Government

Is CRP Slowly Killing Young and Beginning Farmers’ Dreams?

The Conservation Reserve Program or more commonly known as CRP has long been touted as a way to remove marginal farmland from production. This was land that maybe formerly was a wetland or just didn’t perform well because it would be a drowned out low spot in the field. The application involved showing that it would be a good field to return to or protect wetland habitat and highly erodible ground, at least for Minnesota. Minnesota’s focus has primarily been on wetland habitat for the last 20-30 years of CRP.

Typically these acreages would often range in the 1-5 acre range for what a farmer typically wanted to remove from production. After all, the entire field wasn’t necessarily marginal, but sections of it may have been.

After speaking with several area farmers, and experiencing it firsthand, farmers would often apply to have those smaller tracts removed from marginal production and put into CRP, and would find themselves denied. Reason? Not because it wouldn’t be a good candidate for the program, but FSA wanted more acreage. Often asking for tracts of 15-35 acres to be removed from production, or even an entire field.

CRP has a time frame on it. Once you put land in the program, it stays in there for 10 years. 10 years is a long time in a cyclical farm market, when many are choosing to place their land in CRP simply because crop prices are low and the CRP program is paying very high

CRP program payments are currently well above average county rates. In my county, average rates hover in the $225-$250 rate for farmland. CRP payments are in the upwards of $100 to $150 per acre more than what farmers are able to cash flow.

This is a problem.

This is a problem because it is encouraging people not from the area to purchase land, reach the 2 year farming rule, and place land into CRP before giving actual farmers that live or work in the area a chance to rent that land or purchase that land. Often we see people from outside of these rural communities, that may live in a metropolitan area, purchasing land, hiring someone to custom farm it for the required two years, and then putting it into the CRP program at rates that will pay them twice the amount of what they might get in rent or what they could be losing by farming it themselves. Hey, you can’t blame them I guess IF money is their only object.

Young farmers are trying to return to their rural communities, but accessing land can be very difficult.

In the meantime, young and beginning farmers who keep getting told they have tons of governmental options to rent land (one example – Minnesota passed legislation offering tax credits to those renting to young and beginning farmers last year) are literally fighting against one section of the government while supposedly getting help from the other to find land to farm. A young and/or beginning farmer can’t afford a $350/acre land rent, and I actually doubt most farmers who have been farming a long time could actually cash flow that right now with current crop prices. But somehow, the government can. The government can pay over $300/acre for CRP contracts for the next 10 years.

We are seeing entire fields get removed from production that will more than likely lose their previous farmable wetland designation when they come out in 10 years. We are seeing productive crop land removed from production and placed into the CRP program simply because landowner can get more for it through the program then they could by renting it to a local farmer. We are seeing entire fields go into CRP because they are overlooking smaller marginal tracts that may be a better fit for the program’s original intent. Beginning farmers are losing out on the ability to potentially cash flow some marginal land while looking for other ways to improve the soil through cover crops, variable rate seeding, or even smaller grains such as barley, oats, and wheat as part of their rotations or other specialty crops such as hops and grapes.

So why aren’t we paying young farmers $300 an acre in land rent to keep farming? To build a continued, sustained, farm operation in rural communities? To give them an opportunity? We can say we are speeding up access to funding from FSA and increasing the cap, but it is all a little too late when land rates for purchasing have continued to stay high despite low commodity prices.

I know, I know. CRP is all for the sake of wildlife habitat. But when do we finally say enough is enough and that a balance is there? When do we finally admit that maybe preserving farmland to feed people, to fuel our vehicles, and create a million other items is important too?

When do we start to put a preservation status on our agricultural land? When do we start to preserve the farming lifestyle that some choose

Preserving farmland for future generations and for food security is important.

as their business and profession? When do we get to put out a big metal sign on a piece of farmland and say that this piece has been preserved as agricultural farmland for the entirety of its life, like we do for wildlife habitat?

Some of you will read this whole post and come away purely saying she’s against wildlife, but definitely not the case. We have a wetland area in the back of the property we own that is in CRP. We have 40 acres of woods that are part of a piece of land we farm that is just that way because we enjoy it. We hunt pheasant and deer. However, at the end of the day, there has to be some push back when we have beginning farmers that can barely get 50 acres to start and then have to compete with the government on top of it.

-Sara

H.R. 1599 – GMO Labeling at the Federal Level

I’ve seen a lot of headlines come across social media lately in regards to H.R. 1599 – The Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act. Most of them have stated in  one way or another that our Federal Government is banning GMO labeling on foods. When you see headlines like “Congress may ban states from GMO labeling” instead of “Congress may create federal GMO labeling program” how do you interpret it? (Thank you CNBC by the way for that misleading headline!)

