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These are tough time in agriculture. Farmers in Winona County and beyond have experienced several years of below cost of production crop and livestock prices, ever changing consumer demands and in 2019, a historically wet spring that has delayed planting and slowed crop growth. In the face of these pressures, farmers everywhere are looking to make changes to their farms to ensure that their farm remains sustainable for decades to come.

Glen Groth mug

Groth

For some farmers, those changes take the place of a new source of income such as custom farming activities. Others have added value to what they produce by pursuing organic certification or direct marketing opportunities. Some farmers have had to make hard choices to discontinue unprofitable farming enterprises to focus on those with greater returns. But one option that is available to farmers in every other county in the region has been off the table for 21 years for Winona County’s farmers: the choice to expand livestock farms beyond 1,500 animal units (au).

As livestock producers look at how to compete in an economically challenging environment, expansion on one site is perennially the most popular option. This is especially true for dairy farmers due to the unique logistics involved with running a dairy operation. For farmers, growth means generating enough income to bring other family members into the farm, for others an expanded feedlot means being able to care for all of their animals on one site. Some farms need additional animals to be able to cash-flow facility upgrades that are more animal and environmentally friendly and others just need more income to remain financially stable. But in Winona County, a decades-old decision made in the county board room has impacted decisions made by farm families around the kitchen table.

It comes as news to no one that there are a wide variety of opinions on the topics, even within the farming community. There are many people concerned with the impacts on small farms by the growth of other farms, some worry about water quality and yet others have a fundamentally different vision for how our economy should work. However, if there is validity to all of these concerns, why have supporters of the cap been so afraid of bringing the topic up for discussion?

What is often misunderstood is that the macro-economic trends shaping Winona County’s farms are coming from far outside our borders. Capping the size of livestock farms in the county doesn’t create breathing room for smaller farms, but does limit the ability of other farms to adapt to the forces applying pressure to the industry. If family farms that are in the position to do so are not allowed to make moves to remain competitive, the only players left in agriculture will be the titans of agribusiness.

Water quality seems to be at the center of much of the debate surrounding agriculture in the county and beyond. Many people are unaware of the measures today’s farms are taking to protect water quality that were not common place in previous decades. When the cap was established in 1998, precision nutrient application was in its infancy, spreading manure on frozen and snow covered ground was routine because long term manure storage was uncommon and most farmers still relied on intensive tillage to get a good crop. In 2019, it is standard practice for farmers to apply nutrients and manure at different rates based on soil tests taken across a field to provide the correct nutrition for crops while avoiding over application. Few, if any, newly constructed livestock barns are built without some sort of manure storage that allows farmers to avoid application when the potential for runoff is high. Today’s manure application equipment has also evolved so the impact on neighboring landowners in the form of odor and road traffic is reduced. Meanwhile, farmers have come to recognize the value of holding manure nutrients in place with cover crops and reducing tillage.

Times have changed, and the farm families of Winona County deserve to have the issue revisited. This isn’t about advancing one family’s ambitions or promoting one model for agricultural prosperity. This is about allowing farmers the freedom to make the choices they need to succeed in a changing environment. If the discussion takes place in a collaborative manner, with input from agriculture and members of the community, we can form a plan that does the following:

  • Allows family farms to grow their livestock farms
  • Preserves our water quality
  • Maintains and expands economic opportunity for all farms
  • Emphasizes the importance of family farms

But first, our county board must act. Contact your county commissioner and ask them to direct resources to study the issue, form a committee to consider and then present all sides of the issue to the public and the county board, and then hold listening sessions before placing the issue on the county board agenda. Hopefully, through this process we can find away to move forward so that Winona County’s farm families are no longer shackled by a policy that has placed a limit on their future. It’s time for the conversation.

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Glen Groth is President of the Winona County Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

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(21) comments

Ia

If only we citizens in the county could have as thoughtful and sensitive of a discussion about this issue as Mr. Groth presented in his editorial, we could find solutions to make everyone happy.

Edward Teach

Spot on but, unfortunately, those in Winona County who are perpetually addicted to outrage don't want to have a reasonable discussion.

jdinfinity

Tax funds eh? Makes sense. Illustrating that the reason for these scumbags want the cap removed, at the expense of our water, is simply to make a few bucks. Make perfect sense. Thereby exposing the big ag cronies for exactly what they really are. Thieves.

Edward Teach

...and the rank hypocrisy continues. For once your Twin Cities-based Land Stewardship Project (LSP) Overlords have actually stumbled upon a true maxim, that government payments are truly taxpayer investments. The government doesn't have any many. They have OUR money. Where they miss the mark and where the hypocrisy lies is that your idols at LSP have, since 2001, received AT LEAST $5,457,316 in government grants. Do you really think every taxpayer agrees with the radical class conflict message of an organization based that is far from local and based outside of Winona County? If you and your LSP Overlords are going to open a new line of attack, at least have your own house in order.

lemon drop

Again awesome piece Glen. Haters are going to spew their LSP hate.

