Farmers [Should] Do That

Discussion over on Facebook this morning about a District 27A candidate who believes farmers ought to be able to drain wetlands because they pay taxes on them (read the full post on Bluestem Prairie) led to a critique of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s new billboard campaign: Farmers Do That.

The focus is basically the same as that cringe-worthy South Dakota Corn Growers Association “True Environmentalists” campaign, but this one’s a little more straightforward to pick apart based on the concrete statements the billboards make coupled with an observation of the landscape surrounding them.

For example, in eastern Chippewa County, an area referred to by many who live here as “the black desert” for its complete lack of ground cover except during the growing season, this billboard appears:

MN Corn Growers Crop Residue Billboard

Credit: MN Corn Growers

It’s a heartening message, but it’s also one that, for the most part, rings false in many areas of the corn-bean-beet belt. In spring, huge swathes of bare agricultural land in southwestern MN shed so much moisture so quickly that dense fogs develop on otherwise sunny days. That same bare land under a spring deluge sheds plenty of soil, too, choking rivers and ditch-ified creeks with nutrient-rich run-off, harming aquatic life and polluting groundwater with nitrates, so that more and more municipalities in our region are forced to install community-wide reverse-osmosis systems to render their water safe to drink.

A second billboard in the “Farmers Do That” series features an image of a wet spot in a bean field coupled with a message about restoring wetlands to improve water quality.

Credit: MN Corn Growers

Credit: MN Corn Growers

I don’t know about you, but this looks more like “damn, I’d better tile that next fall” than a restored wetland. Perhaps what’s pictured is a work in progress, but with no prairie buffer strip between the crop and the wetland to catch soil and filter nutrients, it’s essentially a runoff-rich dead zone. Maybe there’ll be a few hermaphroditic frogs living in there, but there sure as heck isn’t suitable bird nesting habitat or native pollinator food sources.

The purpose of pointing all this out isn’t necessarily to slam the MN Corn Growers (OK, maybe a little)–the messages DO, after all, suggest better ways to farm. The problem is that the messages claim the good conservation practices of some farmers as common practice amongst all farmers, and, well, that just ain’t the case.

If the messaging works, and enough people believe that voluntary conservation practices are more widespread than they are (despite what’s clearly visible on the landscape and demonstrable through scientific data), then perhaps regulation to make the billboard-touted conservation practices mandatory (which the MN Corn Growers will, no doubt, lobby against) will be forestalled.

And that ain’t True Environmentalism.