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Minnesota Capitol gold statue
AG ANGST: The ag community in Minnesota has been feeling a bit whipped, given various regulatory efforts aimed at conservation and water quality.

Minnesota ag spoke, BWSR listened

Northstar Notes: The self-congratulating has its place — and so do reflection, civility and collaboration.

It’s mostly tamped done now — the flare-up over the Board of Water and Soil Resources’ proposed change to an administrative penalty order that offered another option on how local governments could penalize land owners not compliant with the state’s buffer law.

Emotions run high when you say “buffer law” in the state. The vehemence increases 10-fold when the name “Dayton” is mentioned.

For the past several years, many Minnesota farmers have felt state government and agencies are “out to get them” with various rules and regulations governing nitrogen, ditch mowing, water quality and overall natural resources conservation. The emotional fuse is even shorter, given the stress farmers face today with low farm prices and with snow still on the ground. For goodness’ sake, it’s mid-April and planters should be in fields.

As challenging as it may be, it would be most healthy if we all took a collective breath and a step back for a moment, particularly from the BWSR brouhaha and from partisan politics in general. This recent misstep by the agency deserves some light and reflection, internally and externally. And based on how some ag groups, lawmakers and farmers reacted, they would benefit from self-examination, too.

Basically, I’m getting at how some people and organizations reacted when they found out about BWSR’s proposed change. Granted, it was déjà vu, remembering how the buffer law was promulgated. Some offered a reasonable public acknowledgement of the issue they disagreed with and explained why, clearly citing fact and opinion. No doubt, behind closed doors, these folks thought “Again? Ag was not consulted?”

For a minority, however, the issue brought forth harsh reactions and political accusations, which continue.

No matter how many times John Jaschke, BWSR executive director, explained how the proposed buffer penalty order amendment came about and why, it seemed to fall on deaf ears — as did his repeated apology and acknowledgement of poor communication by BWSR with stakeholders throughout the process.

Jaschke explained that a BWSR committee had worked on the proposal, and BWSR placed it in the public record for statewide publication to receive public comments over a two-week period. Jaschke admitted that was an immediate mistake, and that communication should have occurred with local government and other stakeholders prior to the public notice. The thought process at BWSR at the time was to get the proposal published, gather public comments and then be ready to certify ordinances by June — according to state law. That way, funding would be in place, if needed by local governments to carry out their work.

Jaschke said within a week, BWSR received about 300 comments.

He also repeatedly pointed out that Dayton was neither consulted nor told of the proposal.

That last statement still is met with skepticism and disbelief by some lawmakers and farmers. They believe Jaschke is covering up for “someone.” One lawmaker repeatedly grilled Jaschke during a House ag policy committee meeting April 12, wanting to know who was responsible for coming up with the proposed fee structure.

Jaschke said he did not recall and he would make available meeting minutes when the issue was discussed and voted on.

That same day, the BWSR board was scheduled to meet again, and Jaschke said the proposal would be discussed and rejected, given the response. It was.

Time to reflect
Overall, members of Minnesota’s farm community deserve a pat on the back for making time to communicate their opinions with state agencies, lawmakers and the governor. Those who reached out made a difference in changing the direction of a proposed optional fine for buffer law noncompliance.

However, I am disheartened by the lack of civility in public discussions — from talk that happens in public venues, and in printed communication from state representatives and on Facebook.

The lack of respect and inclusiveness has hit new lows over the last few years.

Does anyone think or say, “Bite your tongue!” anymore?

Does anyone apologize for inaccurate accusations?

Ag has been a bright spot in the past, due to the hard work of many to be bipartisan and find compromise.

We talk about being at the table and wanting to have those tough conversations and reach consensus.

BWSR is one state agency that learned from its mistakes and what to do next time. And ag heard an apology and acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

I hope some in St. Paul and in ag will rethink their responses and actions, too. Please consider offering as a patient, measured response for those here in-state, the same that you provide those in Washington, D.C.

Let cool heads once again prevail.


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