This is why we need to learn to evaluate our sources and frankly, read the proposed bill ourselves. It is set to be voted on by the House today, and is suspected to pass due to bipartisan support.

So what does this bill actually do? It creates a voluntary, federal GMO labeling program. Why is it important that GMO labeling is done at a federal level? It is important because right now, the creation of patchwork state GMO labeling laws are hurting consumers, businesses and confusing grocery stores and people alike. What does a GMO label or Non-GMO label mean in Iowa if standards are different in Missouri? Frankly, it doesn’t really mean a thing to consumers. If each state can make different rules about what is allowed and what isn’t, then what does that say about the trust of a label? And why would we need one at all then, if it doesn’t have a set standard?  This bill would also arrange federal policy for GMO labeling, which currently requires labeling for genetically-engineered products that are materially different from their conventional counterparts in terms of functional, nutritional, or compositional characteristics.

GMO infographic

A federal labeling system would create clarity for the consumer by clearly labeling products the same way, with the same requirements. For instance, you would only see one label, same color, same design, same logo, etc. backed by the FDA, rather than a Minnesota label on this pack of cereal from Company A and a Idaho label on this box of cereal from Company B. Does this actually create the label if it passes? Not at this time, but it gives authority to the FDA to set the standards and create a federal labeling program if needed. Currently, the patchwork of state labeling that is starting, will drive up costs of production for food companies, and this cost will ultimately be passed on to consumers or consumers won’t be able to purchase a favorite product made in New York because that company doesn’t want to pay to put a label on created by Vermont’s state, or pay for the number of employees it would take to understand and cover all the regulations from states with labeling requirements.

I am all about consumers having more knowledge about their food and what they feed their families. I know for some, organic is very important to their lifestyle and diet. For me, thought it isn’t a big deal. However, it has been stated over and over again that there is no difference between GMO and non-GMO foods and they are safe – See HERE and HERE. It is also why I’m an advocate for doing your own research – finding scholarly articles and science based fact, and asking farmers directly, rather than reading the news headline. I went and read through H.R. 1599. It isn’t about banning labels, it’s about creating labels – and giving the FDA the ability to create a federal regulation that is easier for consumers to recognize and understand, as well as for companies and businesses to follow. If you choose to follow a non-GMO diet, that is just fine and you can do so by purchasing foods with the USDA Certified Organic label currently. What I don’t want, is a Mom at the grocery store confused as to what GMO, Non-GMO and Organic mean in one state versus the other and what apple is what. I don’t want a mom stretching her grocery budget to have to pay $2 more for a nutritious food product because Food Company X had to put a special label on their product in order for it to be sold in her home state. Sometimes, federal regulation is necessary and this is one of those times.

Many farmers and farm organizations support the passage of H.R. 1599, despite many of us also believing that GMO’s are safe and don’t need labeling. We understand that consumers want more knowledge about what they eat, but we also know a hodgepodge system isn’t the answer either. We want clarity for everyone involved from the farmer to the food industry to the consumer.

Find out more HERE about why Farm Bureau supports H.R. 1599 and find out some information about Minnesota and GMO’s and labeling. 

-Sara

The Buffer Strip Controversy…Debunked.

Recently, Governor Dayton announced that he will ask the Minnesota Legislature to put into law, a requirement of a 50 foot buffer zone along streams, wetlands, and lakes. Why? He thinks that this will boost the dwindling pheasant population in Minnesota.

Gov. Dayton has cited lower participation in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) by farmers, and that having a direct effect on the pheasant population. What Governor Dayton fails to mention, is that federally, the number of acres allowed into the CRP program has been decreased due to funding. That means that some farmers went to reapply their acres into the program, and were denied because only so many acres are allowed. Governor Dayton also fails to mention that there is an application process for land to go into CRP and if your land doesn’t fit the criteria put forth by the NRCS/USDA, they can deny your application. It doesn’t mean that farmers don’t want to sign up for the program (many find it a waste to farm marginal ground) it is that they are being denied due to funding or their acres not fitting what The government wants in terms of land. Also, there is a large misconception that CRP is a “farmer only” program. Many landowners, hunters, and wildlife enthusiasts have their land in the CRP program as well.

In the 2008 bill, the acres were capped at 32 million. However, with the passage of the 2014 farm bill, 2014 was reduced to 27.5 million acres being allowed to enroll. In 2015, that number drops to 26 million. 2016, 25 million acres and 2017-2018 at 24 million acres. Currently, 27 million acres are enrolled into the CRP program, and that means that at least 1 million acres will be removed from the program or denied reenrollment in 2015. This also means no new enrollment of additional acres over the cap, so essentially eliminating farmers and private land owner’s ability to rent their land back to the government for wildlife habitat.

