New farmer-led group takes on environmental activists

Farmers by definition spend a lot of time on their own and for the most part, no doubt, prefer it that way. But the increasing attacks on modern agriculture by climate activists has convinced a group of farmers in southeastern Minnesota it’s long past time to get out of their fields and barns and to go on offense. The group’s leaders told Ag Week farmers need to better publicize their rigorous conservation methods and share best practices with their peers.

The Driftless Area Ag Alliance is giving voice to farmers who feel they are the unfair target of a band of environmental groups in southeast Minnesota.

A group of around 30 gathered at Daley Farm in Lewiston on Monday, Nov. 27, for the second meeting of the alliance, which, according to its website, is a membership organization for farmers devoted to healthy soil, water and air. Voting members pay $150 or $500 depending on the size of their operation. Corporate or industry sponsors can also join as non-voting members for packages between $250 and $1,000.

Modern agriculture has been targeted by climate extremists for contributing one-third of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The Dutch government has already announced plans to force thousands of farms to shut down in order to meet emissions goals. But there’s growing pressure by activists on farmers close to home in southeastern Minnesota, as well.

On the land where [Driftless Area Ag Alliance President Rita] Young has been farming for 40 years, they plant cover crops and incorporate no-till practices, and much of the over 1,000 acres of crops they grow goes to feed their cattle, including about 500 acres of alfalfa.

She said conservation efforts by their farm and on the Daley Farm are going unnoticed by organizations like the 11 environmental groups in southeast Minnesota who pushed for federal intervention on nitrate contamination in the region. Their emergency petition was answered by the EPA earlier this month.

Young said the EPA investigation, and what will come from it, is worrisome.

“It’s concerning that an activist group can have that kind of power, to bring in federal oversight,” Young said.

In Lewiston, Daley Farm’s planned expansion of its dairy herd has been bogged down in the courts for years. The owners of the 160-year old dairy operation continually have to fight off environmental misinformation.

“It doesn’t affect our day-to-day,” he said of the Nov. 21 denial, which they plan to appeal. “It’s put your head down, get to work, do the right thing, and hopefully people will listen and see what’s actually happening instead of crafting a narrative.”

One of those narratives, which he said is untrue, is that more cows on the Daley Farm would be bad for water quality.

“We have manure storage that’s engineered and goes through rigorous regulations and rigorous inspections, and then we apply it at a rate that is monitored by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency,” Daley said.

The Driftless Area Ag Alliance marks a start, but it will take all sectors of the agricultural industry to stand up against climate extremists’ coming attack on farmers’ way of life and our food supply.

“We already do so many good things, but we kind of do it in our own little world, our own little silo, our own little business,” Young said. “We have to come together as a full force of farmers in southeast Minnesota, and everybody explain to the public, and to our federal authorities, that we are trying to improve the environment and improve the water quality.”