As Bluestem reads about the reaction to Governor Dayton's vegetative buffer proposal, we're struck by the sincerity of the stories being told about farmers' intense affection for conservation.
Take, for example, the story told in Minnesota Corn Growers President Bruce Peterson in Farmers are losing the public perception battle. It's not that farmers don't practice conservation, Peterson says, it's just that non-farmers' perceptions and knowledge of conservation is somehow flawed.
If only farmers could communicate better, those perceptions would vanish like the morning dew.
A similar narrative governs the local guide for Minnesota House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) and freshman state representative Jeff Backer as they explore the ethanol plant in Morris, Minnesota. In Kim Ukura's article in the Morris Sun Tribune, Local business leaders share story of ethanol with legislators, the story of this good news about corn growing is shared:
Miller added that the food versus fuel debate over the use of corn is also misleading. Ethanol production uses about 30 to 35 percent of corn produced in the Uniteid States, while the rest is either fed to cattle or exported.
"We're not tilling up more ground to make more corn for ethanol demand — our farmers are becoming more and more efficient," said Miller.
Remember, it's not public relations or propaganda anymore, it's story telling.
New study confirms perceptions
That story should come as something of a surprise to researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose findings are shared in a report by Minnesota Public Radio's Elizabeth Dunbar in Study: Minn. converted more wetlands than any other state when crop prices spiked:
Corn and soybean prices went sky high between 2008 and 2012, and so did the number of acres that went under the plow in Minnesota and the rest of the country, according to a new study.
About 250,000 acres, or nearly 400 square miles, of Minnesota land was converted into row crops during that period. Most of it was grassland, but 25,000 acres were wetlands — more than any other state. And 13,000 acres of forests were converted — the second largest forest conversion in the country.
The researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison used satellite data from three different sources to analyze land conversion. The study was published Thursday in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
"In the Midwest we saw a lot of croplands expanding outside the traditional corn belt area, and Minnesota in particular was a key hot spot of land conversion," said Tyler Lark, a university graduate student and the study's lead author. "Much of the conversion came at the cost of natural ecosystems."
Converting forests, wetlands and grasslands into row crops has raised concerns in Minnesota and elsewhere for two reasons. First, farming practices can degrade water quality. . . .
The researchers aren't the first to point out the land conversion, but they used data that allowed them to determine how much of the converted land had not been used for crops in at least the past four decades. In Minnesota's case, 22,000 acres that were converted to cropland between 2008 and 2012 hadn't been used for that purpose in recent history.
In addition, the study found that converted land was often considered "marginal," meaning previously farmers hadn't wanted to plant on it. . . .
Surely, as farmers tell their stories, all of that data will simply disappear from the public's awareness. Better check out this map before the story tellers erase it from public memory:
Public funds in private hands may aid in shaping perceptions
Indeed, HF779, which would establish an Agriculture Research, Education, Extension, and Technology Transfer Board, will be dedicating $2.4 million to ag education, some of which will go "leadership" education, wherein ag leaders will no doubt learn more about communicating away the public's perceptions.
Of course, that's just a drop in the bucket as part of the $18,750,000 in fiscal year 2016 and $18,750,000 in fiscal year 2017 that are to be transferred from the general fund to the board. If you liked the IRRRB, you're going to completely adore this entity. Unlike the IRRRB or the Lessard-Sams Legacy Council, there aren't any legislators on the board to help oversee the spending of that $37.5 million over two years (and that's just the first two years).
Indeed, with the exception of three non-voting seats for the Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture, the Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences at the University of Minnesota, and one person representing the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, the voting members of the board represent farm organizations, commodity councils, the forest industry and the agriculture industry.
We know of no other board in Minnesota where public money is simply transferred over to private hands that will select projects for research and "education" purposes, but perhaps one exists somewhere.
We're not sure why funding for ag education and research can't simply to allocated to the University's ag school and MNSCU, with some under-served farm management education programs being transferred to the MDA, rather that handing a pot of money to private organizations to decide.
It's pure pork in more ways than one.
We've heard from reliable sources that suggest that supporters of other legislation--such renewable energy groups seeking dollars for HF 536/ SF 517 (which "will create production-based incentives for renewable chemicals, advanced biofuels, and biomass thermal energy") had to agree to support the Transfer Board. [Update 4/9: we're told that while Hamilton floated this horsetrade in negotiations, the final agreement did not include any sort of compromise related to the Transfer Board. Waiting on confirmation].
Coin toss to see if the pork transfer board ends up being called the Hamilton board by the time the dude retires from the legislature. We can think of no better legacy for the Christiansen Farms employee.
Images: An ethanol plant manager in Morris (left) tells Majority Leader Joyce Peppin (center) and Representative Jeff Backer (right) about corn, ethanol and cattle feed (above). This map by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers represents the amount of new cropland expansion as compared to existing cropland in 2008. Areas in red are hot spots where the amount of cropland more than doubled between 2008 and 2012. Courtesy of Tyler Lark & MPR (below).
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