Last week, I attended the third interim Agriculture Committee meeting. All four of their study topics for the 20 months between legislative sessions were included. First up was the State Soil Conservation Committee, a group which had been under scrutiny when cutting budgets last session. Bruce Schmidt is the new (6 months or so on the job now) Program Coordinator, Watershed and Soil Conservation Leadership Development, NDSU Extension Service (whew!) person. Bruce had appeared before the committee when only 1 month into the job and this time he received praise from all corners when he updated them on what has been happening with the SSCC. He told them that communication has been increased via newsletter and more meetings to keep all involved better informed. It came to light that there is a provision in the Century Code forbidding Mr. Schmidt from mandating more training for those serving on the SSCC, so he asked the committee to draft legislation allowing him to keep some ongoing training efforts. This is something the committee has ordered a bill draft for and we will probably see that next meeting. Overall, people seemed very pleased with the direction of the program.
Second, the study of the desirability and feasibility of creating a state wetlands bank continued with a presentation by the Agriculture Commissioner who explained the history of such efforts in North Dakota and what his agency has in place. In summary, there has been a Waterbank program since 1987 which had languished until 2015 when the agency received $1.2 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund. To date, 21 producers have contracted with them with $648,000 remaining.
There is also the Wetland Credit Database housed in the same agency. It was created in 2013 and is a resource for landowners wishing to buy credits to mitigate a wetland as well as those willing to sell credits. And there is the rub. Only two have been willing to sell credits and after review, they did not qualify for mitigation.
State Conservationist Mary Podoll then testified about the Federal Waterbank program administered by the NRCS within the USDA. She said that establishing a wetlands bank has not been easy in our state. Through Public Law 559 from the last Farm Bill, there has been $4 million/yr. available for 4 of the last 5 years. She also said that if there was a further attempt to establish a state wetlands bank, the NRCS would help.
Game and Fish also testified about what resources they have in play as did the State Water Commission. We also heard from the Wetlands Specialist of the South Dakota Farm Bureau who have partnered with the SD Soybean and Corn Growers to create a mitigation program which is starting to take hold after 5 years of preparatory work. Senator Dotzenrod sponsored a bill last session that led to this interim study and after all testimony, he essentially stated that without ND having the $1 million grant that the SD group had to work with and having no similar partnership network in ND, perhaps rather than creating another level of bureaucracy, we can someday perhaps partner with SD. The committee seemed to agree.
Third, the state health department is seeking input for the Nutrient Management Plan and they want input from growers on this plan. Please attend in room 203 at the Fargodome on May 1 at 10 a.m. if you wish.
Last, the committee discussed their study on testing Vomitoxin, falling numbers and proteins. It would appear this interim committee recognizes taking further actions to change current protocols could put ND on a regulatory island and that seemed unwise to them given the national and international scope of agriculture.