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This article was submitted on behalf of several leaders of Minnesota agricultural industry organizations. Their names are listed below.


Talk to any farmer and it likely won't take long to hear about their love for the land and environment, love for their community and their commitment to their work. Every day, farmers get up before the sun rises to tend to their animals and crops, and most don't return home until long after the sun goes down. Their hard work doesn't just feed Minnesotans and people across the world — it serves as the backbone of rural economies across the state, supports some of Minnesota's most iconic companies and is a pillar of our overall state's economy, ranking Minnesota sixth in the nation for agricultural production.

It isn't the long hours that make farming so difficult, it's the risk and uncertainty of forces outside farmers' control — commodity prices, fuel, labor and weather — that can wipe out their work in an instant. That is why our organizations work with farmers and policymakers in St. Paul and Washington, D.C., to establish consistent regulatory tools and programs that give these stewards of our land the stability they need to do their job and a safety net to protect them from the unforeseeable.

One of those tools is the ability to use groundwater and surface water for a variety of needs. Farmers, private landowners and other water users (cities, power generators, industrial processors) secure permits from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources — a regulatory program that has been in place for nearly 100 years. Rightfully, tribes across the state consult with the DNR throughout the regulatory permitting process, and many do so to make water permits stronger.

Unfortunately, two recent decisions made by the White Earth Nation made farming increasingly difficult in northwestern Minnesota. In November 2022, the tribe passed a moratorium on livestock farms, and in May 2023, it passed an unproven, redundant regulatory program claiming authority to regulate groundwater not just on the reservation but within five miles of the reservation. Farmers needing to irrigate their crops or provide water to their animals have not received any communication from the tribe, but it threatens their economic livelihoods, since this duplicative program imposes a fine of up to $5,000 per day for operating without a tribal permit.

Publicly available data shows that the DNR's longstanding program is working, with irrigators using less water than permitted 96% of the time. A new DNR report on the Straight River Groundwater Management Area shows that groundwater and surface water levels around the White Earth Reservation are stable.

Despite these facts, the White Earth Nation is now saying that any farmer or other water user must acquire a redundant tribal water permit, pay an application fee that is more than 30 times higher than the DNR's fee and potentially wait three years for the tribe to approve or deny permit applications. If every tribe in Minnesota created new regulatory water programs, the result would be a confusing patchwork of potentially inconsistent and conflicting regulations and permitting processes.

Cases are underway in tribal and federal courts to determine whether farmers must comply with the White Earth Nation's redundant regulatory water program ("Potato grower asks court to stop tribe from regulating water," May 27). With agriculture being such an important part of the state's economy, we hope these courts make a prompt and favorable ruling that state regulators have the authority, expertise and responsibility to protect our state's water. If that clarity doesn't come soon, crops, farmers and consumers will be affected.

Signatories: Jake Wildman, president, Irrigators Association of Minnesota; Dana Allen-Tully, president, Minnesota Corn Growers Association; Brian Sorenson, executive director, Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers; Bob Worth, president, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association; Lucas Sjostrom, executive director, Minnesota Milk Producers Association; Dan Glessing, president, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation; Kaitlyn Root, executive director, Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association; Harrison Weber, executive director, Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association, and Tamara Nelsen, executive director, Minnesota AgriGrowth Council.