Written by Tom Steward | January 15, 2018

Is MN Ag Department Playing Politics With Farmers’ Water Tests?

The politicization of science may be good for researchers lining up for government grants but not so much for their credibility.   It’s already happened with global warming. The data have been manipulated and misconstrued by government agencies and activist scientists to the point where anyone who’s less than a true believer has little confidence in its reliability, much less concern over the alleged conclusions.

Now Brown County commissioners and farmers worry the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has a similar hidden agenda with the state’s offer to test residents’ well water for nitrates. The county board turned down the state’s generosity, skeptical that anything that seems too good to be true probably is. That prompted much hand-wringing at the Star Tribune, where the editorial board predictably took the regulators’ side.

But local farmer Keith Lendt has written a forceful response to the paper on why the southern Minnesota county has told MDA thanks, but no thanks.

I live in the farmhouse I grew up in and I farm land that has been in my family for 150 years. I care about the land and the water I use for agricultural purposes and drinking. I have received the Outstanding Cooperator of the Year award from the Brown County Soil and Water Conservation District. My farm is located in Stark Township, Brown County, and has a variety of soil types, including sandy loam. I have over 10 percent of my acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). I use a cover crop on over half of my acres to prevent erosion.

Yes, I live here and care for my land and water.

The issue at hand is that I and other farmers in this area are opposed to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) requesting the testing of well water in Brown County. Brown County already makes well-testing opportunities available to residents. Minnesota Valley Testing Laboratories, a testing lab in New Ulm, runs nitrate tests for well water at a cost of $17. It is also advised to run a coliform bacteria test for another $18, as drinking water has zero tolerance to bacteria.

The distrust of government in this legacy farmer’s views runs much deeper than any of the wells the state wants to test.

It appears that the MDA wants to conduct these tests of its own in order to regulate how we farm. The free kit that the MDA is offering only tests for nitrates, not bacteria. Bacteria is also harmful, and without testing for it, one might conclude wells are safe simply because the test shows negative results for nitrates, when in fact they may not be.

There are also other ways, besides farming, that nitrates can enter water systems, such as natural occurrence in the breakdown of organic matter.

What is the true intention of the MDA? Safe water or something else?

Lendt makes the case that government creates problems in order to get funding to fix them. Not exactly the scientific method of old.

We simply want to use solid science when making our decisions on natural resources, as opposed to making decisions out of fear and misinformation.

 Nitrogen management is a complex endeavor. It would be most beneficial to work cooperatively with the MDA; we just question the purpose of its actions.

I do not want more regulations on my farming practices. No farmer in the country would intentionally overapply nitrogen. Do you know what it is used for? Explore. Educate yourself. Farming is a challenging occupation. We are mindful in our practices.

The bottom line for Lendt? More unnecessary and costly regulations will result in fewer family farms. Read his column in its entirety here. Then consider sharing it.

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