Unwise Minnesota Buffer Law tramples property rights


From: Dennis McCullough

As an old man — nearly 80 years old — I have seen considerable “government creep” during my lifetime; however, I believe the most blatant trampling of individual property rights by government is demonstrated by the passage of the Minnesota Buffer Law. The law was advanced by proponents as a mode to clean water and erosion control — laudable goals by anyone’s standards — but buffer opponents disagree, saying that decomposed buffer grasses, cattails and other flora may actually decrease the quality of our drinking water by creating tannins in the water, which may cause discoloration, odors and taste issues.

While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of blanket statewide buffers, our state lawmakers have passed a law which requires all landowners along lakes, rivers and streams to establish a 50-foot buffer by November 1, 2017, and a 16.5-foot buffer alongside judicial ditch systems by November 1, 2018. Landowners are required to take this land out of conventional crop production, plant it to grasses or initiate alternative practices, maintain the control of noxious weeds and still pay the real estate taxes assessed on it.

While we all recognize and respect that government has the right of eminent domain when deemed for the public good, it also has the responsibility of just compensation for the taking of private property. Lawmakers have not included payment provisions for the taking of the above-described acreage, and rationalize that landowners are allowed to hay and/or graze buffers; hence they are not entitled to just compensation. Such a response only magnifies the lack of understanding of farm practices by those making the law, as what landowner would build over two miles of fence around a one-mile 16.5-foot buffer to be grazed, or run down planted crops with large machinery to harvest a 16.5-foot buffer strip of hay.

Another contradiction is allowing cattle to graze on buffers next to waterways which creates a greater likelihood of animal wastes finding their way into and contaminating our water supply. It seems strange that the federal government has been promoting programs for years to keep cattle out of and away from waterways and now the state seems to be encouraging the opposite.

Proponents of the buffer law see the application of commercial fertilizers on farmers’ fields as the primary offender of clean water. Since fertilizer is one of a farmer’s biggest expenses in raising a crop, farmers that I know use fertilizer very judiciously. New precision-agriculture technology allows growers to place variable amounts of fertilizer in the same field according to its needs as determined by soil sampling, thus reducing over application. Slow-release fertilizer such as N-Serve and other products have been used for years to stabilize and dissolve more slowly to prevent rapid fertilizer run-off.

It has been said that urban dwellers use far more fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides per square foot on their lawns and urbanites are not required to have the same application and certification requirements. Fertilizer run-off in cities and towns is much more likely to end up in our drinking water supply as excess run-off drains to hard-surface streets to street drains and into lakes, rivers and streams. Water run-off from landowners’ fields can be naturally filtered by the soil for long distances before reaching our drinking water supply. Doesn’t this suggest a bit of a double standard by the Minnesota Buffer Law?

While it is true that water and wind erosion of our precious topsoil should be a concern of all, those who count on its productivity for their livelihood are especially in-tune to the protection and health of their topsoil. This is demonstrated by the increase in the adopted farming practices of no-till, minimum-till, strip-till, cover crops, directional tillage, shelterbelts, outlet riprap and others. Since most landowners and farmers recognize that abusing their topsoil is analogous to killing the goose that laid the golden egg, they zealously protect it for themselves and their posterity.

There is considerable suspicion of the role of the Department of National Resources (DNR) in the advancement of the Minnesota Buffer Law. It was involved in identifying and mapping the affected waterways and will likely be involved in the supervision of compliance of the law. It stands to gain some control over thousands of acres of wildlife habitat on buffers throughout the state of Minnesota at the expense of the landowners.


Many landowners also see the unyielding position of Governor Dayton on this contentious issue as self-serving. As the son of a wealthy businessman who has served as a career politician (with a lack-luster record), they believe that as a lame-duck governor he is attempting to create a personal legacy. Through the news media he has been puffing about the percentage of farmers and landowners who have conceded to participate. He failed to mention, however, that those who choose not to participate may be subject to criminal prosecution and/or steep financial penalties of up to $500 per day for each parcel deemed to be in noncompliance. The thought of potential jail time for a criminal offense plus penalties of thousands of dollars per day for landowners with multiple parcels is quite a stimulus to participate!

As we age and recognize that our days of working the land will soon be over, we must make decisions as to what the future for our land holds. If we decide to sell, the value of our property will likely be diminished by the Minnesota Buffer Law. Having been a licensed real estate broker in the state of Minnesota for many years, it is generally recognized by real estate professionals that encumbrances on properties that restrict the intended use of that property decrease its value; and buffers will certainly be an encumbrance on the property.

In conclusion, I would like to suggest three things we need to do as farmers, landowners and others affected by this law.

Check the voting record of your state senator and representative to see how they voted on the Minnesota Buffer Law. If they voted to approve the trampling of your property rights by voting for this bill and are up for reelection, turn them out to pasture and elect someone who will protect your property rights.

Post all of your privately owned land with “no hunting or trespassing without permission” signage and allow only those who respect your property rights to share your land.

All men and women in farm organization groups, commodity groups, ancillary agrarian groups, landowners, farmers and any other interested individuals should band together and challenge the constitutionality of the Minnesota Buffer Law by bringing a class-action law suit through our court systems.


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