Maxed Out

“Give to the Max” is an annual ritual where folks voluntarily provide tax deductible donations to non-profits deemed worthy of our true, deep-seated investments. Each year we choose among the many available options, then divide our $200 between them in various chunks. Certainly our contributions are not sustaining by their small stature, and are intended more of a monetary vote of confidence for a job well done.

In the past years our choices haven’t been difficult. We made donations to the organizations we were either linked with, or felt quite strongly about, and divvied up the cash.

This year more thought and discussion actually went into our donations. For example, we support both Land Stewardship Project and Minnesota Public Radio with “sustaining” monthly contributions. We balked, though, with a couple of organizations we’ve had long associations we feel have let us down. One, initially an advocacy group, has seemingly veered far off course from its initial purpose, and the other has taken a stance on an water quality issue we simply cannot back.

A well planned buffer strip near Montevideo.

A well planned buffer strip near Montevideo.

This is one of the two major farm organizations, and the smaller of the two national agricultural policy umbrellas. On a sunny and windy day last spring the area field woman and county president came to the door seeking a membership. As they stood in the kitchen I offered my objections to their organization’s public stance on the buffer strip controversy in Minnesota, which surrounded a stance by our governor, Mark Dayton, who was suggesting that the state legislate mandatory buffer strips on its waterways. If you’ve canoed the southwestern Minnesota rivers, or even stood on the bridge in Prescott, WI, to see the difference in siltation loads between contributions from the upriver Minnesota River contrasted with that of the clear water St. Croix, one could safely suggest there are issues with drainage and ditching over the breadth of the farmed prairie.

A winter blow ... what will become

A winter blow … what will become “snirt.”

At the annual county meeting of the farm organization the previous fall, buffers and water quality issues were raised. One of organization’s stateside lobbyists noted that the organization was working with the other major farm organization to address what it considered an “unfair” legislative package. This raised some momentary hackles, and we left realizing that the only farm organization that was directly addressing soil and water conservation issues was Land Stewardship Project. When Dayton came forth with his announcement, both of the large, mainstream farm organizations sang in concert about how the proposed legislation was unfair and too costly for their farmer members despite cost-share funds through the federal USDA farm program.

Along a roadside after the snow melted last spring ... a huge contribution of dirt from the adjacent field.

Along a roadside after the snow melted last spring … a huge contribution of dirt from the adjacent field.

When this was mentioned to the two in our kitchen, both said the “one size fits all” approach … meaning the publicized 50 ft. buffer on either side of a ditch … wasn’t a proven methodology and was unfair to farmers in terms of cost and lost production acres. I argued that the bill, as written, provided plenty of leeway that took into account soil types and terrain, and that the “one size fits all” was a gross misrepresentation of Dayton’s bill. In the end a check was written for the annual membership fee, with the caveat that if the organization didn’t back off their stance and cooperate with the passage of buffer legislation, the organization had received our last membership donation.

Just a few days prior to “Give to the Max” day their membership magazine arrived with contributions from the  organization’s president and two legislative lobbyists, all providing arguments against buffers. They also joined in the chorus that private, on-farm drainage ditches shouldn’t be part of the buffer legislation. Say what? Private, on-farm drainage ditches are a significant part of the problem. So are the works by some “innovative” farmers who each fall cut shallow depressions in the low areas of their cropping fields for quick spring runoff drainage that are too shallow to qualify as legal drainage ditches that would be required to have grass buffers.

A shallow cut to circumvent drainage laws.

A shallow cut to circumvent drainage laws.

Obviously, no money went their direction on Give to the Max from our meager savings. And, when the county president and the field woman next appear at our doorstep, they will be sent on their way empty handed.

In March, winds whipped up the unprotected soils north of Clara City ... you can see the

In March, winds whipped up the unprotected soils north of Clara City … you can see the “skyline” in the background.

We are farming the “last frontier” of tillable soils planet-wide. Meanwhile, we watch our soils blow and wash away. Little if any effort nor investment is being made to hold these human-sustaining soils in place. Very little conversion to no-till. Fewer winter cover crops and very few fields with residue left standing post-harvest for protection from wind erosion. A nearly complete, prairie-wide fall plow-down in what is called “the black desert” here in the countryside. More patterned tiling. And little adherence and oversight of current buffer laws  … coupled with a strong stance against common sense legislation that might make a difference in the future. An environmental free pass for industrialized farming continues without any voice of reason from either a water quality advocacy group or one of the two major farm organizations.

At Prescott, WI, where clear water from the St. Croix confluences with the runoff waters of the MIssissippi .... a silt load carried some 30 miles downriver from the Minnesota River, and one that eventually will dump into Lake Pepin.

At Prescott, WI, where clear water from the St. Croix confluences with the runoff waters of the MIssissippi …. a silt load carried some 30 miles downriver from the Minnesota River, and one that eventually will dump into Lake Pepin.

Amazing, although hardly surprising. While we realize it is unrealistic to expect our meager contributions to have mattered monetarily, or that a such a small contribution would have influenced either organization toward acceptance of our philosophical and soil saving goals, at least we can feel comfort with where we spent our Give to the Max dollars.

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

One thought on “Maxed Out

  1. Pingback: Maxed Out | Listening Stones Farm

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