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Gubernatorial candidate gets lesson on buffers at Northfield farm

By Philip Weyhe

As the 2018 candidates for Minnesota governor line up, members of the state’s agricultural community are looking to get in their ears early.

Bruce Peterson, who owns and operates Far-Gaze Farms east of Northfield with his brothers Chris and Brian, welcomed Democratic gubernatorial candidate state Rep. Paul Thissen to the family’s land Wednesday. On a cold, snowy/rainy day, Peterson provided a mini tour of the several-thousand-acre operation, pointing out cover crops and buffer strips along the way.

“It’s just a way to get them out and educate them on some of the issues we’re dealing with,” said Peterson, who is a director of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “A way to talk about some of our concerns.”

Corn Growers organized tours of seven Minnesota farms for seven governor candidates: Erin Murphy in Cannon Falls, Chris Coleman in Cannon Falls, Keith Downey in Plato, Tim Walz, Phillip Parrish and Rebecca Otto in Madelia, Matt Dean in Raymond and Thissen in Northfield.

Throughout Wednesday’s visit and tour, Thissen asked several questions about current farming conditions, the year’s yield and success/failures in complying with buffer law. Thissen, who represents Minneapolis in the House of Representatives, said visits like the one to Far-Gaze Farms are important for decision-making at the Legislature.

“It’s always great to get out and hear from people doing the work to help form your opinions,” he said. “And getting a sense of the variation of how buffers go in and the need for flexibility. And just understanding the business of farming.”

“It’s been great,” he said of the day. “I’ve been thrilled to get out and talk to people.”

Peterson led the majority of discussion, sharing information on the farm, its successes and biggest challenges. A few major topic areas spiked deeper conversation. Peterson noted the Ag2School tax credit, passed by the Legislature in spring 2017, provides some comfort with the upcoming schools referendum.

“A big issue we’ve been pushing for is the tax credit on agricultural land to deal with school bond issues,” he said. “It makes me sleep a little easier knowing we have the tax credit if [the referendum] passes.”

Another area of interest was ethanol — the grain (corn) alcohol, which can be blended with gasoline. Peterson noted the Far-Gaze Farm owners have shares in a co-op ethanol plant in Little Falls, along with about 500 others.

He said plants often have are difficulties receiving necessary permits. Minnesota Corn Growers Senior Public Policy Director Amanda Bilek elaborated.

“The plant (in Little Falls) is producing normal butanol, acetone, bio-based chemicals. It’s a huge worldwide market.” she said. “Getting these projects located and built here is a challenge.”

Thissen agreed it’s an economy worth bolstering.

“Seems like that’s an answer for greater Minnesota,” he said. “The more we can do that.”

Touring some of the Far-Gaze farmland, the focus was on buffers. The Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton instituted a law, calling for all public waterways in the state to receive a buffer from potentially harmful chemical processes. Farmers were the primary group affected, needing to build grass or other buffers between their crops and nearby waterways.

On the tour, Peterson pointed to a few areas where buffers were implemented or already existed on the farm property. He also pointed to a grass waterway, which he noted requires a buffer, despite containing no visible water. He said many in the public might be surprised the feature is considered a public waterway, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“There’s no water, for one,” Thissen agreed. “Yeah, that’s eye opening. I didn’t have that in my head.”

After the tour, Peterson said he “wasn’t surprised that Thissen was surprised” about the wide-ranging definition of public waterways. Those are the things agricultural experts can note when they welcome policymakers to the ground level.

“It’s a way for them to see what we’re seeing,” Peterson said.