For Minnesota, the focus on CRP land for our government is wetland habitat – not exactly pheasant friendly. Majority of the applications have to be directly tied to wetland and wildlife that would directly benefit from wetlands. Think ducks, geese, cormorants, swans, heron, etc. Pheasants prefer upland habitat and prairie.

There is also a law already in place for agricultural ground in terms of buffer zones. According to state law, local government is responsible for the administration and enforcement of shoreland management controls. That is an important piece of information because the water issues from county to county vary greatly. Local governments are allowed to adopt their own shoreland protection rules (with commissioner’s approval) that may differ from state law but can account for the unique needs of the watershed rather than the one-size-fits-all approach. Part of this is where land has been part of an urban use for many years (think of Lake Minnetonka for example), if there are businesses along these shorelands (think Northfield, Minnesota), counties with topography or vegetation that would make minimum state standards impractical (think bluff country), or shorelands that are managed under other land resource management programs that have been authorized by state or federal legislation that have goals compatible with Minnesota law (think alternatives with the DNR or the Discovery Farms program).

Note the buffer strip in the side of the photo on another piece of land we farm.

Note the buffer strip in the side of the photo on another piece of land we farm.

There aren’t easy ways to avoid buffer zones. Everything has to be evaluated, approved or part of another law. Existing shoreland rules require a 50 foot buffer in shoreland areas already, which means 50 feet of permanent vegetation must be maintained. Agricultural use within that 50 feet may be allowed only if the farmer has an approved conservation plan with their local soil and water conservation district or the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. Part of that approved conservation plan includes responsible use of fertilizer and crop protection products, and appropriate set-backs for manure application to ensure proper stewardship of water resources.

Now, how do all these laws and restrictions apply? According to state law they apply to all watercourses intrastate and interstate where the drainage area is over 2 square miles, but if the commissioner finds any other watercourse having a drainage area under 2 miles and with a significant flood hazard, the laws and restrictions apply as well.

Now, drainage ditches are a little different. Many counties have a network of drainage ditches serving a multitude of purposes from draining water from agricultural land to ensuring that water runs off of roadways or draining areas that businesses and homes are built on. The current proposal would more than triple current buffer laws on public drainage ditches – notice that is public – not private. This means this could affect every homeowner out there that has a public drainage ditch in the back of their property.

Currently, the law states that public drainage ditches have to have a buffer strip of 16.5 feet. However, that buffer strip doesn’t necessarily have to be in place until a redetermination of benefits of the public drainage ditch is made by the county. This is why our state should focus on funding our local soil and water conservation offices at the proper level, so they can complete these redetermination of benefits. This is probably the biggest misconception that people don’t understand about current law – the ditch has to go through the redetermination before a person actually has to put the 16.5 foot buffer strip in place. That being said, I don’t know many people who farm up to a drainage ditch without leaving at least 10-15 feet of vegetation already. Also, another thing to understand about how drainage ditches are constructed is that they have a berm up on the sides, or a raised bank, – that means the water doesn’t run down directly into them. The water has to go through the soil, filtering it.

 

Can you see the lake behind those trees? That's because there is way more than a 50 foot buffer strip in place here on a piece of land we farm next to a lake.

Can you see the lake behind those trees? That’s because there is way more than a 50 foot buffer strip in place here on a piece of land we farm next to a lake.

There are many other issues with this proposed law. Fines can range up to $20,000, and it is up to the DNR to decide whether requirements are met. Who is going to pay for additional enforcement and DNR? This is also why I strongly urge local control is better – work with your local soil and water conservation district, your NRCS office, etc. They know much more about the soil types, the issues your county faces, etc. than the DNR.

This also means that we have a state agency, the DNR, taking control of private land, your land, without compensation, which violates private property rights. This is especially important. If landowners, not just farmers, can’t plan for the future, make decisions about their property or even appeal for their land, it affects your rights as a property owner. The DNR can and will say what you can or can’t do on your land, without reimbursement or any real reason why as the 50 foot buffer is an arbitrary number, not scientifically justified or studied.

Yes, everyone wants clean water, and honestly, probably farmers more than most because we make our living off of that water. We depend on it every single day for our livelihood. Our kids drink from the same wells on our property. We shower in it, we swim in it, we give our livestock it. But this isn’t about clean water. This isn’t even about pheasant habitat (sorry MN Pheasants Forever – your own website even says that buffer strips are not the best habitat for pheasants as it creates a smorgasbord for predators to come along and eat their nests!) At the end of the day, this is about property rights.

