By Nov. 1, landowners and farmers in Minnesota must have buffer strips—consisting of 16½ feet in width of perennial vegetation—in place around both sides of any public ditches on their land. This follows a deadline of November 2017, when Minnesota law required landowners to dedicate buffer strips that average 50 feet in width around public waters, which include streams, lakes and wetlands.
The law, which aims to slow down or filter runoff that contains pesticides, fertilizer and sediment, requires landowners to install the buffers at their own expense. Around 120,000 acres of farmland will be taken out of crop production, says Kevin Paap, a farmer from Blue Earth County, Minn., and president of Minnesota Farm Bureau. Additionally, the acres dedicated to buffers will be taxed at levels as if they were still in production.
Earlier this month, 15 Minnesota farm organizations called on Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders to approve a property-tax credit of $50 per acre for farmers who have installed water-quality buffers on tillable land.
“Minnesota is a high-property tax state,” Paap says. “We are taxed from $65 to $85 an acre for farmland, which we’ll be taking out of production. A credit of $50 an acre is not going to pay all of the property taxes, but it will help ease the financial burden.”
This tax credit for landowners would come from the state’s Clean Water Fund, which is supported by sales-tax revenue and generates around $100 billion per year. However, some environmental groups don’t support this plan and want it to come out of a general fund, Paap says. On top of the disagreement about the funding source, the Minnesota legislative session ends in late May.
If the property-tax credit is not approved in the current legislative session, Paap is unsure of the next steps. Regardless, it will stay top-of-mind for the state’s farmers.
“This has been one of the hottest topics in Minnesota agriculture for the last two or three years,” Paap says. “I quit counting when I went to over my 100th buffer meeting.”