Who doesn’t have potatoes in their pockets

It isn’t surprising that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has declared once again that chemical intensive industrial agriculture will get a pass — that there will be “no significant environmental impacts” in the Pineland Sands from the latest phase of forest-to-field conversions. The money that floats the coffers of many a legislator in our state is pumped out of the ground and onto potatoes first, and this makes DNR’s choice to avoid any further environmental inquiries politically safe. As we say locally, it’s hard to find someone of influence who doesn’t have potatoes in their pockets.

Of course DNR will state this was only about one inconsequential 300-acre development, but many citizens know better by now. After 30-plus years of watching the pines disappear 300 acres at a time, we all know this isn’t done by accident. This is the way corporations avoid scrutiny. And this is the way that state agencies protect their budgets from legislators who will protect their campaign donors. This is quite a familiar theme for those paying attention to the issues of Line 3, mining, CAFOs and prisons.

The problems of nitrate and pesticide contamination of drinking water, along with groundwater depletion, are only getting worse with state agency avoidance of accumulated scientific evidence. This is true for all agricultural areas of the state. There is nowhere that industrial agriculture is sustainable.

The DNR cannot change the fact that the sandy soils of central Minnesota are nearly devoid of organic matter, and that this has systematically led to the loss of agrichemicals to groundwater. This fact also means that conventional row crops will struggle without copious irrigation, which further speeds the transfer of chemicals to groundwater. The Pineland Sands Area is not the Red River Valley, it is destined for growing pine habitats.

The DNR seems bent on drawing attention away from the master-serf relationship that so many farmers have with industrial agribusinesses like RD Offutt Company (RDO). This relationship allows the corporate costs to be externalized and for the corporate footprint to look much smaller than it really is. This Environmental Review was intentionally small-scoped by DNR to avoid the inclusion of related activities in the area which necessarily would’ve drawn potato juggernaut RDO into the spotlight.

It is important to note that RDO was the original purchaser of the former Potlatch parcels that are the subject of this Environmental Review. RDO was also installer of the three irrigation wells on these parcels. RDO then got the neighboring farmer to purchase these parcels, apply for the water appropriation permits, and sign a contract to allow RDO to operate their standard chemical intensive irrigated potato growing operation there. RDO has been doing this since the 1970’s, explicitly aiming to avoid Environmental Review.

It is strange to see that the DNR is mute on successful regenerative growing methods which forego the agrichemicals and rebuild soil fertility. As we have seen during the [COVID-19] pandemic, nature will recover quickly if the poisoning stops. We are in the midst of many changes and the way food is grown is no exception, industrial agriculture is giving way to regenerative growing. People are coming to understand that chemically grown food cannot be consumed without internalizing the costs that the corporations have externalized. It’s only a matter of time until industrial growers find themselves without a market for their poisoned wares.

The DNR’s decision to deny the need for an Environmental Impact Statement in the Pineland Sands may slow the transition to regenerative growing but it won’t stop it. The potential that has built up behind this movement is becoming kinetic.

Northern Water Alliance

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