Debate on NRD’s Rule 5 changes may have silver lining

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Proposed rule changes involving the amount of and methods with which nitrogen is applied to area farms stirred emotional debate in recent weeks, and rightly so.
There is perhaps no one single issue that touches the lives, livelihoods and health of local citizens as much as soil and water quality. Thus it came as no surprise that a Upper Big Blue Natural Resource District proposal to require the use of inhibitors as a means of reducing the loss of nitrogen in soil touched a nerve.
A public hearing in August and later NRD board meeting both drew hundreds of area farmers, sending a loud, united voice of opposition to the proposed Rule 5 changes. Producers were civil, yet clearly outraged at what many called a drastic plan to address a complex problem which was years in the making.
Listening in to the facts, figures and emotions shared during those meetings was educational in and of itself. By some estimates, the NRD proposal if approved would have cost between $30 and $80 an acre, adding up to a potential economic impact of more than $80 million a year. This issue is about far more than dollars and sense, however, and in fact farmers understand that at some point a real solution may come with a significant price tag. This was not it!
What came through loud and clear is that area farmers desperately want to take good care of the soil and water that makes this region one of the most productive in the world. What they oppose was a proposal that lacked any scientific data, economic analysis or enforcement mechanism proving that this approach would help reach the end goal.
NRD board members, in the end, had to know that this particular approach was doomed to fail. However, what this emotional debate did do was send a shot across the bow that regulations, in some form, should be expected, later if not sooner. Many farmers said they want to work with, not against, the board toward that end, which is a positive sign.
What’s important now is that the decision to send this issue back to the NRD’s Water Committee not be considered a kick down the proverbial road. Many farmers offered their time and farms for use in researching possible options that could help protect our natural resources while also respecting producers’ ability to make a living during these challenging times.
We should hope and expect to see a detailed plan of action in the coming months as to how that study will be conducted and when results will be made public. IF that is done, this process, though painful, will have been a step forward.
Kurt Johnson

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