, ag department officials, lawmakers and farmers weighed in on the state’s draft nitrogen fertilizer rule.
The draft has officially yet to be released. However, Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota ag Commissioner Dave Frederickson held a press conference March 6 that announced a two-part groundwater protection proposal to put rules in place for fall N application, and in areas where nitrate levels are high in drinking water supplies. At that time, they said the draft rule would be released in May, followed by a formal 30-day comment period, a probable administrative review and more public hearings.
The House ag policy hearing opened with committee members voting on two proposed bills — one that would hamper the proposed N fertilizer rule’s adoption and one that would stop it altogether.
House file bill 2887, sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, would prohibit the ag department from adopting the rule’s requirements unless they are specifically approved by law. The ag policy committee approved this bill and referred it to the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee.
House file bill 2727, sponsored by state Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, would prohibit MDA from adopting the rule altogether. This bill was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion.
Frederickson reviewed the rule’s history and mission, which date back to 1990, when the state developed its first nitrogen management plan. He also reiterated the department’s effort at gathering input from all stakeholders by holding 17 listening sessions across the state last year, plus any requested additional meetings. He noted that discussions will be ongoing and part of robust engagement among department officials, farmers and their communities.
The bottom line, however, is that the issue of nitrates in groundwater must be addressed with common sense measures, he said.
“We do have a problem with nitrates in our groundwater and, as policymakers, we have a legal and we have a moral obligation to address it,” Frederickson said.
MCGA already proactive
One of the farmers who testified was Kirby Hettver, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He shared the contents of a letter MCGA sent earlier in the day to Dayton’s office asking for the immediate release of the draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule, followed by the authorization of a 90-day comment period. That would give farmers more time to comment during the busy times of planting and the early crop management season. MCGA also requested the immediate release of more detailed GIS maps, so farmers can better understand the rule’s impact on their farms.
“Minnesota’s corn farmers are continually working at becoming better stewards of our state’s natural resources while maintaining a thriving rural economy,” Hettver said, noting that MCGA has been proactive in efforts to improve nitrogen management practices, investing nearly $6 million in nitrogen research and education since 2014.
“Minnesota corn farmers have made a commitment to an ambitious goal,” he added. “Minnesota corn farmers hope to become the most sustainable and most environmentally responsible farmers in the U.S.”
Additional speakers at the hearing voiced concern about the proposed bills to weaken or do away with the nitrogen rule.
Steve Morse, executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, noted that he was one of the first lawmakers 30 years ago to introduce water protection measures in Minnesota. He said he was happy to see MDA stepping forward and taking a targeted approach to address increasing nitrate levels and to protect drinking water supplies. He expressed concern about lawmakers stepping in and intervening with the draft N rule.
“We estimate there are 225,000 Minnesotans who live in communities with elevated nitrogen levels,” Morse said. “If we as a state can’t take some modest, tepid steps to protect nearly a quarter of a million Minnesotans, I think there is something in our water, because we are not acting in good faith or good sense.”
To read more about the hearing held March 15, read the House of Representative Public Information Service's story.
Watch the ag policy committee hearing below.