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The many misconceptions about Minnesota's new buffer program

On buffers, there are plentiful examples of landowners doing the right thing without threat of prosecution.

Has Minnesota’s chronic underperformance on protecting public waters with buffer strips been a problem of over-ambitious goals, weakness in the law or lax enforcement in the face of landowner resistance?

As the state begins an ambitiously revamped buffers program, the answer matters. And if you’ve understood past problems to lie primarily in the enforcement realm, then we share in what I heard described recently — and authoritatively — as a widespread misconception.

Speaking at an Environmental Initiative forum on the water-quality impacts of agriculture, Sarah Strommen, who manages the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ side of the new buffer initiative, said it has been commonly believed (and reflected in news coverage) that state law has long required 16½-foot buffers along public drainage ditches and 50-footers beside most lakes and streams.

In fact, she said, about 80 percent of the public ditches in Minnesota’s agricultural counties – and nearly two-thirds of watercourses overall – hadn’t been subject to buffer requirements prior to enactment of Gov. Mark Dayton’s landmark program this year.

Being among the scribblers who had helped to perpetuate this misreading of the regulatory history, I made a note to learn more and stop repeating the error. And then it occurred to me to wonder:

What else may be poorly understood about the new buffers program, and the past deficiencies it aims to correct?

So on Thursday I put that question to Strommen and to John Jaschke, who heads the state Board of Water and Soil Resources, the agency that will have the primary enforcement authority role on buffers going forward.

Because matters of compliance and enforcement are so crucial, we began by digging into why things didn’t go better under the old system – and why they’re likely to improve with the new one.

Limits of the old laws

“The problem was really with the laws being inadequate to get buffers in place,” Jaschke said. “There were some laws requiring some buffers in some cases, in some places.”

For public ditches, he explained, there was indeed a 1977 statute requiring that a one-rod buffer strip be left uncultivated – but it only applied after the county, watershed district or other local ditch authority had gone through a proceeding known as a “redetermination of benefits.”

These proceedings establish whose land benefits from the ditch, and whose has been harmed, and how costs and compensation should be apportioned among landowners. Not surprisingly, it’s a process that can take some time and doesn’t necessarily foster enthusiasm.

“In the case of Freeborn County, they very systematically took that on and made determinations for all their ditches, and established one-rod buffers for them,” Jaschke said. “But overall, the rate of progress has been 20 percent over the last 38 years – so the projection was, this will take 150 years to complete under that system.”

Sarah Strommen

As for lakes and streams, Strommen explained, there was a state rule requiring 50-foot protective buffers in most cases. But the requirements weren’t officially applied, or enforceable, until enactment of local zoning ordinances.

In egregious cases, Jaschke said, it was always possible to prosecute bad behavior in the buffer zone. But that required action by the county attorney, “and county attorneys typically have their hands full with so many other things.”

Nevertheless – and this is the really good news from Jaschke’s and Strommen’s point of view – there are plentiful examples of landowners doing the right thing without threat of prosecution. Jaschke again:

There were six counties we looked at more carefully than others because they undertook a more systematic implementation of shoreland buffers, and they had compliance rates in the upper 90 percent range because they were able to get people good information about how to take care of the requirement.

Enforcement is important, but in the end it’s a very small portion of the work. More comes from giving people information and assistance to get the work accomplished.

In Olmsted County, I think they contacted 470-some landowners and they ended up with only about three where they had to take some kind of action to get compliance.

About ‘one size fits all’

I asked about the frequent refrain from certain ag quarters during the legislative session that the Dayton plan was a “one size fits all” approach, too inflexible to address the diversity of protection needs across the landscape.

Jaschke said that while buffers are the default requirement – and an effective tool against soil erosion and sedimentation, still, despite “being kind of a 1940s technology” – other options can be used where they make more sense.

In some places we’re not ever going to get the stream bank stable with just roots, because the bank is very high or there’s high velocity in the stream. Some people use rock, that’s common, but we could be using more bioengineered techniques. ...

And there may be places where the issue is filtering runoff better than a buffer can do, subsurface techniques that use, say, wood chips to de-nitrify water before it goes into the stream. These are different techniques that are being tried in real places, with real results.

