The Land Stewardship Project (LSP) group is once again spreading misinformation, thus creating fear while unfairly criticizing good people. This time, LSP is trying to drive their agenda through a “Dear Friend” letter dated March, 2015. We hope this response clarifies some of their misinformation and leads us all to more productive solutions for everyone’s sake.
The topic of their misinformation is Riverview’s Baker Dairy, which is a proposed dairy farm in Stevens County. The facility would be owned by locals from the region and would provide significant economic development to an area that has a median income of $27,299, according to the U.S. Census. Baker Township has a population density of seven people per square mile, identified by the Census as “very low.” Roughly 25 percent of the people who live there were below the poverty level in 2009 compared to the state as a whole, in which 8 percent were below the poverty level. The median age of men in the region is 65.5; for women it is 75.2. This is a part of the state that relies on agriculture and bringing dairy cows to the township will support other agriculture businesses and local vendors, add jobs, income and vitality.
The LSP letter writer states that Riverview’s Baker Dairy would use water at a rate that is “absolutely unsustainable.” In reality, Riverview’s Baker Dairy water use estimates are 100 million gallons per year. That is equivalent to the annual use of 685 households of four, according to EPA. Minnesota’s DNR has approved water appropriations of 226 million gallons from the existing wells already drilled for an ethanol plant that was never built. So, the dairy farm would use less than 50 percent of what DNR appropriated.
The letter writer also claims that the handling of 75 million gallons of manure wouldn’t provide safeguards to people, their drinking water, or local lakes and streams. Using proper manure injection methods employed at their other dairy farms will protect the 0.2 square miles of surface water in Baker Township. Second, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency only issues a permit for a dairy to operate if, and ONLY if, the dairy has the appropriate amount of land area to apply manure at agronomic rates. NO permit would be issued unless this regulation was met.
“The odors, dust and noxious gases of a facility of this size would be overwhelming, even dangerous,” the letter also states. Yet Minnesota has strict hydrogen sulfide emission regulations. Practices must be in place to ensure the facility does NOT exceed those levels, which are stricter than those of other states. In fact, the dairy facility plans include covers over all manure basins.
Another allegation in the letter is that other Riverview dairy farms are causing road problems. The practices at their other sites indicate otherwise. All of the other Riverview farms work closely with township and county officials to take care of roads. Some would argue increased road traffic is good because it means economic development in the area and kids in the local schools, in addition to people patronizing the local restaurants and other small businesses.
The writer also makes false claims that these farms drive out the “independent livestock farms,” while there is no evidence to back that up. Farmers have to continue to find ways to be economically, environmentally and socially sustainable. Creating a new business like Riverview’s Baker Dairy is one example of how dairy farmers are finding ways to achieve this important goal. Other farmers find other ways to accomplish this goal. What is important is that we stick to the facts, don’t discriminate and treat people with respect in their decisions.
The writer calls Riverview Baker Dairy an “assault on the land and the people”. Yet, these are real people who take real pride in caring for the animals and land while producing a wholesome product, and are adversely affected by the insensitive and misleading comments made by the letter writer.
LSP is encouraging people to contact their legislators with a message of “keeping their hands off local democracy and local control.” There is no piece of legislation being proposed or pushed that would deter local democracy and control. This dairy, like others of any size, must have approval from the local township, county and the state through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Input and comments are encouraged in each level of approval process.
There is, however, a proposal to change the role of the MPCA Citizens’ Board. This board was set up when MPCA was in its infancy nearly 40 years ago. Today, no other state agency has a Citizens’ Board to make final decisions. This is an extra cost to everyone involved. If the Citizens’ Board role is changed as in the proposed legislation, local citizens should and would continue to have the right to comment locally, while the current MPCA Citizen’s Board doesn’t necessarily even have a member from a local area weighing in on decisions. We would argue that right belongs to local people and to the experts at the MPCA, not a group of citizens who assemble in St. Paul.
If the organizers of LSP are interested in bringing people together, they would do better through respecting people and having open dialogue. This would serve a more constructive purpose. Allowing the local people of Baker Township to find common ground and make an informed decision based on facts is the more respectful way to proceed.
In fact, this type of meeting occurred just a couple of months ago. The meeting was titled, the Minnesota Dairy Growth Summit and the theme was “Stronger Together – Dairy Growth is Good for Minnesota.” Some leaders of LSP were present at the meeting where productive dialogue occurred with leaders of the university, government, industry and farmers. The consensus of the group was that we can and should have responsible growth of dairy in Minnesota because it benefits farmers, consumers, industry, environment and the economics of the state.
We ask LSP and other organizations to come to the table and hear the facts about today’s agriculture practices, find common ground and pursue productive solutions.
Minnesota Milk Producers Association
Dairy Farmer Board of Directors
The entire board of directors of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, all dairy farmers from different parts of the state, felt it was necessary to respond not only for Riverview Farms, but for all the dairy farmers in Minnesota. As dairy farmer leaders, we believe constructive, productive dialogue is needed in this debate for the sake of all our dairy farmers. We hope you join us in this effort.