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Rural GOP says Dayton wages 'war on agriculture'

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton listens to a reporter's question about budget negotiations at the Legislature on Thursday, May 11, 2017. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 3
Young visitors, lower right, look over the Minnesota Capitol rotunda Thursday, May 11, 2017. Overhead, an ornate chandelier operates to celebrate the state's 159th birthday. The chandelier is lit once a year on statehood day, but few other times. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 3
Young visitors look at a chandelier under the Minnesota Capitol dome on Thursday, May 11, 2017. The chandelier was lit on the 159th anniversary of Minnesota becoming the state. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 3

ST. PAUL — Rural Republican lawmakers say Minnesota's governor is waging a war on agriculture.

Many farm groups also object to some of Gov. Mark Dayton's stances, although may not use language that strong. A coalition of 18 farm groups and 10 county commissioners on Thursday, May 11, sent the governor and lawmakers a letter saying a Dayton clean water program, requiring plant buffers between cropland and water, needs to be delayed.

That followed a letter from another food and agriculture coalition strongly critical of a Dayton administration email saying a legislative provision is an attempt to "overrule" federal pesticide regulations.

No one has been more passionate on the issue than House Agriculture Finance Chairman Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake.

"I don't know why they want to go out and wage this war on agriculture," an emotional Hamilton said in a Thursday interview. "It's wrong."

Representing all

Dayton was equally passionate when asked about the Hamilton comment.

"My job is to represent the people of Minnesota, all the people of Minnesota," Dayton said. "I am not declaring war on anybody. That is just ridiculous."

The ag dispute is noteworthy not just because it affects rural Minnesota, but because normally non-controversial farm legislation is creating the dispute.

"If the ag bill is an indicator of how things are going right now, things are not going very vell," House Agriculture Policy Chairman Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, said.

Legislators face a May 22 adjournment deadline, the time when they are supposed to finish writing a $46 billion, two-year state budget.

3 issues

At least three ag issues grew into controversies Thursday.

One was Dayton's strongly held preference that farmers who want to use neonicotinoid insecticides, thought to be part of the reason that bees and other pollinators are on the decline, register with the state in advance.

"The protection is for our public," Dayton said. "This stuff is serious poison."

Senate Agriculture Chairman Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said that such a requirement "would be very burdensome on farmers." He compared the issue to requiring a homeowner to receive "verification from bureaucrats" before they can apply dandelion killer to a yard.

Executive Director Perry Aasness of the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council said that an email sent by Dayton's staff on the issue "is simply false and misleading."

Aasness said the legislative bill Dayton does not like only "reaffirms long-standing requirements that farmers must adhere to federal labeling laws." The bill does not weaken protections, he said.

An issue that upset Dayton was the Republican-written ag bill's failure to raise fees on pesticide companies.

"Monsanto can't afford to pay another $75?" Dayton asked. "It gets absurd."

Hamilton said that the administration sought more money for a pesticide-related cleanup fund, but lawmakers never received information they sought about why the increase is needed, so did not grant the request.

Buffer law

There also is a long-standing dispute about the buffer law, Dayton's signature clean-water initiative. He said he will veto any bill containing a buffer change.

Dayton and lawmakers received a letter Thursday from ag groups and county commissioners saying that the law needs to be delayed because "it is causing confusion among both farmers and local government officials" and with farmers in the field s now, there is too little time to meet the fall deadline for buffers to be installed.

Most rural Republican representatives on Thursday sent out news releases asking Dayton to accept a buffer delay. "Throughout the process, the governor has outright ignored farmers' concerns, and isn't willing to even come to the table to listen," Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said. Buffer law author Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said that among changes needed is a provision to help local governments take control of buffer enforcement. He suggests delaying implementation for a year, to 2018.

Dayton will hear no talk of buffer changes, this year at least.

"If there are real world problems with it, we will come back and deal with real world problems next session," the governor said, blaming problems on a few disgruntled landowners. "This is a public safety issue," Dayton said. "This is the people of Minnesota who deserve clean water and think they are getting it."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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