None of them are on the front edge of being fully certified or widely adopted, but there’s always room on the landscape to try new practices as long as we’ve got a good design and a little money to help it happen.

And Strommen pointed out that the program includes substantial new funding for riparian protection from Legacy Amendment revenues; additional money may become available through bonding and state/federal conservation efforts such as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement program.

Central vs. local control

Another possible misconception: Making the buffer requirements more uniform, and creating new enforcement authority at the state level, necessarily diminishes local control.

The new law retains local enforcement options if officials want to exercise them, Jaschke said; what’s different is that, should those efforts prove insufficient, his agency can step in. In addition, the new law creates the possibility of civil enforcement (and penalties) by county administrators or conservation district as an alternative to cumbersome criminal proceedings.

And the redetermination-of-benefits process will continue, Strommen noted. But it no longer must precede application of the buffer rules to a particular system of drainage ditches.

This decoupling of the of the two steps means that “the landowner is responsible for putting in the buffer regardless, and when they’re ready to do it – they don’t have to wait for the system,” she said. “And the redetermination of benefits can come later – possibly resulting in some financial assistance for the work they’ve done.”

And the new law also applies statewide the provisions of a little-used, county-option soil erosion statute that empowered counties to take action in cases where excessive soil erosion resulting from poor management practices was damaging public waters or other landowners’ property.

Only five counties, all in southeastern Minnesota, bothered to “opt in” and only two ever tried to use its enforcement provisions, Jaschke said. Now all counties have the power to take action in such extreme cases, and also have the option to pursue civil enforcement instead of criminal prosecution.

“People will view new law this as a centralized response,” Jaschke said, “but from the very beginning there’s been emphasis on keeping the local approach through the soil and water conservation districts.

"They’re in every county, they work with landowners, they’ve been doing it for decades, building relationships conservation districts. And that’s going to be the most important part of this going forward: having local experts help landowners figure out how to comply, offering technical assistance and helping them to do it themselves."

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Comments (34)

buffers

"In fact, she said, about 80 percent of the public ditches in Minnesota’s agricultural counties – and nearly two-thirds of watercourses overall – hadn’t been subject to buffer requirements prior to enactment of Gov. Mark Dayton’s landmark program this year."

Can anyone tell me what kind of a benefit to water quality we will see in buffering the public ditches when typically they slope away from the watercourse and back into the field instead? Common sense would tell me it will do zero good to buffer a ditch that doesn't allow surface runoff into the ditch to start with.

buffers

Right Joe, & in addition to that there may be no buffers around the tile inlets in the middle of tiled fields which I'm thinking is the source of a huge amount of sediment that goes directly into the ditches, buffers or not. Seems like a large oversite. seems like most tile drains I see driving down the road have no grass around them.

tiles

It's been said that 20 percent of all the nitrogen leaving the fields is through tile lines. Also left out was anything to address urban sources of pollution that were also blamed in the same study Dayton used to "justify" the buffer proposal.

Do they?

I'm no expert (nor even a qualified observer), but I'd like to see some substantiation for you contention that "typically they slope away from the watercourse and back into the field instead",

From the U of M:
The Minnesota River is in poor health. Like a heart patient's veins and arteries, its tributaries and main stem are clogged--not with cholesterol, but with sediment, nutrients and excessive algae growth. The river, like a heart patient, needs to go on a strict diet before its health can be restored.
http://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/tillage/sediment-problems-and-s...

I don't understand how the Minnesota River could get so bad (with respect to sediment) if what you say is true.

They do

Take a drive in Redwood, Renville, Brown, Blue Earth, Kandiyohi, and many other counties and you will see the natural slope is away from the ditches. This is because when they were dug the dirt was piled next to them and leveled enough to plant leaving a natural berm that does not allow overland flow in most situations. In many cases there may be side inlets which allow large quantities of water to inter directly into the ditch though. Zero thought was given to side inlets or tile intakes in the bill. It was poorly thought out and Dayton has provided no evidence to show just how much of a benefit the buffers would provide likely because there is very little but a large enough portion of the public was riled up enough to support this silly legislation.

"Environmental Initiative" is an industrial/agency front org

This story can be understood by looking at the sponsors of the event the author wrote it from:

Minnesota Corn Growers Association
Wenck
Dorsey & Whitney
and so on.....