If you don’t understand the many different things farmers are currently doing to protect water, wildlife habitat and soil, please ASK! This is why things like precision agriculture and variable rate application are so important to farmers. This is why we tile, allowing soil to filter water and eliminating nutrient run-off and soil loss. This is why farmers install buffer strips or grass waterways on their land. This is why farmers put in terraces, not only to hold soil back, but to create spots for wildlife to nest and live from the pheasants to rabbits to fox. Farmers often plant cover crops to hold in soil and create a filter as snow melts in the winter. Farmers practice strip tillage or no tillage. They plant crops like hay and alfalfa in areas that might need a denser coverage. Often, the water management practices put in place take time to see results, sometimes over 50 years. Farmers are doing many different things every single day on their farms, but what works for one farm, might not work for another. This is why a “one size fits all 50 foot strip” is not the answer.

-Sara

Minnesota takes over Washington, D.C.

Last week, MARL Class 8 took over Washington, D.C.! 28 of us plus Mike and Stacy (our fantastic coordinators), traveled as a large group to D.C. for our national seminar. We had an early morning flight, arriving at the airport around 4:30am, but Washington greeted us with sunny, 40 degree weather on our first day, fooling us into thinking we escaped Minnesota winter!

Day 1 in Washington D.C.

Our first day included an introduction to D.C., as well as an “Amazing Race” throughout D.C. We got to learn about D.C. a bit more, and enjoy a stop at the Dubliner for supper.

Our group at the Dubliner, a restaurant featuring many Irish dishes!  Photo by Lona Rookaird

Our group at the Dubliner, a restaurant featuring many Irish dishes! Photo by Lona Rookaird

Day 2 in Washington, D.C.

We were able to choose between 2 different embassy visits. I chose to visit the Australian Embassy. Traveling to Australia has been on my bucket list since about 6th grade, and their landscape, population and ag industry fascinates me. I found out some very interesting facts – that Australia is roughly the same size as the U.S., however it has a much smaller population and around 80% of their population is concentrated around the coast line.

The U.S. is the number one importer of Australian wine, which I never knew either, and overall for the last year, we rank about 4th in terms of trade dollars with Australia.

Visiting with the Minister-Counselor of Agriculture at the Australian Embassy.

Visiting with the Minister-Counselor of Agriculture at the Australian Embassy.

I found it interesting that Australia really doesn’t have any kind of beginning farmer programs. They don’t consider smaller farmers like we do, beginning farmer or farmers at all really. In the U.S. we count small acreage,  vegetable farmers, CSA type farms, etc. all in as farming operations. Australia does not. In order to count in their data, you must have a large number of cattle, sheep, acreage, etc.

I also found it interesting that Australia does not like the U.S. Farm Bill due to their belief of the impact is has on trade and the global market. They also have a very interesting program called the “Farm Management Deposit Account” which allows farmers to deposit funds on good years, tax-free, to use during the difficult times to pay bills and keep the farm operation running. This allows farmers in essence, to take care of themselves, rather than on a good year purchase equipment to find a tax write-off like we often do here in the U.S. We suggested this program to both of our senators and our representatives as something to consider.

A group of us chose to visit the Holocaust museum. I will be completely honest – my history classes growing up glossed over the Holocaust, so this was a very eye-opening experience for me. I had tears the entire way through. I honestly couldn’t believe that the U.S. did absolutely nothing to stop these horrors, and frankly, in certain situations around the world, we are letting it happen again. I have family that is Jewish, and I walked away with an entire different outlook for their religious beliefs, the persecution they went through and the history they now possess.

The entrance to the Holocaust museum.

The entrance to the Holocaust museum.

Denmark was one of the only countries to help their Jewish communities escape.

Denmark was one of the only countries to help their Jewish communities escape.

 I took 2 photos throughout the museum – one of the entrance where “holocaust” was illuminated as to me, it just set the mood for the entire museum, and one of how Denmark was one of the only countries to come to the aid of the Jewish communities. Wanda Patsche at Minnesota Farm Living and I both ended up taking the photo for the same reasons – we are of Danish decent, so this was an interesting part of our own history as well. I second her thoughts on feeling guilty just for taking the two photos I did. I sat in the Hall of Remembrance for about 30 minutes with tears just streaming down my face as I thought of the 1 million children who died, the women, the elderly…. Those who were worked to death. The humiliation and shame they were put through all because someone had so much hatred in their heart. It is just hard to fathom – all of it. I am still struggling with processing all I learned. An image that sticks with me from the museum was a strappy gold sandal in the shoe pile area. I think of the woman who dressed up for her departure in her fanciest shoes, not knowing the fate that awaited her, and how today that strappy gold sandal now sits in among a pile of shoes in the museum, never knowing whether the owner survived or was killed.

