ST. PAUL – Since the 2015 session ended, dozens of farmers and rural landowners have been contacting State Representative Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg) to learn more about the new land buffer agreement and what it means for them.
"I went to war with members of my own caucus over this issue during the final nights of the legislative session in hopes of securing a deal that did not give the State the authority to make an unconstitutional land grab," Miller said. "In the end, I fought hard and helped craft legislation that rural interests would support, and both the Farm Bureau and Farmers Union signed off on this compromise."
Miller noted that many farmers were outraged by Governor Dayton's original proposal that would have required a 50-foot buffer of perennially rooted vegetation adjacent to ditches, rivers and streams under a one-size-fits-all program that would have been overseen by the State of Minnesota.
Much has changed since then, especially as it relates to buffers along ditches. Here are some of the terms of the new agreement:
·By November of 2018 buffers of 16.5 feet must be installed on all public ditches, which is existing law
·The program will be overseen by the local Ditch Authority
Buffer enforcement will be completed by the local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD)
If SWCD identifies a ditch not in compliance with the buffer law, the landowner has 11 months to complete the task
If the landowner does not install a buffer, he or she could receive a potential fine of up to $500
The fine can be challenged with an appeal letter
If the landowner continues to ignore the law, the Ditch Authority has the ability to re-issue the fine
Farmers can decide what to plant on the buffer land, whether it is hay, alfalfa or something else, so long as it is "perennial vegetation"
There is no DNR authority, and no additional mapping will be needed
"From my perspective, we focused on following current law and insisting that local officials administer the program in exchange for expediting the timeline of completing buffer installation," Miller said. "For farmers, this means if you have already been following existing statute along your ditches, this new law will have no impact. Otherwise, you have a few years to prepare."
Miller understands that farmers may still have questions about the buffer law and encourages them to call 651-296-4228 or send an email to email@example.com to learn more.