Guest post by Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership – (@mattjdoll)
So far, 2019 has seen Minnesota’s skies break monthly precipitation records across the board, Given the soggy first weeks of October, it seems quite plausible that it will be the rainiest year we’ve ever recorded. While perhaps less visible than the wildfires in western states and provinces, these heavy rains – to which climate change is a strong contributing factor – have major consequences.
Among the most detrimental impacts of these rains are those faced by farmers. Wet fall conditions make crops difficult and more expensive to harvest and dry. And heavy moisture in the spring requires many farmers to delay planting, feeding into the vicious cycle.
Changing precipitation patterns are one of many problems hammering Minnesota farmers, who make up the nation’s fifth-largest agricultural economy. Farm incomes in Minnesota have been historically low for several years now in spite of a relatively strong domestic economy due to a variety of factors, including trade shocks and the loss of small and medium sized farmers and the dominance of a few large agribusiness companies.
The latter factor was a point of frustration at a recent forum in Madison, Wisconsin, where the United States Secretary of Agriculture said: “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” apparently signifying that the federal government will do little or nothing to prevent further consolidation. (For a strong rebuttal to this attitude, check out Johanna Rupprecht’s recent blog on the Land Stewardship Project website.)
This is not to say that farmers are victims of impartial forces. This crisis is a consequence of policy choices, of a system set up to maximize production of a few crops and generate profits for large companies. This same system is the reason that the water in many areas of Minnesota is increasingly dangerous to drink, the reason that pollinators and birds are rapidly declining, and the same reason that agriculture is one of the top three contributors to Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Climate impacts will continue to mount, but if Minnesota builds the political will, we can cut our emissions and give farmers the tools they need to weather this crisis – in some cases, doing both with the same tool, while also cleaning up Minnesota’s waters and reducing the demand for pesticides.
Similarly, perennial crops, which stay on the land year-round, fulfill similar ecological functions. Perennials like Kernza® root themselves deeply into the soil, absorbing massive volumes of water and carbon and keeping soil healthy, while providing a crop that farmers can sell. Kernza and other perennials are especially helpful in areas where groundwater is especially vulnerable to contamination, and legislation has been introduced at the Capitol to help bring more of them to those areas.
However, the solution isn’t as simple – or as top-down – as wishfully informing farmers about these crops. With low and declining profit margins, many farmers who would otherwise like to adopt these crops can’t afford to implement a new technique or take a risk with something new. That’s why it’s critical that these parts of the equation are also addressed.
As a state that has frequently seen ourselves on the edge of cutting-edge biological science, Minnesota must renew our investment in developing profitable conservation crops and farming techniques that address the hazards of heavy rains. We need to fully fund programs like the Forever Green Initiative at the University of Minnesota to make sure these crops are viable for market, and that the markets are ready to buy and use them. And we need to provide farmers with the financial support they need to make the transition.
The systems change we need goes beyond these crops, however. We need to ensure that Minnesota’s agricultural policies are working for family farmers, not just large companies. One step is to restore the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Citizen Board, a recently-abolished watchdog that had the authority to deny permits for factory farms and other projects when it deemed them harmful to the surrounding community.
We can fix carbon emissions and agricultural pollution while helping farmers endure – and thrive – amidst weather extremes exacerbated by the climate crisis. Minnesota helped launch the original Green Revolution, and we need to now continue working to create the next generation of multi-benefit conservation crops to address today’s challenges.
LWV UMRR Blog Editor Note: We thank Matt Doll for this excellent article, published on the Minnesota Environmental Partnership at this link. LWV UMRR has been working with other Minnesota non-profits to support Kernza research and market development.
Datelien TREMPEALEAU, Wisc. — As another difficult farm year shifts into harvest mode, a farmers’ round table is scheduled to talk through the current situation and how farmers can help each other.
The lightly facilitated discussion will take place on Monday, Nov. 11, 2019 at the Village of Trempealeau Community Hall, 24455 Third St., Trempealeau, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Please RSVP for lunch to email@example.com or call Erik at 507-796-0152. A free will donation will be accepted to help cover costs.
