You are never too old to learn something new

You are never too old to learn something new

David Berg - CEO

Monday, June 6 in Moorhead, five members of congress conducted what they called a “listening session” on field drainage systems, and the effects that these systems can have on flooding.  North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer hosted the session.  Also in attendance was the chair of the House Agriculture Committee Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry, G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania.  Representatives Kristi Noem of South Dakota, and Collin Peterson and Tim Walz of Minnesota also participated.

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USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides $50 million in the Red River Valley to utilize existing conservation programs.  The USDA Red River Initiative shares the cost of adding management systems on drainage structures through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.  This is one method used to enroll wetland areas that can hold water that might otherwise make flooding problems worse. 

The press release that went out ahead of the meeting said  “Members will be looking at the road blocks frustrating farmers as they try to make wider use of tile drainage, including the timeliness of USDA determinations and the ability to mitigate middle of field wetlands.  Drainage management practices that NRCS can cost-share on tile drainage and other end of field options to address water quantity and quality will also be discussed.”  All the members of congress on the panel vigorously spoke to the “road blocks frustrating farmers”.  There was a very healthy give-and-take between the panel and two different sets of speakers related to the benefits of field tiling, and also the regulatory hurdles that slow down or prevent farmers from utilizing these systems.

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The title of this article is “You are never too old to learn something new”.  This is a personal statement for me.  For years and years, I have seen field tiling expand across the American Crystal growing area.  I went with the simple (and incorrect) assumption that this was simply a way to either get in the field sooner in the spring, or to minimize the effects of a wet summer on crop production. 

What I learned today was that well-designed drainage systems can absolutely provide these benefits.  But, in addition, there is a long list of benefits for flood control and downstream water quality, which help thousands of people beside the farmer who installs the drain tile.  The most fascinating speaker (for me anyway) was Dr. Thomas Scherer, who is an Extension Specialist from NDSU who works in the area of drain tile.  Dr. Scherer presented a number of slides with very strong evidence about all the benefits of modern tiling systems.  His work is a good illustration of how good Extension work provides benefits for many people beyond the agriculture industry.

 The second group of speakers consisted of state NRCS administrators from North & South Dakota and Minnesota.  They spoke to the “roadblocks” that farmers have experienced in getting permits to install tile in their fields, and what they are trying to do to shorten these delays.  Congressman Peterson got a rise out of the audience when he told the administrators that some of the delays were “unacceptable” and that he would consider taking action in Washington if progress doesn’t take place soon.

Post Script:  Today’s meeting had nothing specific to do with the sugar program.  However, Kevin Price informs me that Congressman Thompson (from Pennsylvania) has not voted in favor of the sugar program in the past.  Before today’s meeting started, I welcomed him to the heart of the nation’s sugar production area, and asked him for his support going forward.  I guess my future is not in lobbying, because I didn’t get the response that I was looking for.  I’ll leave it to Kevin to keep working to convince the Congressman why the sugar program deserves his support!