(http://www.environmental-initiative.org/events/past-events/policy-forum-...)

Thanks for the Excellent Article

Ron, I learned a lot from the article and really appreciate you addressing some of the common misconceptions about buffer strips. It was quite helpful to hear. Keep up the great work.

I agree. Excellent analysis.

Keep up the good work. You are the reason I "memberized."

Interesting article (if we

Interesting article (if we look at the two public individuals whose views are sought by the reporter, rather than the forum sponsors). What remains to be discussed is how the media as a whole got this new law and its context and effects SO wrong, all this time.

Who didn't do the research? Who just repeated some shibboleth or line of complaint? Who didn't go to any source until now?

Boy, I miss the old days when news items actually were dug into, the way ron m. does here.

Sediment in rivers

Here are some random thoughts.

1) This is not new. It has been going on a long time. I grew up along the Missouri River in western Iowa. It is a MUCH bigger river than the Minnesota. The early settlers in the area are supposed to have said of the Missouri 'too thick to drink...too thin to plow'. That's a lot of sediment. There was a very substantial Mississippi River delta before the white man ever arrived.

2) Indications are that streambank erosion plays a larger part in the sediment problem than field run-off. Buffer strips are not gonna help this.

3) The mistake environmentalists make is forgetting the landowner's rights, the cost of the investment, and the need to make a living in a VERY tough industry. Consider this: 50 ft buffer strip X 1 mile of creek bank = 264,000 sq ft or a little over 6 acres. If the guy paid $8-10K / acre for that land, you just took $50-60K from him without compensation (takings clause, anyone?). The number is 2/3 of that if you force a move from 16.5 ft to 50 ft.

Environmentalists--generally leaning left, have no problem with the concept of 'other people's money' but they should check themselves a little instead of being bewildered as to WHY anyone could POSSIBLY oppose their do-good agenda.

To the contrary

I agree with your second point that buffers is an imperfect tool particularly where there are unprotected tile inlets. Also, the streambank erosion that you cite is primarily from the increased volume and velocity of discharges to streambeds from drainage systems, which buffers won't address either. But buffers aren't solely to trap sediment. They also provide for perennial root structure and keep equipment from operating on or regrading the channel bank, both of which protect the bank from erosion and sloughing. Regardless, there is no dispute that this buffer legislation is highly imperfect in a number of respects.

But I'd suggest your third comment has it backwards. Environmentalists simply subscribe to the moral principle and basic tenet of orthodox welfare economics that an economic enterprise should internalize its costs. Land-based commodity production is allowed to externalize its operating costs (in the form of pollution) onto the general public generously. Even where conservation practices are urged this almost always is accompanied by some measure of public funds.

In the case of commodity production, then, the "other peoples' money" to which you refer is the general public wealth (whether considered as the lost public benefits from dirty water, or the public cost to clean it up) that is transferred into the pockets not necessarily of farmers, but of agribusiness concerns at the top of the commodity "food chain." Something like buffers simply reduces this transfer. Further, if the principle is established that agricultural concerns must internalize their operating costs by managing environmental impacts, that becomes factored into the price of agricultural land and thereafter doesn't represent any loss of value to the farmer.

Excellent reply.

The Strib did an article recently about water quality, or lack there of, in South Western Minnesota. Small towns there are having to spend big money removing phosphorus from their drinking water. Taxes had to be raised to remove something that farmers (Big Ag) was dumping on the land. Externalized cost. Also there are virtually NO SWIMABLE lakes in South Western Minnesota, you can't wade in streams and forget about fishing. Because Big Ag is dumping all those chemicals on the land a public resources like lakes, streams and freshwater have been destroyed. Try to put a dollar value on that. No its not Liberals or environmentalists who want to spend other people's money. Of course we knew that, rule number when in dealing with Conservatives is that if they are accusing someone of doing something bad, they are very likely up to their necks in that very behavior. In this case that's spending other people's money.

