A new federal program aimed at cutting pollution in rivers and lakes has some good ideas for encouraging farmers to adopt better land-use practices.
Unfortunately, the program as presented has a fatal flaw.
The project, led by the USDA and EPA, will be tested in Minnesota and Gov. Mark Dayton has signed a memorandum of understanding to develop rules for the program.
Minnesota was chosen because of the Minnesota and Upper Mississippi rivers’ impact on the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
The goal is on target: Farmers would pledge to manage their lands in ways that reduce soil erosion and cut fertilizer, pesticide and manure runoff, through things like low tillage techniques and adding buffers between fields and rivers.
But many of the practices — such as buffer strips — are already required by law or are well-known best-management practices for agriculture.
If the program simply helped encourage more farmers to use best practices it would be a success.
But the program gives far too much away to gain participation. Farmers who agree to the guidelines and are certified would be protected from new water-quality requirements for the next 10 years.
The chance for new regulations under the Clean Water Act are more and more likely as a growing body of scientific evidence points to farm practices and farm drainage as a major contributor of water degradation.
One area coming under intense focus is farm drainage and the growing belief that it is responsible for sending too much water too quickly into rivers — causing bank and ravine erosion.
State and federal officials should reconsider giving an exemption from regulation in exchange for participation.
Providing financial and technical incentives to encourage participation — which the program does — makes sense. Giving landowners a 10-year safe haven from new standards and regulations doesn’t.
— The Free Press (Mankato)