On February 18, 2015, Minnesota Environmental Partnership’s executive director Steve Morse delivered the below prepared testimony regarding proposals that would establish new incentive programs to advance biofuels production. In his testimony, he emphasizes the importance of crop diversity in our agricultural landscape and encouraged lawmakers rethink incentives that would continue reliance on few select crops.
Testimony prepared by Steve Morse
Executive Director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Delivered before the
Minnesota House Agriculture Policy Committee
and Minnesota Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee
on the promotion of cellulosic ethanol in Minnesota (H.F. 536 and S.F. 517)
February 18, 2015
Minnesota Environmental Partnership is concerned about the ethanol provisions of this bill. Minnesotans want to protect our drinking water and our lakes, rivers and streams.
Summer-annual crops (e.g., field corn and soybeans) dominate Minnesota’s agricultural landscape. During the summer months, crops soak up most of the water and nutrients available in the soil with modest water quality impacts. But this happens only a few months of the year. The rest of the year, the fields are inactive. Without active plant root systems to use the water and hold soil in place, fields are much more vulnerable to wind and water erosion and nutrient run off, a major contributor to non-point source pollution. Six out of seven – 86% – of water quality impairments in Minnesota are caused by non-point sources,¹ mostly from agriculture.
Whether it be the phosphorus, sediment or nitrogen in our waters, we have a steep hill to climb to restore our state’s water quality. And we simply won’t get there without new strategies. For example, to reach the 45% nitrogen reduction goal called for in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy, the agency estimates that more than half of the reductions will need to come from incorporating more perennial and cover crops into our watersheds. In fact, increased vegetative cover is a major strategy in addressing phosphorus and sediment pollution as well.
Water quality regulations and changes in how crop production is managed are important strategies in addressing this pollution. However, some of the biggest, and perhaps most cost effective, water quality benefits can be achieved through market driven strategies that develop new and smarter ways to avoid farm run-off on the front end.
Cellulosic ethanol represents a major expansion for the ethanol industry in the state. But we are missing a major opportunity if we do not focus this developing industry where it can provide more options for farmers and the most benefit for the state, especially when using our limited state dollars.
By using perennial crops, rather than traditional corn sources, to supply these new facilities, we can:
- build soil health and improve soil water storage capacity;
- dramatically improve water quality;
- provide habitat for wildlife including pollinators; and
- provide more forage for livestock producers.
Adding further incentives to continue our over reliance on a few select crops is not a wise strategy for the future of our state or our Great Outdoors. We must seize this opportunity to develop systems that will provide multiple economic and conservation benefits for years to come.
The Minnesota Environmental Partnership cannot support this legislation as it is drafted, but are ready and willing to work to shape this proposal to better benefit the entire state.
¹ Source: Minnesota Water Quality – David Fairburn – University of MN Water Resources Center – MN Water Sustainability Framework – page 24