Day 3 in Washington, D.C.

We started off Day 3 with a visit to the United States Department of Agriculture. Here I found out that Baby Girl Hewitt really loves ag statistics! I think she might have a future career with the USDA at the rate she was moving around during the meeting!

I found some of the information about the new Climate Hubs the most interesting as I worked on some of the regional Climate Hub establishment for one of my classes for my Master’s. I’m glad they are learning to work with farmers in order to find out what issues they are dealing with and how they can help during climate change and adverse weather events, rather than preaching a “doomsday” approach to it.

The entrance to the USDA, where we met with folks working on ag statistics, veterans affairs, and climate hubs.

The entrance to the USDA, where we met with folks working on ag statistics, veterans affairs, and climate hubs. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

We met with Congressman Collin Peterson, who is the minority (DFL) ranking member of the House Agricultural Committee. Congressman Peterson was first elected in 1990, so he knows Minnesota and he knows agriculture. Anyone who knows him, knows that he truly votes for what is best for Minnesota, and he tells it like it is. He doesn’t shy away from anything in politics, and frankly, isn’t afraid to tell you when something is nonsense in terms of what is happening in agriculture. He is one of my favorites to meet with when I can.

Meeting with Congressman Peterson in the Ag Committee Hearing Room. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

Meeting with Congressman Peterson in the Ag Committee Hearing Room. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

I also met with Representative Tim Walz, who is my district representative. I have met with Congressman Walz before, and I enjoy listening to him and what he is passionate about every time I meet with him. Mark and I met with him in September of 2014 while in D.C., and have an interesting story of him catching us again while he was going for his daily run on the Mall. He later mentioned us during another meeting he was speaking at in Minnesota. Young and beginning farmers really matter to Walz, as does veterans affairs – two topics he is very passionate and vocal about.

 Day 4 in Washington, D.C.

 Day 4 started off with a tour of the White House. We went through quite a bit of security – 4 check points in fact, just to get in, and we had to have a ticket/invitation ahead of time at that! I’m not quite sure what I expected from the White House, but I was a little disappointed by the tour. I expected something larger, grander, more intricate. I also was not impressed with the President and First Lady’s choice of artwork for the dining room. The tour was self-guided and only lasted maybe 20 minutes, if that. I did find it interesting that the rooms were named by color and everything in them reflected that – red room, blue room and the green room.

Next, many of my MARL  classmates headed out to professional appointments with various organizations such as the National Biodiesel Board, The Association for Land Grant Universities, Sierra Club and Feeding America. However, Being 8 months pregnant, decided to take an afternoon of rest where I grabbed a sandwich and fruit from a local cafe in one of the John’s Hopkins buildings, caught up on homework and work emails, and took a nap! Even with comfortable shoes, walking up to 8 miles a day some times was a bit much for this lady!

We ended the day with a fun evening at American Farm Bureau where we met up with similar cohort groups from Illinois, Washington and South Dakota. Our group of various state members, chose to go eat at the Hamilton in D.C. It was a very large restaurant with a delicious menu. As everyone else ordered drinks – I got a toasted marshmallow milkshake! :)

Day 5 in Washington, D.C.

Day 5 started off with a snow storm in D.C., making our government run 2 hours behind. However, being the troopers we are from Minnesota, it didn’t stop us or our Senators! We met with both Klobuchar and Franken to discuss ag issues and things like the Keystone Pipeline and rail lines.

Meeting with Senator Klobuchar - She has been amazing for ag in office!

Meeting with Senator Klobuchar – She has been amazing for ag in office! Photo by Lona Rookaird.

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Meeting with Senator Franken to discuss rail and pipeline issues. Photo by Lona Rookaird.

 Next, we were able to take a tour of the Capitol. This was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip! Although we didn’t get quite the full tour, I found out lots of interesting information. The architecture, paintings and sculptures in the Capitol are simply amazing. It was such a fun history lesson about Minnesota too! Minnesota was the last state to have their statehood debated in the Senate Chambers which I thought was pretty neat! I also thought how they marked where certain key representative’s desks were on the former House floor was pretty cool too. It was a little inspiring to be standing in the same place that Abe Lincoln and John Quincy Adams stood.

The old Senate Chambers. They will still hold meetings here if they need to have something discussed "off the record" Photo by Lona Rookaird

The old Senate Chambers. They will still hold meetings here if they need to have something discussed “off the record” Photo by Lona Rookaird

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Plaque marking where Abe Lincoln’s desk was during his time as a representative on the old House Floor. Honestly, I loved these – so cool to be standing where so many history shaping figures stood at one point!

Day 6 in Washington, D.C.

