Farmers air issues with state officials at Farmfest

J-turns, drainage issues, moisture testers among their concerns

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz answers question at a farm issues forum at Farmfest on Tuesday.

GILFILLAN FARM — Farmers asked Minnesota agency commissioners a number of probing questions at a Farmfest forum Tuesday.

A Lakefield farmer asked Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher if the agency is looking at j-turns, alternatives to traditional roadway intersections on a four-lane highway.

Instead of motorists crossing fast-moving traffic lanes to get to opposing lanes, they turn right in the same direction of traffic, merge into the left lane, then make a u-turn in the direction they intend to travel.

The point of j-turns is to greatly reduce or eliminate a significant number of severe crashes common when drivers must cross busy highways to move in the desired direction.

“They’re difficult to use. Take a semi out to a j-turn and see if its going to work,” the farmer said to Anderson Kelliher.

“That’s my most-asked question,” Anderson Kelliher said. “We’re trying to consult before deciding what projects to do. That works well in marriages too. J-turns help reduce head-on crashes. We’re evaluating where we put j-turns now. We have a culture of innovation.”

Alphonse Mathiowetz of Mulligan Township, Brown County, talked about Wood Lake overflow and how it damages county roads and floods crop land.

“We got $43,000 from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to help deal with flooding a few years ago, which was good,” Mathiowetz said. “Then we had a town hall meeting about it. After 82 years, the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) found berms were damaged. They lowered the lake but didn’t do anything about the berms.”

Barb Naramore, DNR Deputy Commissioner, said her organization wants to work with area hydrologists on issues like that.

“We admit there may be no easy solution to things like complex landscape change and successive high water years. We need to hear about it and work with people up and downstream,” Naramore said.

Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley urged farmers not to wait until after a flood to buy flood insurance because there is a 30-day waiting period.

“Farms and rural communities will be part of the renewable energy future,” Kelley said.

He said Gov. Tim Walz wanted a state-based tax credit based on income to help cut health care costs but the legislature didn’t agree.

Lucan farmer Dan Louwagie said elevator moisture detectors vary as much as two points between elevators.

“I can follow up on it,” said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen.

Regarding biofuel future growth, Anderson Kelliher said Walz supports making E15 the Minnesota fuel standard.

“Minnesota needs to continue to lead the nation in biofuel innovation,” she said.

Anderson Kelliher said another innovative idea worth doing is using agricultural products to treat ice on highways instead of toxic salt.

Walz said he wasn’t sure why Minnesota has so many state agencies.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Commissioner Laura Bishop said the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and MPCA work better working together and by listening to communities about permit processing.

“You shouldn’t need to see five people for an air permit,” Bishop said. “We’re going through a review to better address needs.”

Walz said his idea of a “one Minnesota” is a way to figure out how to work together instead of picking fights over things like rural and metro interests.

“Bickering over things, sometimes very petty things, keep us from accomplishing what we want to,” Walz said. “Agencies need to work together too. Government needs to work together. We’re the only state in the country with divided state government, but we cut income taxes for the first time in 20 years.”

Walz said the federal government is broken but that Minnesota can go above that.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but there are many value-added things we can do. We’ve got to stop putting one group against another,” Walz said.

In an interview outside the forum building, Walz said he wants to see the legislature pass “red flag” gun laws and common-sense gun registration laws as Florida and Arizona have done.

A U.S. House Agricultural Committee listening session on the farm economy featuring U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, U.S. Senator Tina Smith, Congresswoman Angie Craig and Congressmen Dean Phillips, Jim Hagedorn, Pete Stauber and Ted Yoho of Florida begins at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the forum building.

For more information, visit https://www.ideagroup.com/farmfest/schedule-of-events