Opinion: Water quality discussion shouldn’t require a scoreboard

Unfortunately, many of us have a tendency to treat our political process like a sporting event. Who won? Who lost? Who will come out on top when one side of an issue faces off against the other?Bruce Peterson
Instead of coming together to try and find practical solutions and develop meaningful policy, too much time is spent on political games and trying to figure out “winners” and “losers.”
Farmers found themselves the middle of one of these showdowns during the last legislative session when Gov. Dayton called for 50-foot buffers around all Minnesota waterways. Immediately, the political rhetoric kicked in and the media covered the buffer issue like game 7 of the World Series.
Believe me, the last thing farmers wanted was to play that game. We had fields to plant and livestock to take care of. We function much better in a corn field than we do in the field of politics.
It took a while, but the rhetoric surrounding the buffer issue eventually subsided enough where a meaningful dialogue could take place. I, along with several other farmer-led ag organizations, had several meetings with Gov. Dayton, his staff and other legislators about buffers.
We were able to reach a compromise on buffer legislation that, basically, calls for the continued local enforcement of existing buffer laws. The compromise also put a timetable on compliance and called for the development of maps to better determine which public ditches and waterways would benefit from buffers.
We wanted to reach a compromise that didn’t require a one-size-fits-all mandate and allowed farmers to continue making progress in the area of water quality by implementing conservation practices that are appropriate for their farm. I feel we achieved that.
However, immediately after the session ended, everyone was asking, who won? Instead, I wish people would ask, what’s next?
Everyone wants to protect water quality. Meaningful progress isn’t going to happen by pitting one group of Minnesotans against another.
Farmers need to continue making investments in research and on-farm initiatives that help them keep soil and other valuable nutrients on their fields and out of our waterways. We also need to ramp up our efforts in telling our own story and letting non-farmers know about the many things we’re already doing in the area of water quality.
Protecting water quality while maintaining a productive environment for farming isn’t a game. As we move forward, let’s do a better job at seeking solutions instead of seeking “victory.”

Bruce Peterson is a family farmer in Northfield and president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.