Sleepy Eye’s House Representative Paul Torkelson and Senator Gary Dahms held a Town Hall meeting Friday, Feb. 20, at the Brown County REA auditorium.

Sleepy Eye’s House Representative Paul Torkelson and Senator Gary Dahms held a Town Hall meeting Friday, Feb. 20, at the Brown County REA auditorium. After a light lunch and a short address outlining their intentions with items such as education, transportation, long term care facilities and MNSure the forum was opened up to questions.

A citizen expressed his concern for what he perceived to be a farmer population that has forgone its stewardship of the land. He asked the two law makers about their reaction to Governor Mark Dayton announcing his budget plan, within it including a 50 foot conservation buffer along ditches.

Torkelson agreed with that narrative believing that, perhaps not the majority, but a good amount of farmers were doing what they can to conserve, some going so far as to volunteer conserved grassland in accordance with the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program and receiving benefits. Torkelson noted that, currently, a rod – or 16 feet–is already required buffer length for ditches.

Enforcement of the current rod regulation is not uniform at all, Torkelson agreed, who believed that environmental agencies would play a part in further enforcement. He said Dayton’s 50 foot buffer regulation is not specifically laid out, leaving out critical details. Torkelson agreed that the amount of 50 feet may be excessive while farmers nodded their head in agreement.

Dahms pointed out that the present 16-foot rod regulation is enforced through the Ditch Authority. As for Dayton’s proposal, both Torkelson and Dahms agreed that as it was presented, it doesn’t have much chance of becoming a regulation.

“We as farmers don’t want to be anti-buffer, but we want those buffers to do some good. We don’t need them everywhere and we have programs in place to help farmers put in buffers and we don’t want to mess up those programs. It is a complicated area to work in and I personally don’t think it makes very good sense for wildlife unless you are a coyote,” Torkelson commented.He went on to explain that when a public ditch gets reassessed, it is public requirement of a 16- foot buffer, which is a lot different than 50 feet and is there mostly for ditch maintenance so they have a place to pile dirt and clean out the ditches.

Dahms explained that if the county is the one who has the financing in the ditch, that isn’t a private ditch.

“If the county is the organization that handles the funding for the ditch, that is considered a public ditch. A private ditch is funded by a private group that does not go back to the county. That is one of the differences. We have a lot of land going at $10,000 an acre. It isn’t fair to ask farmers to give up $90,000 in assets. Most of us can’t afford to take $90,000 of assets out of production and still survive. It is an issue.”

Torkelson stressed that the program is just an idea right now.

Farmer and Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation president Greg Bartz said that farmers still lose 16 feet. He noted that if farmers are going to lose that land, and if it is benefiting the state, the state should be paying for it.

Dan Marti brought up the issue of animal agriculture and how important it is to the state.

“Thinking about the future and the growing demands the world has on animal agriculture, there are also groups like HSUS, Peta and Mercy for Animals whose job is to take down animal agriculture. You see undercover videos from them on animal agriculture. Not to protect real abuses that do occur on farmsites because those should not be protected, I see 95 percent of the time the videos are of humane treatment of animals, it is just used as a misinformation tool about what we do on the farms to take care of an animal. So what is the state doing to protect the future of animal agriculture?”

Torkelson agreed that animal agriculture has many people to feed and will have a lot more people to feed in the future.

“Animal agriculture is critical to the success of Minnesota and the success of Minnesota agriculture. I own hog barns of my own so have direct understanding myself. At the same time, some of the groups are anti-agriculture and they have been moderately successful in changing how we operate. You’ve seen it in the issue of hog crates and there are big companies reacting to this pressure. I believe what they are doing is pure propaganda. However, I think they have some diminishing effect,” Torkelson said. “There are some things about animal agriculture that are pretty unpleasant if you are not familiar with or understand the process. My friend Rod Hamilton and I are passionate advocates for ag and we will continue to work hard on this issue.”