Murphy’s Law #48

December 24, 2017

This week, I attended the Interim Agriculture Committee in Bismarck. This was their second meeting, the first one months back discussed if anything should or could be done to improve the accuracy of grain testing (see blog entry #42 for more detail). That topic came up at the end of this meeting and it looks like the committee may be looking at it again next time they meet – probably in March sometime. Chairman Johnson asked the committee if they should continue on that study and Senator Myrdal thought the protein issue could use further investigation.
The main meeting consisted of explaining to the Ag committee what the State Soil Conservation Committee (SSCC) does. While cutting budgets during last session, the House Appropriations committee wondered why it appeared that there was such a large amount of money spent on administration (approx. $250,000) to distribute about $1.1 million dollars, so the Ag committee was given the study of what goes on. For one thing, that is over a 2-year period, not one. Also, $40,000 of that funds operations while the rest goes to benefits and salary. The position in question has responsibilities that break down so that about half the time is spent assisting Soil Conservation Districts (SCD), 15-20 percent of the time is spent making sure that the 54 SCDs are following the law, 15 percent for hiring, firing, financial reporting, etc., and 10 to 15 percent attending district meetings and training supervisors. In other words, there is a lot more to the job than dispensing money. Many came forward to explain the admittedly complex and interwoven relationships that the SSCC has; from NDSU Extension Service, the Agriculture Commissioner, the North Dakota Association of Soil Conservation Districts, the state Game and Fish Dept., the NRCS and others. All did their best to explain to the committee that the system that has evolved works well and urged them to keep it pretty much as it exists. There was also a presentation by the State Board of Agricultural Research and Education (SBARE) which explained that the required report to the Legislative Budget section in March will be ready on time.
The next day in Fargo, I attended the Red River Basin Commission which is trying to figure out just exactly what should be done, if anything, concerning nutrient loading (nitrogen and phosphates in this case) in the Red’s tributaries and lakes in the Red River Valley. Algal blooms have become the norm for Lake Winnipeg and many of the small lakes and reservoirs up and down the Valley. People at the meeting, many of them scientists from Manitoba, Minnesota and North Dakota were questioning how big a problem it really is. From the producer end to discuss the non-point source (there were city waste and water folks there as well to represent the point source side) there were questions such as “With our increasing technology for efficiently placing nutrients on/in the soil and other improvements in farming practices, shouldn’t we be expecting less runoff of those valuable resources?” The water people answered that while that is a logical assumption, the nutrient loading is at least staying the same and no one knows why. It was stressed that this discussion is just beginning, that it could take 25 years or more to understand all of these systems and to begin to address potential remedies. No agency wants to, or in the foreseeable future, is going to tell producers what they can or cannot do and all present clearly understand that the best way to effect change is if a remedy can save the grower money while trying to improve soil health and water quality. At least that is the main takeaway from my perspective on this topic today, the official first day of winter.