Minnesota State Cattlemen visit St. Paul
ST. PAUL — Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association's second Cattlemen at the Capitol event had 17 members in St. Paul to speak with legislators and representatives from state agencies.
They met with leaders of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to discuss policy for feeding cattle during winter on fields without permanent vegetative cover. Members say the rules so far haven't been clear.
"We never got a clear definition on winter feeding, the ability to do winter feeding," said MSCA legislative chairman Tom Pyfferoen of Pine Island.
MSCA would like to see winter feeding areas excluded from the definition of an animal feedlot under 7020 rules. They do not want permits to be required for winter feeding cattle on harvested crop ground.
MSCA hopes to help regulators understand normal farm practices so they can use common sense for future decisions, said president Don Schiefelbein of Kimball.
MPCA currently decides whether a feeding area is an animal feedlot on a case by case basis. Sites where livestock are confined and fed for 45 days or longer in a 12-month period, with a lack of vegetative cover, meet the definition of a feedlot. If the total number of livestock increases to 1,000 animal units or greater, or if criteria for a federal large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation designation are met, the herd owner may need a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.
Schiefelbein, who represents agricultural interests on MPCA's Citizen's Board, said cattlemen need to be careful when asking for more detailed rules because they could put more restrictions on beef producers.
Gaylen Reetz, a MPCA division director, said permits should be seen as cheap insurance for beef producers by providing some protection if a runoff issue occurs. However, cattlemen already see themselves as environmentalists so being told they need a permit can be offensive, said Schiefelbein.
Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck, Rep. Joe Schomacker of Luverne and Rep. Ron Shimanski of Silver Lake have authored HF 1300, which would allow crop land where cattle forage during winter to be defined as pasture as long as vegetative cover, such as crops, exists during the growing season.
Grazing on conservation land
MSCA members also met with representatives from Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discuss conservation lands that would be suited to grazing.
Dennis Simon, DNR wildlife section chief, said the state has many acres of grasslands but not enough staff to handle periodic, prescribed burns. The department would like to graze more land to extend the burn cycle and manage wildlife habitat.
The DNR currently has 57,000 acres identified as potential grazing land in Minnesota. They're looking to work with cattle owners through leases or cooperative farming agreements. No cash transactions are involved with cooperative farming agreements, but the producer provides services, such as growing food plots, in exchange for grazing.
Neal Feeken, renewable energy coordinator with The Nature Conservancy, said his organization has grazing agreements through leases on 7,000 acres in Minnesota and they want agreements on 4,000 more acres in the next year.
Jim Leach, a refuge supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said federal conservation land also needs more grazing. The service grazes between 2,000 acres to 5,000 acres through leases annually.
Some issues will need to be addressed for DNR to enter more grazing contracts, said Simon. These include finding consistent lease rates, liability issues and deciding who will pay for fencing and water infrastructure.
Rep. Anderson is the author of H.F. 625, which would, with some exceptions, remove liability from a person grazing livestock on state lands under an agreement with the commissioner of natural resources.
MSCA will work with the conservation groups to set up regional meetings to start discussions with interested cattle owners.