The event is being organized by the Sustainable Farming Association/Driftless Chapter, the Izaak Walton League/ Upper Mississippi River Initiative, and a group of concerned citizens who held a similar round table in Winona this past Spring. The success of that event combined with ongoing farm challenges spurred the group to host a Fall event.
Additional sponsors include the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Project, League of Women Voters/Upper Mississippi River Region-Interleague Organization, Minnesota State College Southeast, and University of Minnesota Extension.
Participants at last Spring’s event said that farmers need to talk to each other more to avoid a “lone wolf” feeling in the face of typical farm concerns, let along the bigger issues of policy, unusual weather, trade, or who will take over come retirement.
“Farmers know plenty, and sitting them around a table together, even for one day, might make a connection that eases some of the distress of a difficult year,” said Erik Harris, secretary of SFA/Driftless. Harris said that conversations will be built around several questions that arose during the first event. “We can’t expect good food and clean water if our farming community itself doesn’t feel strong,” he said.
In a second demonstration, Dr. Eells showed that water drains much more quickly through soil with healthy roots and microbes. This is important because ti allows the soil to dry enough for planting, but retains just the right amount of water to nurture the seeds that are planted. Water lays on the tilled soil, leading land owners to think that the land needs more drainage, when what is actually needed is more roots and microbes, and less tillage.
In a test of the water than runs through both soils, Dr. Eels and her lovely assistants showed that water that passed through the healthy soil had a nitrate level of only 2 ppm; while the tilled soil could not retain nitrate resulting in a level of 50 ppm in that water. The 'safe' level for nitrate in drinking water is 10 ppm.
Dr. Jean Eells is an advocate for advancing conservation practices and improving natural resources management by women land owners. She has a Ph.D. in agricultural education from Iowa State University and operates E Resources Group LLC.
LWV UMRR was very fortunate to have Dr. Eells at our meeting on October 7, and we thank her greatly for sharing her message with us.
LWV Ames has a treasure in their midst - Erv Klaas, Professor Emeritus of Animal Ecology at Iowa State. Erv is a member of LWV Ames, and is their delegate to LWV UMRR. On Monday, October 7, we were fortuate to have Professor Klaas as our first speaker in the afternoon session of our bi-monthly Board meeting. The video of his talk is posted below.
Professor Klaas referenced work by Iowa State's Dr. Eugene Takle, who's work on climate and weather has documented clear causal relationship between climate change and the extreme rainfall events that our region is experiencing. The graphic below shows the increase in rainfall graphed with the increase in Green House Gases (GHG). In the video above, Professor Klaas brought this data to life.
On Monday, October 7, LWV UMRR's peripatetic Board will meet at the Ames Public Library, 515 Douglas Avenue, Ames, IA 50010. The meeting will start at 10 - the agenda will be posted on our "Upcoming Events" page soon. When the meeting ends at noon, Board members will have a short lunch break and then reassemble for the afternoon educational program.
Our afternoon session will focus on soil health and the opportunities that exist for agriculture to help reverse the course of climate change. The afternoon program on water quality issues will be open to all LWV Iowa members who wish to attend. Jean Eells will talk beginning at 1:00 pm followed by Erv Klaas at 2:00 pm. The program is free and guests are most welcome.
Jean Eells will address soil health issues related to erosion and pollutant runoff. Eells is an advocate for advancing conservation practices and improving natural resources management by women land owners. She has a Ph.D. in agricultural education from Iowa State University and operates E Resources Group LLC.
Erv Klaas will present an update on climate and soil health and nutrition. He is especially interested in the role of agriculture in the climate crisis and will focus on “Environmental Justice, Agriculture, and the Climate Crisis.” Klaas is professor emeritus of animal ecology at Iowa State University. He serves as an Assistant Soil and Water District Commissioner and is a member of the League of Women Voters in Ames, IA. He is a founding member of Prairie Rivers of Iowa.
The event will be live streamed on LWV UMRR's Facebook page.