Day 6 was our last day in the area. We loaded up on a tour bus a 7am and headed out to see Gettysburg and Eisenhower’s farm. I was looking forward to this part of the trip tremendously. We have the original land deed document signed by Abe Lincoln that has to do with giving land to those who lost spouses in the Civil War from the woman my family purchased our farm site from. So this was kind of connecting a piece of my farm’s history to an event miles and miles away that altered the history of our country forever.

The video we watched was very moving and a quote that stuck out to me as we discussed leadership and displays of leadership throughout this trip was

“Freedom, like power, will always be contested.”

Those words just resonated with me – freedom is not free. Freedom in America will always be hated by some and it will always need to be fought for, because oppression is forever a part of the world we live in. It is unfortunate, but I am thankful for the leaders from our military, in politics, and every day people who choose to stand up or what they believe in and exercise their right for freedom.

Just a portion of the cyclorama at Gettysburg.

Just a portion of the cyclorama at Gettysburg.

The cyclorama at Gettysburg is a very interesting piece of art that makes the battle come alive as you watch and listen to the presentation. It is an original oil canvas that spans 42 feet high and 377 feet in circumference and was fully restored to depict the Gettysburg battle scene and Pickett’s Charge. It really is something to see in person that you can’t quite describe in a photo or on a blog.

Next we went on a guided tour of the battlefield grounds. It was interesting to see which buildings were standing during the war, and some had plenty of bullet holes still visible in them! The sheer number of monuments at Gettysburg is just as interesting as the history of the battle! Many, many lives were lost in the Battle of Gettysburg, but perhaps most interesting was essentially, the suicide mission of the single brigade from Minnesota. Minnesota lost a significant number of their troops as their job was to buy time for the other Union soldiers. Minnesota has not one, but two monuments at Gettysburg due to their act of bravery.

We also visited Eisenhower’s farm. Eisenhower entertained many different guests at his farm, and his wife kept a very detailed guest book you were required to sign if you visited – even the grandchildren had to sign in! I actually enjoyed the pink bathrooms and monogrammed towels and linens that Mamie had in the house – very posh for the time frame of their presidency and home. I loved the built-in closets and cabinetry that were constructed as part of the farm-house.

Eisenhower farm still has a black Angus herd that is owned and operated by a local farmer on the property. He has to have black Angus because this was the breed of cattle that President Eisenhower had originally on the farm. However, Eisenhower’s cattle were show cattle, winning many ribbons at various shows and fairs.

It was back on the bus to head to the airport for a late flight home! I think we were all pretty exhausted by this point after such a busy week – both mentally and physically. However, I am always in awe at our Nation’s Capitol, and I always discover new information, history and relationships while I am out there. I am so thankful for being able to share these opportunities and experiences with my MARL classmates, and learn from them and with them!

MARL Class 8 in D.C.

MARL Class 8 in D.C.

-Sara

The MARL Experience – Changing the Face of Leadership

Rural areas in Minnesota require 1 in every 34 people to take on a leadership role. In metropolitan areas, that number is 1 in every 143.

MARL (Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership) is a 2 year leadership development program. Participants go through an application process and then an interview process. Classes are typically 75% production agriculture and 25% business, civic and government, and organization leaders in agriculture and rural Minnesota.

This past spring I went through the application and interview process. Being younger, I figured I probably wouldn’t make this round, but might apply again in the future. They only let 30 people in every class, and I knew there were some amazing people working in agriculture that had applied as well. I got a phone call not long after that, saying I was accepted into MARL! I was excited and nervous for this new experience that involved 9 three-day instate seminars scattered throughout Minnesota, a national seminar in Washington, D.C., and a 2 week international seminar.

Needless to say, I walked in on the first day and looked around at my 29 classmates and wondered what the heck I was doing there. What did I have to offer this group? Many of my classmates are doing amazing things, have traveled the world, lived in different countries, started their own businesses, raised families, done mission work and so much more. I feel intimidated every time I walk in the door, but also blessed to be learning from all of them. In examining my own life, I’m not really sure what I have done yet that got me into this group, but part of MARL is growing as a leader and having all of these travel and educational experiences. I have learned so much from my classmates already, from the program, and I have learned more about myself.

At the first MARL session in Willmar, we met with the owner of NovaTech

At the first MARL session in Willmar, we met with the owner of Nova-Tech

This last session was in St. Paul and focused on leadership in politics. We were able to meet with many of our elected officials, sit on the floor of the House of Representatives, learn about some of the activities and functions of the MN Dept. of Agriculture, meet with Sue Knott from MN Ag in the Classroom, learn from Kevin Paap, president of MN Farm Bureau, and attend a committee hearing where MARL alumni and some of my current classmates testified about MARL and the benefits the program has. It really was amazing to see some of the politics in action. I have been up to the Capitol before and sat in on a committee hearing, but seeing my classmates testify on something they were passionate about and believed in really helped me drive home why it is important to talk to your legislators, connect with them and share your concerns. I have always thought maybe one day I might consider a role in politics whether a local or state position, but seeing it all in action, made me realize that yes, I could really do this some day.