Paul Harvey

Brilliant piece Glen? Wanting a government subsidized "family" farm to participate in the current over supply of milk so the entire industry can continue to suffer. No mention of the USDA "tax funded" margins that socialize the farming industry. While lemon drop wont support programs to help those in need she turns a blind eye on the continuous tax funded "government programs" that make farming affordable. The fact is our water is the most important natural resource we have and adding more liquid manure to our environment regardless of "regulations" is harmful. Yet the beat goes on.......

jdinfinity

I'm not the one that needs help. I don't prey on the community for a quick buck at the expense of their welfare and well being. U and the others seeking big ag corporate interests for such reasons are criminals, no different than a common huckster racketeer.

martin

jd +1

lemon drop

JD i hope this just highlights the help you so dearly need. Please get help before something happens

Edward Teach

[thumbup]

jdinfinity

See. These are the people a discussion like this brings out. People like S*ankHunt42. People that would seek to silence or marginalize the voices of the community. With seething condescendence no less. You are wrong S*ank. Any person to be directly impacted by a further degredation in water quality, ie, the citizens of this county, have every right to speak up in favor of the cap and against big ag. Oh wait. That's right. We did that already. So furthermore, why should we waste the time and money of the community by having a 'factual scientific discussion'? When it will just be more smoke and mirrors along with deliberately manipulated data, trying to dupe the public into accepting something that is not in their best interests? No brainer. We told the frac to get out of here, and now we're doing the same with big ag bullies as well....

LMBSJR

I wonder who you mean when you say that we the people stood against large dairy (Daley's project). I wonder if you mean the 3 LSP members who spoke against it and where allowed to vote it down anyway. Because I think the people of this county spoke their opinion when many of the townships and city counsels of the county wrote letters of support for this project saying it would help the economy and the environment of surrounding areas. But to bad the voice of the county can be muted so easily by so few otherwise such a project may be under way already.

jdinfinity

This article was a drively crafted sales pitch. Belongs in the gutter. Or under a rock with the rest of the corporate low lifes. Anyways, well I'm glad that people are looking out for the welfare of the county. LSP, rural farmers, local Winonans and so forth. And that opinions like Groth, LD, and Teach are plainly known not to be speaking for the best interests of this community. And that those opinions, do not lay creedence or obtain, counter to the safety and welfare of said community.

SkankHunt42

Someone is an angry elf aren’t we JD? You come on here and slander good people that you don’t know. People that simply want a factual scientific discussion on this, and not a community forum. The opinions of the agriculturally negligent, and under qualified citizens of Winona should not be the determining factor on whether or not an animal cap is truly necessary or even beneficial in this area.

Edward Teach

[thumbup]

lemon drop

Great piece Glenn, unfortunately it falls on the plate of land stewardship, sorry the "county board". The few have the power in this case. You can bring facts, figures and science into it, but in the long run it means squat to them, only farms of a certain size and that's it, regardless of what anybody does. You might as well try to convince Joanna, Doug, and whomever else at LSP. Its going to get you the same result. "Respect the Cap". Which was based on nothing to begin with. Great government we have here.

jdinfinity

Furthermore.....All that smoke and mirrors you throw up in this article Mr. Groth, to dupe the masses, should be criminal in its' negligent and deliberately obfuscated manner. With actual significant environmental impacts currently obtaining. Only to be exacerbated from the revoking of such a cap? Not just for Daley Farms? Would plainly be detrimental to the health and welfare of the environment, and the citizens of the community. Yes. Doing harm to the waterways and its' systems? And tricking people into believing it's safe? Should be illegal. And people like the vermin that you are, should be held accountable for the ruinous landscapes, polluted water, and constant ill effects that your big corporate interests inflcit, while in constant disregard for our local and rural livelihood.

Edward Teach

Looks like SOMEONE purchased a thesaurus.

jdinfinity

Umm....Yes...I believe we did Mr. Big Ag-Spokesperson Salesman? Bring it up for discussion? And we all sat down in a room at the Tau center? Remember that big guy? and said, 'NO' as a community together? Finally. And? Definitively. Why?? Perhaps maybe, JUST FRIGGIN' MAYBE, for the one kinda BIG (ONLY) reason you listed. WATER. Which is a pretty darn good one, at that. It's a waste of it. It's polluting to our land and water supply. And it's THE most legitimate of reasons that big corporate shenanigans like this crapola shouldn't be allowed in our backyards. Especially on any mass scale.

Moya

Still yammering on still I see lil guy. Clean water is essential for us as humans and the environment that makes up the habitable parts of our earth, I hope we can all agree on that. But what you seem to not understand is that we all in the ag community also want our water to be clean too, and not be contributors to mass nitrate pollution into the water table and beyond. This is detrimental not just to you and yours but to me and mine if the water supply is to be disregarded as a nitrate dumping ground. We do not farm like it is the 1980’s anymore. So please stop assuming that all farmers, especially the large animal farmers, are completely ignorant to what the laws are on nutrient management to prevent pollution. Yes having guidelines and restrictions on animal units and nutrient management are very important. But setting a choke hold on animal agriculture with a cap to prevent generational growth of family farms deeply rooted in the community, especially in the tumultuous agriculture market we are in, will most likely not end until animal agriculture is all but eliminated from the county. Capping agrarians now is no different in my eyes than how kings of old prevented peasants from being able to own their land and pursue advancements in agriculture for the betterment of their community and themselves.

jdinfinity

"There are many people concerned with the impacts on small farms by the growth of other farms, some worry about water quality"....."However, if there is validity to all of these concerns, why have supporters of the cap been so afraid of bringing the topic up for discussion?" -Groth

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