Water advocacy is the central core of LWV UMRR's work. In our four years we have gotten involved in nutrient pollution reduction, nitrate in groundwater and public water supplies, government policy in the federal Farm Bill and now climate change. The work we do is rewarding and provides us a chance to work with our LWV peers across our four-state region. If you are passionate about water issues and are looking for ways to bring that passion to action, LWV UMRR may be what you are looking for!
If you want to be more involved in water advocacy with LWV UMRR, consider joining the LWV UMRR
Action Committee. This group meets by phone at 5pm on the 3rd Monday of each month. Led by LWV UMRR Vice-Chair Lonni McCauley, this group sets the stage for our work. If you would like to take part in a call, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org . We would love to have you!
We ask each of our member Leagues to designate a person as the contact person for their League. These people follow our work and report back to their Leagues when items affecting them or issues in their area arise. They are also conduits for action alerts and other action items that come out in our newsletter and through emails. Many of these local contact people attend our Annual Meetings which are held in various locations (so far, Dubuque, La Crosse, Chicago and St. Paul). We are pleased to meet everyone and look forward to building deeper relationships with our member Leagues through these contacts.
Of course, you are welcome to join us for our peripatetic Board meetings. Our Board meets on the 1st Monday of even-numbered months. We are peripatetic because the Board meetings are held in various locations throughout our watershed. The "Upcoming Events" page of this website always lists where the next meeting will be held. By moving around we are able to meet and work with our member Leagues, making new contacts and learning about local issues. At each Board meeting we have our business meeting followed by an educational session focused on local issues in the area. This is another way that we are building relationships with our member Leagues and their members.
Really want to up your involvement? Become a state delegate to our Board - we are looking for state delegates for Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. If you are in one of these states, and are interested in joining our Board, contact your state office* and let them know. (What happened to Iowa? We have a full delegation from Iowa - check our our current Board roster here.)
*Contact state offices:
Working on environmental issues through League of Women Voters is very rewarding. The people who are involved are passionate, hard-working, intelligent and diligent in their advocacy. We have a great team, and welcome others to lend a hand in this important work!
Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything…
Well, we now know that we have to do something about the climate, and that we can start by talking about climate change and what it means to our lives, our environment and our children’s future. (Did you notice that we said “climate change”? Yes, climate is different from weather, and we need to both talk about it and do something!)
LWV Upper Mississippi River Region (LWV UMRR) has added a focus on climate change to our action portfolio. We are urging our member Leagues to plan programs on the topic – and have an option to offer with prepared material to do it!
LWV Dane County (Madison, WI) has made climate change their topic for action this year. They are sponsoring four forums (link) that will be available for local Leagues to stream. Materials packets are prepared for each forum so viewers will be able to learn about the topic in advance and have good discussion after the program. These packets are rich with information and geared to help build understanding, not detailed scientific tomes. LWV DC does an excellent job with both the packets and with finding a good range of speakers who bring broad expertise to the subject; this would be a great way for a local League to begin the conversation on climate change. As a bonus, their website features a weekly column titled “Climate Corner”, featuring a medley of resources and information that highlight personal actions, diversity and equity perspectives, and additional learning opportunities, all related to climate change.
The first of the four forums took place on September 4 - you can watch the video here. Titled “Why Climate Change is a Public Health Emergency”, the featured speakers were Ralph Petersen , Ph.D. (UW–Madison Space, Science and Engineering Center), Andrea Kaminski (Board Director and former Executive Director of LWVWI) and Dr. Claire Gervais , M.D., (UW Health Clinics). Looking ahead, LWV DC is planning these additional forums:
• November 6, 2019, focusing on government's role in combatting climate change,
• February 5, 2020, focusing on agriculture as a solution and
• April 1, 2020 focusing on water impacts.
LWV UMRR’s Co-Presidents, Mary and Steve Ploeser, are members of the LWV Dane County committee working on the forum. We are proud to share their work with our member Leagues, and thank them for the commitment to LWV and the environment. – Gretchen Sabel, Communications Director, LWV UMRR
LWV Upper Mississippi River Region owes a lot to LWV Jo Daviees County – it was this League in Galena, Illinois, that had the idea to start an Inter League Organization* focused on protecting and improving water quality in the Upper Mississippi. It was from that idea that LWV UMRR was born in 2015, and we thank them for it.