Testifying for MARL in front of a joint House Ag Committee.

Testifying for MARL in front of a joint House Ag Committee.

We were also able to see the U of MN St. Paul campus and learn more about their genomics and genetics work, as well as tour the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. Being pregnant, I only made it through about 1/2 of the diagnostic lab before realizing I probably shouldn’t be in there with some of the chemicals that are being used. It was pretty cool though to see the research being done there. There was even a hive of deceased bees that was having a necropsy done with a researcher trying to find out more about diseases that affect bees and their hives.

Learning from Dr. Brian Stupar who works primarily in soybean genomics and genetics.

Learning from Dr. Brian Stupar who works primarily in soybean genomics and genetics.

I was also able to tour the Midtown Global Market as part of the session I chose to go on. It was absolutely amazing to see so many different cultures, people, food and items all in one place and learn about the story behind the market which is in a former Sear’s building, as well as a lot of the merchants, some of who now are in their 2nd generation of ownership and operation. My classmate, Yolanda, was so passionate about the market and her enthusiasm made the tour that much better. I really hope that Mark and I can get up there again to visit and do some more shopping. I only had time to bring home a honey sampler and try a honeydew/strawberry smoothie while I was there. The global market features specialty grocery stores and restaurants focusing on local food, Latino food, Halal food and Hmong food. There is also Italian, 1950’s style dining, Indian, French pastries and so much more. It really was like traveling the world right in one stop in Minneapolis. I wanted to try everything and next time, I am going to come hungry!

This session of MARL has really taught me to keep an open mind and to be mindful of what I am doing. It is easy to start each day with a bad attitude when you think about the news or what we see on our social media channels. But despite all of that, we need to be informed. Make our own decisions. We need to really be mindful of what we are hearing, reading and thinking, and take the time to examine our values going forward too. I also think that this MARL session taught me that I can do more. I can do more for my community, more for others around me and more in my job. I was listening to some of the issues that the metro area was talking about, and really a lot of the same issues are facing rural areas in Minnesota too. Kevin Paap said it can’t be a “rural versus metro” anymore, it has to be together, because we are dealing with the same things from education, work force issues, immigration, aging populations, economic growth and so much more. It just takes a few people to really step up to the plate to make a difference. So many of my classmates are doing that already, and I know that the experiences and lessons I gain from MARL will help me do the same.

-Sara

Rock the Vote Tomorrow!

Tomorrow is election day. That means it is up to you to get out there and vote.

rock the vote

Rock the Vote 2014!

Here’s what I urge you to do if you haven’t already..

Make sure you are a registered voter. If you didn’t pre-register, you can register at your polling place. Make sure you have the correct forms of ID with you when you go to vote. If you don’t know where your polling place is, you can find it here. Once you do that, you can look up a list of your candidates, visit their websites and even see what a sample ballot will look like so you can familiarize yourself. Not every candidate will have a political party (especially in terms of your judges, county commissioners, etc.) so it is important to know what they are passionate about, or what their past rulings have been. You can read candidate interviews from your local papers typically to find out more concerning those kinds of positions.

I had to pre-register this year, since we moved. I have different candidates to vote on this year, than years past because of the move, so I made sure to look up as much information on each candidate as I could. I checked out who they were endorsed by, their views on certain political issues, read their interviews in local papers and even talked to a few of them personally.

Remember to go out and vote, but make sure you are an educated voter as well. I have changed my mind on a few votes just in the past few days after doing more research on candidates. If you don’t know something about a candidate or are wondering their stance on an issue, ask! Don’t be afraid to talk to them about what is affecting you and what concerns you! -Sara 

Ditch The Rule Already EPA!

Many of you have seen my posts, pictures and updates about EPA’s proposed rule to change what they define as Waters of the United States or commonly referred to as WOTUS. The EPA is trying to write it off as this will help with clean water, when really all it does is gives them more overreaching authority to regulate your dry land, and what you can do or can’t do as a land owner!

ditch the rule EPA

Time to #ditchtherule EPA! We #readthefineprint!

