Isaac Orr’s “Environmental groups take aim at Minn. farmers,” published in Agri News on Nov. 4, does a disservice to Minnesota independent family farmers, rural residents and all the citizens who share a deep commitment to standing up for stewardship of the land as well as vibrant and viable communities.

The accusation that it’s “environmentalists” and regulations that will be the ruination of farmers and farming is as baseless as it is irresponsible.

Arguments like Orr’s serve to distract from the real problems farmers face. This is the same tactic U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has been using in public appearances. He told an audience of struggling dairy farmers at the World Dairy Expo, “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.” His message: If your farm is failing it’s your own fault.

Land Stewardship Project member-farmers are coming together in meetings around the state to discuss the farm crisis and develop strategies for working together to craft better state policies and local, cooperative market solutions. They have made it clear that the problems they face have their roots in an anti-competitive system controlled by corporate agribusiness — a system promoted by the likes of Perdue and Orr’s employer, the Center of the American Experiment.

It is possible and imperative that farm policies ensure fair prices for farmer operations of any size, not just low prices for agri-food processors. Perdue’s “it’s inevitable” comments give the USDA permission to disregard its role as enforcer of farm economic fairness. Orr’s “it’s the environmentalists’ fault” comments allow the supporters of industrialized agriculture to — in spite of proof through research and reason — deny that polluted water and air is the result of too much animal waste concentrated in one area. And they benefit by selling everyone on expensive technology as the savior, when simpler techniques working with nature are more efficient, better for the environment, the soil, and for our communities and farmers’ bottom lines.

When public agencies are not serving the public, the public must organize and stand for the common good. That’s why the Land Stewardship Project challenged a disastrous decision made by John Linc Stine when he was head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The Minnesota Environmental Protection Act requires that an environmental statement be ordered when an enterprise presents the potential for significant environmental impact, especially in sensitive geologic conditions. The karst geological region and its residents are about as vulnerable as it gets. However, despite its power and obligation to do so, an MPCA Commissioner has never, without court action, ordered an enivornmental impact statement on an industrial-scale animal factory. What are they scared of finding out?

In January, Stine refused to order an impact statement for Daley Farm’s application to expand its dairy to four-times Winona County’s 1,500-animal unit cap, making for a total of more than 4,600 cows or 5,967 animal units. Winona County residents set an animal unit cap so that no one farm could use more than its fair share of resources and threaten the health of the area’s land and water.

Under Stine, MPCA didn’t follow the law and ignored MEPA. That decision had to be challenged to protect all rural residents — including farmers. The Court of Appeals ruled that MPCA “failed to take a ‘hard look’ at potentially significant environmental effects.” The court reversed the decision that no environmental impact statement was required, calling it “arbitrary and capricious” and it cited, among other things, MPCA’s failure to address greenhouse gas emissions. This is a prime example of the law being used for the public good.

Orr’s dismissal of this fight for the future of a community as an attempt to regulate “cow farts,” rather than a sincere attempt to accurately identify significant environmental impacts is truly disingenuous. Fellow farmers, rural residents and members of the Land Stewardship Project know better.

Bonnie and Vance Haugen are dairy farmers in karst country since 1993.

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