dumping

No farmer is dumping phosphorous on the land because that would cost him money and lower their profit. Farmers that do not raise livestock (the majority in SW MN) spend money on N but very little on P. Secondly, which lakes in SW MN were swimmable before? Most lakes in SW MN are very shallow and not good fishing lakes in warm MN summers to start with. I also think you are forgetting the number one reason according to the MPCA for impaired waters in MN is mercury not P. Dayton and the media have done a very good job of demonizing agriculture and placing blame on them while ignoring the obvious truth.

wow

"In the case of commodity production, then, the "other peoples' money" to which you refer is the general public wealth (whether considered as the lost public benefits from dirty water, or the public cost to clean it up) that is transferred into the pockets not necessarily of farmers, but of agribusiness concerns at the top of the commodity "food chain." Something like buffers simply reduces this transfer. Further, if the principle is established that agricultural concerns must internalize their operating costs by managing environmental impacts, that becomes factored into the price of agricultural land and thereafter doesn't represent any loss of value to the farmer."

That's really not how things work and I think you need to spend a few years farming to straighten it out. This way of thinking is one of two things. Either a very extreme liberal view or a the view of someone who's career is in politics or government. It couldn't be further from reality. Buffers would increase the transfer since costs of implementing them go to the NRCS (public money) in the form of cost share. The farmer loses the annual income of the crops but still has some expense in putting the buffer in and paying taxes on the land even though it does not make him money. The farmer gets an annual payment from the NRCS but those payments have been reduced in recent years and this is why you have not seen as much crp or set aside acres going in the past few years. The payment is much less than what farmers get from the crops they grow. While the public has been fooled into thinking overland runoff into streams, lakes and drainage ditches is a huge concern the reality is the real issues are elsewhere. That said, public perception generally rules and forces changes right or wrong.

"Wow" is an odd title

For a response that doesn't really say a word different from my comment.

If you accept, as a moral proposition and a proposition of free market economics, that a business ought to internalize its costs and that such costs ought to be reflected in the price of its product, then if a producer can only cultivate so close to the channel bank consistent with internalizing environmental costs, he isn't "losing" the annual income that would come from cultivating up to the bank. I'm not "losing" the use or value of my residential lot because a setback prevent me from building to the curb; the setback is a reasonable regulation that keeps me from using my property in a way that imposes costs on the public, and the existence of the setback is reflected in the amount I paid for my lot.

Similarly, the cost of maintaining the buffer is just an operating cost, like the cost of fertilizer. As for taxes, if the assessor can reasonably calculate the reduction in property value associated with a buffer, then he ought to. If you advance that legislation, I'll support you.

I'm not sure of your point as to the rest. My comment noted that buffers and other conservation practices typically are funded in part by the public - through CRP, RIM, etc. Again, if you accept the above principle, this cost-sharing is a public subsidy to producers or those up the chain. So of course the cost-sharing means an increase in the "transfer" of private (producer) costs to the public. And since, as you note, the payment from these programs is less than net revenue from production, I'm not a big fan of them since they may tend to go to folks who would be inclined to use conservation practices anyway, with or without public funding. Finally, if you read my comment you would have seen my agreement that while buffers do achieve benefits, they don't address nitrogen and sediment (and phosphorus) loadings from tile inlets and channel erosion or nitrate groundwater contamination.

Response

You sorta miss my point, as well.

Yes--free markets...internalized/externalized costs...yada, yada. My observation has been that liberal environmentalists never met an externality they didn't like.

My point is somewhat different. When society's expections change over time (which they have with respect to environment in the past 20-40 years) society MIGHT just think about applying some grease to the skids to make the farmer's changes a little more palatable and do-able. The farmer paid for the land based on one set of assumptions. He wants nothing more than to farm the land, make a living, and maybe pass it one to the kids some day. Because of that 'someday' he also generally wants to be a good steward to the land.

We come along after the fact--asking the farmer to bear ALL of the cost for someone else's shifting expectations.

odd title

I guess I thought my thoughts on your post were a little more different than that. I do agree with Dennis though that society now expects change and should also expect to apply a little grease to get it done. The payments (if farmers qualify for one) are not what they used to be and do not make buffering an attractive option to cropping. All that will be left for the producer is an expense on land he is now unable to use. I doubt very much that buffers will be maintained in any consistent fashion or that property tax will be reduced as a result either. I really do not think the cost of installing the buffers should be at the farmers expense if they have been allowed to farm it for all these years and now they create a new law that forces them to buffer it instead even though some might think they have forced the cost of pollution on the public. The cost of the pollution on the public in the past has been acceptable and now people have decided differently and should also bear at least some of the cost of correcting it. Likely the public will in some cases through CRP, RIM, etc., but I am sure there will be many cases where farmers bear the cost on their own since many times these types of programs are not the most attractive or other ways seem better for the farmers.

