Farmers deserve clarity on regulators

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This article was submitted on behalf of several leaders of Minnesota agricultural industry organizations. Their names are listed below.


Talk to any farmer and you’ll likely soon hear about their love of the land and the environment, their love of community, and their commitment to their work. Farmers rise before sunrise each day to tend their animals and crops, and most do not return home until long after the sun has set. Their hard work not only feeds Minnesotans and people around the world – it serves as the backbone of the statewide rural economy, supports some of Minnesota’s best-known businesses, and is a pillar of our state’s overall economy, ranking Minnesota as the sixth-highest agricultural producer in the nation.

It’s not the long hours that make farming so difficult, it’s the risk and uncertainty of factors beyond farmers’ control – commodity prices, fuel, labor and weather – that can undo their work in an instant. That’s why our organizations work with farmers and decision-makers in St. Paul and Washington, D.C., to establish consistent regulatory tools and programs that will give our land managers the stability they need to do their jobs and a safety net to protect them from the unpredictable.

One such tool is the ability to use groundwater and surface water for various needs. Farmers, private landowners and other water users (cities, power plants, industrial processors) obtain permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, a regulatory program that has been in place for almost 100 years. Rightfully so, tribes across the state consult with the DNR throughout the regulatory permitting process, and many do so to strengthen water permits.

Unfortunately, two recent decisions made by the White Earth Nation have made farming in northwestern Minnesota increasingly difficult. In November 2022, the tribe passed a moratorium on livestock operations, and in May 2023, it adopted an unsubstantiated, redundant regulatory program that sought authority to regulate groundwater not only on the reservation but within a five-mile radius of the reservation. Farmers who need to irrigate their crops or provide water to their animals have received no information from the tribe, but their livelihoods are at risk because this duplicative program imposes fines of up to $5,000 per day for operating without a tribal permit.

Publicly available data shows that the DNR’s long-standing program is working, with irrigators using less water than allowed 96 percent of the time. A new DNR report on the Straight River Groundwater Management Area shows that groundwater and surface water levels around the White Earth Reservation are stable.

Despite these facts, the White Earth Nation now claims that any farmer or other water user must obtain an unnecessary tribal water permit, pay an application fee that is more than 30 times higher than the DNR fee, and potentially wait three years for the tribe to approve or deny permit applications. If every tribe in Minnesota created new water regulatory programs, the result would be a confusing patchwork of potentially inconsistent and conflicting regulations and permitting processes.

Cases are pending in tribal and federal courts to determine whether farmers must comply with the White Earth Nation’s unnecessary water regulatory program (“Potato farmer asks court to stop tribe from regulating water,” May 27). Because agriculture is such an important part of the state’s economy, we hope that these courts will quickly and favorably rule that state regulators have the authority, expertise, and responsibility to protect our state’s waters. If this clarity does not come soon, crops, farmers and consumers will be impacted.

Signatories: Jake Wildman, president of the Minnesota Irrigators Association; Dana Allen-Tully, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association; Brian Sorenson, Executive Director, Minnesota Wheat Growers Association; Bob Worth, president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association; Lucas Sjostrom, executive director of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association; Dan Glessing, president of the Minnesota Farmers Bureau Federation; Kaitlyn Root, executive director of the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association; Harrison Weber, executive director of the Red River Valley Sugar Beet Growers Association, and Tamara Nelsen, executive director of the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council.