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Nitrogen rule unveiled, period of public debate begins

Monday, April 30, 2018


By Rep. Paul Anderson

The Dept. of Agriculture this past week released the second draft of its controversial Nitrogen Management Plan. Originally, they had planned to make it public in mid to late May, but pushed up the release date due, at least in part, to strong pressure from legislators and farm groups. An 80-day comment period starts this week, followed by a series of informational meetings around the state. After that, an administrative law judge will either accept or reject the rule or suggest changes. When all these steps have been completed, Gov. Mark Dayton could be signing the rule by December.

Under current law, when the governor signs the rulemaking, it becomes official. A bill passed by the House says that before the nitrogen rule can go into effect, it must come back to the Legislature for final approval. The merits of that provision have been hotly debated, and Gov. Dayton has even issued a veto threat if that provision is contained in any legislation sent to him for his signature and final passage.

At first glance, this latest revision of the rule is better than the previous one. It appears the department did take into account several of the suggested changes that were submitted. For example, a large area of northwest Minnesota was exempted from the rule banning fall application of nitrogen. A different soils map was used this time, and the solid layer of clay under the top soil was deemed adequate to prevent nitrogen from leaching into the ground water.

In the first draft of the rule, full sections of land (640 acres) were used to determine if the rule applied to individual fields within each section. In the second draft, the acreage was decreased to quarter sections (160 acres) in determining whether or not a particular field would be subject to the rule.

Another major change has to do with well-water samples from areas known as “drinking water protection areas.” They will be used exclusively in determining whether or not mitigation efforts are needed. Originally, water samples from wells throughout townships were to be included when making that decision.

Most farmers are already doing many of the things this rule is calling for. And we can all agree that clean and safe drinking water is a priority. I think where the problem is coming from is a general lack of trust between the ag community and the administration in St. Paul. There has been a litany of efforts in recent years to further regulate farmers and their practices. From regulating seed treatments to road ditch mowing, from the buffer law and the taking of productive land without compensation, to this attempt at regulating when farmers can apply fertilizer. Taken together, they seem to be putting a target on production agriculture. And it’s occurring at a time when economic stress is already high on those trying to make a living on the farm.


The first of the major spending bills was passed off the House floor last week. The education bill provides around $30 million going mainly for school safety initiatives. A category of funding known as Long Term Facility Maintenance has been expanded to allow spending on security projects. Additional state funding will go to a category known as Safe Schools revenue. It’s based on an additional $18 per student, with a minimum of $30,000 per school district. There is also additional funding for mental health and school-linked programming to ensure better outcomes for all students.

The other spending bills will probably come up for debate this week, with much attention focused on the tax bill. We need to pass legislation that deals with changes made at the federal level. Our plan to accomplish that is different from the governor’s, but we need to compromise on this issue and get it done.