By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership
This week, two committees in the Minnesota House of Representatives heard bills that would bolster two important programs to boost clean water, soil health, and Minnesota’s farming economy. These two programs, the Forever Green Initiative and the Working Lands Drinking Water Protection Program, are major components to a broad strategy of bringing more beneficial perennial and cover crops to farmland in Minnesota, and supporting them is a key priority for the MEP community.
HF 962 would fully fund Forever Green
The Forever Green Initiative is a University of Minnesota project that works to develop valuable new crops that are both profitable for farmers and highly beneficial for the health of soil and water. These crops include perennials, like intermediate wheatgrass, and seasonal cover crops, like pennycress, each with its own variety of lucrative applications in food products or biofuel. Their common benefit is that they establish green, living cover on land all year round, whereas traditional corn and soybean agriculture leaves fields fallow for most of the year. Forever Green crops thus help hold together the soil, filter nutrient pollution before it enters groundwater, provide habitat for pollinators and wildlife, and absorb carbon from the atmosphere, in addition to providing a product that farmers can sell.
HF 962, introduced by Representative Jeff Brand of North Mankato, would provide full funding to Forever Green to help ramp up research and production of these beneficial crops. On Thursday, this bill came before the House Agriculture Committee, where MEP Executive Director Steve Morse and other advocates and farmers testified in favor of the legislation and Forever Green. The committee agreed to keep the bill for possible inclusion in later budget legislation, meaning this important funding has a strong chance of inclusion in the budget.
HF 1569 funds Working Lands
The Working Lands Drinking Water Protection Program addresses the next phase of implementing Forever Green and other conservation crops. For the past several years, its predecessor program, the Working Lands for Watershed Restoration Program, has been convening experts to help address how these crops will be marketed, where they will be planted, and how farm incentives will be implemented. The Drinking Water Protection phase would target these crops to 118,000 acres across Minnesota where water is especially vulnerable to nutrient pollution. It would support farmers in implementing these crops and help them bring them to market successfully.
Representative Todd Lippert of Northfield presented HF 1569, a bill that would fund the Working Lands program, in the House Environmental Policy Committee on Wednesday. Several experts spoke out in support, including a representative from the Board of Water and Soil Resources, a specialist from the Minnesota Rural Water Association, and a farmer and city employee from Edgerton, Minnesota. They spoke on the myriad benefits of these crops, and why it is so important for the state of Minnesota to support farmers in bringing them to the land. In a unanimous voice vote, the committee voted to send the bill forward to the Ways and Means committee.
We thank Representatives Brand and Lippert, their fellow legislators supporting these bills, and the many people who testified and contacted their lawmakers in favor of the legislation. These win-win solutions are ready to be implemented. This is Minnesota’s golden opportunity to invest in the crops in the future and in clean water and land for communities across the state.