FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — First it was an effort to keep agriculture runoff out of the state’s waters by the use of plant buffers, then last week it was a restriction on the use of some pesticides.
Many of Minnesota’s farmers and farm organizations are not happy with Gov. Mark Dayton, who began both efforts without what farmers say was adequate consultation. Many say they agree with Dayton’s desire to clean up pollution and protect bees, but disagree with how he approaches agriculture-related issues.
“I thought we did involve the farmer,” Dayton said at the Minnesota State Fair Tuesday when asked about farmers’ complaints.
Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, a Dayton appointee, said that a 15-member board will advise the administration on how to implement a governor’s executive order aimed at reducing the use of pesticides that could hurt bees and other animals that pollinate crops.
The pesticide executive order produced strong reactions from some in farm country, especially House Republicans who Democrat Dayton said get upset with many things he does.
“Once again, instead of collaborating and partnering with farmers and agriculture stakeholders, Gov. Dayton has plowed ahead with his own plan and blindsided everyone in the ag community,” said state House Agriculture Finance Chairman Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, usually one of the least partisan lawmakers.
Sen. Vicki Jensen, D- Owatonna, was biting in her criticism of the governor.
“If Gov. Dayton wants to have the state stop use of neonicotinoid pesticides, that’s one thing. But to overreach like this and put it on farmers unilaterally without using legislative process, I can understand why farmers are outraged by how this governor is bringing this forward,” she said. “Farmers are invested in protecting pollinators. They need pollinators to grow the food, but they want solutions to be science-based and something they can comply with. This just seems like throwing an idea out there and then figuring it out later. Governing like that impacts lives. We’re supposed to have processes for this.”
An official of the Democratic-leaning Minnesota Farmers’ Union was not as harsh, but said his organization also would like more say before farm-related orders are issued.
“We appreciate it when we can be at the table instead of being on the table,” said Thom Petersen, Farmers’ Union government relations director.
The pesticide controversy piled on top of the buffer issue for farmers, Peterson said. “I think he needs to continue to build a bridge. I think there is a little bit of fatigue out there with the buffer piece.”
Petersen watched Tuesday as Dayton asked Minnesotans to pledge to work toward better water quality, including adding buffers between crops and water.
“There is a lot of confusion still, and a lot of things to be worked out,” Petersen said about the buffer issue that has been debated for two years.
On the pesticide order, Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, disagreed with Dayton’s “unilateral” executive order.
“This plan will add layers of bureaucracy to farming, an industry essential to the health of our state’s economy,” she said.
The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association issued a statement saying Dayton mishandled the pesticide order.
“We are troubled the governor has politicized this issue and didn’t consult with affected producers,” association President Theresia Gillie said.
Dayton said Republicans are trying to turn the water quality and pesticide issues into “us vs. them.”
He said farm groups will have a seat on the pesticide task force.
A Republican lawmaker, Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska, was chief legislative negotiator behind the buffer law that passed in 2015 and was revised this year.