Here’s the thing, the EPA is trying to redefine what they call navigable waters of the U.S., meaning you can float a boat on them- think lakes, rivers, some streams and ponds, by leaving the term “tributary” open to definition. A definition that includes dry land. Land that might hold water for a few days after a rain, a ditch that might hold water a few days out of the year, or a dry crick bed that only fills up for a week during the spring in your back yard. This definition even includes land that hasn’t had a single puddle in it, ever, but because of soil samples (some taken many, many years ago) having markers for water potential, they are now listed as a potential wetland area.

If EPA get’s their way, this would happen to a field that my family has farmed for over 100 years. They have put a spot right in the middle of it, saying that is has potential to be a wetland area even though it has never been wet the entire time we’ve farmed it. If their rule goes through, we would have to go through a permitting process to now farm this land. A permit from the EPA right now, can take anywhere from 2-6 months to receive, and they can still deny that permit if they want to.

This rule won’t just affect farmers. It affects every single land owner out there. Want to dig up and plant a garden in your backyard that has that dry crick-bed majority of the summer 25 feet from it? Think again. Permit time. How about mowing that ditch in your front yard that fills up with water for three days after a heavy rain? No way. That is now a WOTUS and you will need a permit to mow that lawn! These scenarios are all possible thanks to EPA’s new proposed rule and their interpretive rule. You can view how this rule has placed water in your backyard by visiting this interactive map. Just enter in your address and select the layers you want to see. This map is still only estimated to be a fraction of what the EPA wants to regulate.

The EPA wants to regulate fields like this now, and require farmers to get a permit. This field had a spot filled with water due to heavy rains this spring. In about a week or so, the water was completely gone and the farmer replanted this section. It doesn't stay a "pond" nor is it navigable!

The EPA wants to regulate fields like this now, and require farmers to get a permit. This field had a spot filled with water due to heavy rains this spring. In about a week or so, the water was completely gone and the farmer replanted this section. It doesn’t stay a “pond” nor is it navigable!

The interpretive rule is also a conundrum with what the EPA was thinking. They included 56 conservation acts that farmer’s currently and voluntarily practice and said that these conservation acts would not be subject to the rule or permitting process. However, the rule is put forth that in order to get a permit, you may have to have one or more of these conservation practices in place-not so voluntary now, is it? But want to know something, there is a list of over 200 (yeap, 200!) conservation practices that farmers currently and voluntarily do. Farmers work with their local NRCS offices and soil and water conservation districts to implement many of these practices because they know it is the right thing to do, it benefits their land, wildlife and water and it just plain and simply makes sense! Farmers have established relationships with these offices because they are the ones who know the area, know the land, and can deal with the unique situations that exist county to county, state to state, and even in the same field! Currently, those practices are voluntary. However, the EPA wants to make the NRCS enforce some of these as mandatory. Why does the EPA want to ruin these relationships and jeopardize what farmers are already doing?

These same exemptions or practices that won’t require a permit however only apply to farms that have been in operation since the 1970’s. That means many new, beginning farmers, the start-up CSA’s, and the local vegetable producers that are new to the scene are subject to the rule no matter what. They can’t be exempt, no matter what they do.

I know, the EPA has said that we are overreacting. That they won’t actually enforce their rule. They are trying to just make the definition more clear. But did you know that if the EPA doesn’t enforce the rule, other environmental groups such as HSUS, The Sierra Club and EarthJustice can, and knowing them, they will, sue the EPA for not enforcing it? Just because this administration of EPA says they won’t enforce it, doesn’t mean the next administration won’t either.

The Young Farmers & Ranchers group from the MN Farm Bureau dropped off 1400 postcards telling the EPA to ditch the rule!

The Young Farmers & Ranchers group from the MN Farm Bureau dropped off 1400 postcards telling the EPA to ditch the rule in Washington, D.C. last week!

Last week, on my trip to Washington, D.C. I was able to be part of a group that dropped off 1400 postcards from Minnesota farmers, community members, land owners and concerned citizens telling the EPA to #ditchtherule already! Many of our House members from Minnesota voted on #Hr5078 and we are so thankful for those that did! Now, it is time for not only the Senate to take action stopping the EPA, but also you! Remember, Congress makes the laws, not agencies with an agenda!

How can you help? There is still time to comment on their proposed rule. Let them know how it will affect you! Visit Ditch The Rule  and click on take action! Get on social media and Tweet, Instagram and post on Facebook using the hashtags #ditchtherule and #readthefineprint with your updates. Let the EPA know this is a complete overreach of their authority and as a citizen and landowner, you are not okay with it!

In farming, the cows have to get milked today, and the crops need to get picked when they are ready to harvest. We can’t wait 6 months for a permit from the EPA to say “yes” or “no” on something we’ve been doing for years. I don’t think any landowner can wait 6 months for a permit to mow their lawn before they’d get a fine from the city or county. Time to take action.

-Sara