Here's an excellent blog post from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. Good reading - many thanks to NSAC!
"The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis held a hearing last Wednesday, October 30, 2019 to discuss the role of agriculture in identifying and implementing solutions to the climate crisis. This is the first time that the Select Committee has focused on the potential for America’s farmers and ranchers to be a positive force in the nation’s efforts to combat climate change. In this post, we highlight key issues raised during the hearing, and also outline NSAC’s key policy principles for how Congress can help farmers respond to and be part of the solution to the climate crisis...."
An October 31 story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune says, "Railway proposes shipping 500 million gallons of Minnesota water a year to the Southwest. ... [The railway] wants to drill two wells on a 6.2-acre parcel the company owns in Randolph, within a mile of Lake Byllesby in the Cannon River watershed. The wells together would pump up to 6,000 gallons of water per minute, which would double the amount of water that’s currently extracted annually from area wells by farmers and residents.
The water would be shipped by rail to communities near the Colorado River, county officials said. The application says the water would be used for commercial and institutional purposes, though Dakota County Commissioner Mike Slavik said he had heard it was intended for agricultural use in southwestern Colorado."
This troubling withdrawal for which a preliminary permit has been sought could be repeated in water-rich areas across the Midwest. The Great Lakes Compact protects the Great Lakes from water withdrawals, but there is no such compact for the other surface- and ground-water in the Midwest. Is it time for this to change? This excellent blog post by Matt Doll of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership suggests that a compact be formed to protect the waters of the Mississippi Basin and other Midwestern waters from inter-basin transfer. LWV UMRR will provide updates on this project and any progress toward protection in future posts.
The League of Women Voters Park Rapids Area tackled ground water sustainability concerns in their October 24 meeting. Ground water sustainability is a critical issue to people in the Park Rapids area. The City of Park Rapids has had to deal with excess nitrates in one city well. Many rural residents need to buy bottled water for drinking and cooking because of nitrate concerns. Is this the “tip of the iceberg” or are there ways to manage our groundwater that will allow for industry, agriculture and citizens to share this valuable resource? (photo - Park Rapids Enterprise)
Two speakers were on hand for this meeting. The first speaker was Dr. George Kraft, a hydrologist and Professor Emeritus of Water Resources at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. In his thirty years at UW Stevens Point, Dr. Kraft has performed research, advised on policy and doing Extension education on groundwater sustainability issues. His work has concentrated on nitrate pollution of groundwater and drinking water, and how groundwater irrigation pumping has caused a decline in streamflows and lake levels in central Wisconsin. He has published extensively on groundwater concerns, and is sought after as an advisor on scientific and policy workgroups. Dr. Kraft spoke at an LWV UMRR meeting in Stevens Point in April of 2018.
Dr. Kraft’s Park Rapids presentation reflected on his 30 year record of research on how irrigated farming, mainly for potato, other vegetables and field corn have affected groundwater quality and quantity in central Wisconsin. In central Wisconsin, the main issues are extensive nitrate pollution, as over 40 percent of wells in some townships exceed standards, and drying of lakes and streams by unlimited irrigation. This sounds familiar to folks in the Park Rapids area.
Dr. Kraft discussed how politics and a strong industry lobby have stymied even discussing the causes and effects of water challenges, let alone suggesting policies on how to manage them. Though Park Rapids area industry, geography, geology and politics may differ from those that exist in central Wisconsin, that region’s experiences may be a help in advancing more proactive discussion and avoiding pitfalls.
The second speaker was Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Area Hydrologist Darrin Hoverson. Darrin’s responsibilities include surface and groundwater resource management, water resource compliance and regulation as well as providing technical analysis, assistance and information to the public, local and state units of government and other water resource professionals. Having grown up in the Park Rapids area, being an active member of this community and with his 12 years of work at the DNR, Hoverson provides a deep understanding of the area’s natural resources, the community and local issues and concerns. His education includes a Master’s in Water Resources from the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and a Bachelor’s degree in Aquatic Biology from St. Cloud State University.
