LSP Land Line: MnDOT & Spraying, Frac Sand, Rural COVID-19, Climate-Smart Ag

Oct. 9: An LSP Round-up of News Covering Land, People & Communities

Minnesota Department of Transportation rethinks no-spray ditch program after yanking signs

(10/9/20) The Minnesota Department of Transportation is reevaluating its decision to pull "Do Not Spray" signs without warning in southeastern Minnesota, according to the Star Tribune. Farmers, including LSP members, had complained that the signs were removed with no notice, resulting in certified organic acres being exposed to chemicals. LSP organizers contacted MnDOT officials, who claim the no-spray agreements had not been terminated, and that the signs being pulled up was a result of "muddled communication." Highlights:

  • Seven landowners with property abutting state highways in Houston, Winona, Fillmore, and Wabasha counties had their “Do Not Spray” signs pulled. Crews also sprayed herbicide in one of the ditches, which was adjacent to a certified organic dairy.
  • Beef producer David Weissing said he can still see a dead patch in his ditch where MnDOT sprayed weeds last year, despite the signed agreement not to. “Nothing will grow in that spot,” he told the Star Tribune.

  • “We hope that MnDOT will provide financial compensation to these farmers to make up for the part of their fields that is no longer certified organic due to spraying nearby,” said LSP organizer Connor Dunn.

Information on the Land Stewardship Project's work to develop and promote state policies that support organic farming and other forms of sustainable agriculture is here.

Company wants to take Minnesota county's frac sand ban to U.S. Supreme Court

(10/6/20) A mining company wants the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ban on frac sand mining in southeastern Minnesota's Winona County, reports the Star Tribune. The ban was passed by the Winona County Board of Supervisors in 2016 after Land Stewardship Project members carried out a successful, 17-month grassroots organizing campaign. Farmers and other rural residents in the county have made it clear that frac sand mining activities are a threat to the land, water, and human health of the region. Highlights:

  • In March, the seven-member state Supreme Court affirmed lower court rulings that let the ban stand.
  • “The people of Winona County have understood for many years that the frac sand mining, processing and transport industry offers no benefit to rural communities and is too harmful to be allowed to operate in their communities,” said LSP organizer Johanna Rupprecht.

For more on LSP's work fighting frac sand mining, click here.

Upper Midwest Leads the Nation with Worst Rural Infection Rates

(10/8/20) COVID-19 is spreading rapidly in the Upper Midwest, where high rates of new infections are the norm in most rural counties, according to a Daily Yonder analysis. Numerous rural counties are on the Daily Yonder’s red-zone list. The red-zone is a White House Coronavirus Task Force designation that identifies localities that need to do more to control the virus. Red-zone counties have infection rates of 100 more new cases per 100,000 over a seven-day period. As of last week, 23 states had more than half of their rural counties on the red-zone list. Just a month ago, only 12 states had more than half their rural counties on the list. Highlights:

  • More than 90% of rural counties in Wisconsin, South Dakota, and North Dakota have troublesome levels of new infections.
  • Iowa has 66 of its 78 rural counties (or 85%) with high rates of infection. Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and Minnesota each has high rates of infection in two-thirds of their rural counties.
  • Last week, an additional 68 rural counties went on the red-zone list, bringing the total number of rural counties on the list to a record-breaking 1,058. The increase was most pronounced in the Upper Midwest. Kansas added 17 red-zone rural counties last week. Minnesota added 18 and Nebraska added 16.

Are you a farmer or rancher whose operation has been directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? The USDA is implementing the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program 2 for agricultural producers who continue to face market disruptions and associated costs because of COVID-19. Details are here.

How OSHA Went AWOL During the Pandemic

(10/6/20) Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), whose mission is “to ensure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women,” reports that it has received over 10,000 complaints from workers concerned about a lack of protections against COVID-19. But until early September, six months into the crisis, the agency had issued citations to just two employers, according to OSHA records examined by The American Prospect. Highlights:

  • As of Sept. 4, OSHA had conducted just 199 inspections in response to complaints, and it’s already closed more than 8,500 of them without taking further action.
  • The agency also has failed to put in place an emergency standard that former OSHA officials and labor advocates say would require workplaces to address the dangers of COVID-19.
  • It was not until September that OSHA cited two meatpacking companies—Smithfield Packaged Meats Corporation in Sioux Falls, S. Dak., and JBS Foods Inc. in Greeley, Colo.—for failing to protect employees from COVID-19. Combined, 1,584 employees at the two plants have tested positive for the virus over the last six months. Ten have died. OSHA has proposed a $13,494 fine for Smithfield and $15,615 for JBS.

A recent LSP blog describes how "Big Meat" has been putting workers in danger while falsely claiming we are in the midst of a "meat famine." It also describes how the lack of local meat processing is hobbling the local food movement in Minnesota.

Climate change is killing the farm belt. With a little help, farmers can fix it.

(9/18/20) Agriculture is a generator of greenhouse gases — methane, nitrogen and carbon dioxide — that cause extreme weather. But farms can be the solution to climate change, writes Art Cullen in the Washington Post. Highlights:

  • A prominent climate modeler at Iowa State University reports that corn yields likely will get chopped by 30% in a couple of decades if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced significantly. By 2050, the number of days of 100-plus degrees in Iowa will reach 67 — triple what it was in the 1960s.
  • Carbon can be sequestered on farmland by putting livestock back on pasture and rotating crops with minimal tillage, while planting cover crops.
  • One way to promote climate-friendly farming is through the USDA's Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers to put in place conservation practices on working lands.

Check out LSP's white paper, "Farming to Capture Carbon & Address Climate Change Through Building Soil," on our Carbon Farming web page.

Brian DeVore is the editor of the Land Stewardship Letter.