LWV JDC has moved the ball along considerably in their local water quality work now. You can read about how they got started in this blog post from August of 2017. In this post from December of 2017, we shared the good news that LWV Jo Daviess County received a $10,000 prize for their proposal in the US EPA's Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge.
They implemented the proposal, and this month learned that they won big - they were one of three projects across the US receiving a $50,000 prize for their work!
Following is the press release from US EPA. Congratulations to LWV Jo Daviess County!
CHICAGO (Aug. 21, 2019) - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and four federal partners announced the winners of its technology-accelerating water quality challenge. The League of Women Voters of Illinois in Jo Daviess County is one of three national teams selected for the Challenge’s prize of $50,000 each. The winning teams demonstrated how data from low-cost water quality monitoring sensors can be used to inform local decision-making on nutrient management.
It was with great sadness that we learned of the June 25, 2019 death of our dear friend and fellow board member Judy Beck. Judy was a member of the LWV UMRR Board since we organized in 2015, and her leadership helped us find our way as we started out. Judy was also on the Board of LWV Lake Michigan Region ILO and served as federal action liaison between the groups. We benefited from her warmth, wise counsel, and ability to provide context for all that we do.
Judy received a BA degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and worked professionally as a teacher and as Lake Michigan Manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency for 30 years. In addition to her professional work and work with the LWV, Judy tirelessly volunteered her time as a founding member of Save the Grove, as a member and officer of the Grove Heritage Association, as a councilperson for the Northern Illinois Planning Commission, and as a past president of the Illinois Association of Park Districts. Upon retiring as the longest serving Board Member of the Glenview Park District, a park was named "Judy Beck Park" in her honor.
In addition, Judy served as a representative to the LWV Lake Michigan Region board from the Illinois LWV. She represented LWV LMR to Chicago Wilderness, a group spanning the four Lake Michigan states working to preserve and improve nature in our region. Judy managed the Watershed Fact Sheet project with LWV Wisconsin. She was the recipient of LWV LMR's Palleon Advocacy Award in 2016.
Judy was and will continue to be a role model and an inspiration to us. This link takes you to the video of a talk that Judy gave at the LWV Water Caucus meeting in Chicago in 2018. The picture above was taken at the LWV UMRR Annual Meeting in Hastings, MN, on June 1 2019. Thanks to Judy's advocacy, Minnesota Congresswoman Angie Craig came and spoke at this meeting. In this picture, Judy is introducing Representative Craig. The photo below shows Judy and LWV Glenview's Henrietta Saunders in consultation.
A memorial service will be held on July 26th at 1 pm at The Grove, Redfield House, 1421 Milwaukee Rd., Glenview, IL. Here's a link for her full obituary.
LWV Upper Mississippi warmly welcomes new Co-Chairs Mary and Steve Ploeser from LWV Dane County in Madison, Wisconsin. Mary is a retired middle school math and science teacher, and Steve retired from the State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services where he was a systems analyst. Parents of three grown children, Mary and Steve live in the same house they bought when first married thirty-five years ago.
Mary and Steve are members of LWV Dane County. They joined LWV to help potential voters, with and without birth certificates, get the proper photo ID required by the state. Steve also served on the LWV Dane county board as membership chair and later as business systems analyst. Mary joined to help register voters and was later asked to be the LWVDC representative to the Upper Mississippi River Region ILO..
Now as co-leaders of LWV UMRR, their goals are to continue holding board meetings around the four states and learn the concerns of all the member Leagues ,and to continue the ILO’s efforts to keep the water in the Upper Mississippi watershed as clean as is possible.
When not busy with the ILO Steve also works with the AARP Smart Driving Classes and Mary helps with voter registration. We both work as cashiers at Habitat for Humanity’s Restore and enjoy traveling to new and exciting venues.
What do you do the first day you're in office when you take over as head of the LWV Upper Mississippi? You visit the Mississippi Headwaters! Steve and Mary Ploeser made the pilgrimage to the river's source at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota on June 2. What a good way to get your feet wet in the Mississippi!