In his candid and thorough presentation, Hoverson provided a brief history and update on DNR groundwater management efforts within the Pineland Sands & Straight River Groundwater Management Areas, ongoing and future monitoring and groundwater studies and private/public partnerships. He focused on DNR’s roles and authority in ensuring the sustainable use of the region’s groundwater and groundwater dependent resources.
The session was recorded, and is available on You Tube here. There was lively discussion following the presentations, which is included with the video here.
The League of Women Voters Minnesota had a fantastic gala on October 26 to celebrate the First Night of the next 100 years of LWV! Twelve women were honored this night - twelve "firsts". Their stories were inspirational. Here's a sampling of the stories we heard.
The evening started out with inspiring remarks by LWV Minnesota President Laura Helmer, left. In Laura's remarks, she talked about the ongoing need for LWV and the work we live for:
"Organizations that live to be 100 years old only do so because their purpose remains relevant - and the best way to illustrate the ongoing need for League is through sharing the stories of the women who are with us to speak tonight. Because each of these women, only within the last quarter of our century - and many only within the last 2 years! - have become “the first woman” to have a voice at the tables where decisions are made. Our founding president Clara Ueland emphasized, “The hardest lesson… is that it is not safe to leave government in the hands of one man or a group of men, and that one class cannot judge wisely or decide fairly for the whole.” Indeed, women’s voices are still under-represented today - in all sectors of governance. So, tonight’s speakers provide us with the reality that not only is our work still RELEVANT, it’s ESSENTIAL in order to insure that “We the People” means “ALL the people.” Their presence also provides us with true hope for our 2nd Century - because as you’ll hear, we are indeed making great progress toward a more fully inclusive democracy."
Each speaker talked about how they got to be the first in their field. Jennifer Carnahan shared that she was born in Seoul, South Korea, and abandoned by her unknown mother. She was adopted by wonderfully supportive parents in Minnesota, who raised her to not accept limits, citing times when she was told that she would not succeed. "Our dreams can be as big as we want them to be." Jennifer Carnahan is now the first Asian-American to head the Republican Party in Minnesota.
Toni Carter is the first African American to serve on a county board in Minnesota. She brought in a theme that was echoed across the evening - she said, "The important thing about being first is making sure that others are coming behind you." People who break through barriers to be "firsts" must make sure that the way is paved for others who are like them to follow.
Edwina Garcia is the first Latina elected to the Minnesota. She had a difficult father but her mother was strong, and taught young Edwina to believe in herself and stand up for what she believed. She believed that she could achieve, was encouraged by white mentors and teachers. She said, "To run for elected office, you have to have an ego big and tough enough that you can set it in the middle of the road and every dog and cat comes and [urinates] on it."
Maria Regan Gonzales, first Latina Mayor in Minnesota, echoed the need to make sure that others like you follow and step up.
Koahly Her, one of two Hmong American women elected to the Minnesota House in 2018 talked about the importance of LWV registering voters on campuses and at naturalization ceremonies. She also talked about the noticeable difference at the Capitol when men's rights were discussed versus women's rights.
Patricia Torres Rey, first Latina elected to the Minnesota Senate, said that the role of LWV is to wake up women in MN to vote, to run, to work with LWV. Now there are only two women of color in the MN Senate. We need to get reinvigorated to turn this around!
Anne McKeig is the first Native woman on the Minnesota Supreme Court, and on any Supreme Court in the US. She shared the story of when US Supreme Court Justice Sonja Sotomayor came to Minnesota and asked to visit Judge McKeig. Justice Sotomayor said she feels it is her duty to increase diversity on the Federal Bench.
Kim Norton, first woman mayor of Rochester, talked about how the skills she learned in LWV has helped her in her political life. The work that LWV does, to help women gain skills and confidence to run for office, has helped many to step up to leadership.
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!
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