Agree with both of you.

"Expectations" is the focus. Indeed, as formed by the US Supreme Court over the past hundred years, apart from a few expedient carve-outs, the law of "takings" rests foremost on expectations. That is, the Constitution doesn't say anything about how property rights are changed, but only about the pace at which it is done (as far as the Constitution is concerned, we could establish communism as our economic system, provided we get there slowly enough). To plan for and live our lives, economically and otherwise, we need to be able to rely on our property rights as we planned and invested in them. On the other hand, laws have to evolve as we learn things and as society changes. The trick of a society is to balance these thru the pace of change.

So in any specific case like this, it comes down to judgment about reasonable expectations. Here, the Clean Water Act with its goal of all waters being "fishable and swimmable" has been in place for 43 years. The state drainage law has required buffers for 30 years. The state shorelands law has required vegetated setbacks for, I think, more than 40 years. For a few decades now we have been well aware of water quality issues in the Minnesota River and hypoxia in the Gulf. And this all against the ancient background "common law" concept of nuisance (do what you like without injuring your neighbor) and the (Biblical?) principle of "do unto others." So it seems to me, at least, that it is not an abrupt jolt to expectations to require those cultivating the land to take steps to limit their discharge of pollutants off of their property. The tool in this case (the new buffer law) may not be very well crafted, but I don't find that the concept of requiring something - a buffer or another conservation practice - is such a radical departure from what a reasonable, thoughtful person might expect that it is objectionable as a matter of common perception or anywhere close to a "taking."

For some time, water laws have been applied to agriculture much more gingerly than to other economic activities. Laws contain specific exemptions for agriculture. There's been a long tradition of relying on voluntary action and of subsidizing water quality protection with public funding. It seems perhaps that you are arguing that the expectation being dashed by the present law is the expectation that this more gentle treatment will continue. My reply is long enough already so I'll just say that would be an interesting conversation, but I don't think I'd end up agreeing with you.

Buffers funding mechanism

I am still confused as to how much a farmer gets reimbursed and from who? How much paper work is it? Does he get paid every year? Can he use the area for hay or can cattle roam there?

payment

I am not positive on this but I think payment is from the NRCS. Although, this payment is not as much as they would get from cropping the areas. I believe in order to get payment they are not able to hay it or pasture it either. In some areas they may be able to rent access to the land to hunters for pheasants (clearly the governors original intent since the proposal followed so closely to the pheasant summit in Marshall) but that will be few and far between.

Why the Confusion

To answer the question why this issue was so confused, I think you have to go back to how Gov. Dayton unveiled it. from the Star Tribune in January: "Gov. Mark Dayton will propose to the Legislature this session that all waterways in the state be buffered with strips of grass or other cover perhaps 50 feet wide — a plan he knows will be opposed at the Capitol by some farm groups and landowners.".

Later in the same article "“To my mind, the strength of the proposal is in its simplicity,’’ Dayton said. “I will propose that the buffer requirement . . . be enforced by the DNR through aerial and other inspections . . . with escalating fines for non-compliance,’’

Checking the Governors own fact sheet
http://www.mn.gov/governor/images/fact_sheet_buffer_initiative_faq.pdf

Multiple times in this fact sheet the term 50 foot buffer, uniform, vegetation is used. It's reinforced. there is only one bullet that addresses the text of this article and it is not nearly as optimistic or as pragmatic as the interview above would be. it says:

"If a landowner demonstrates they can achieve the same results with a different practice, will they still
be subject to the buffer requirement?
A landowner can seek approval for an alternate practice or buffer width if they can demonstrate it
protects or improves water quality. To do so they must work with their local soil and water conservation
districts."

How many landowners will be in a position to "demonstrate" they can improve water quality with a new technique? What level of proof would be required to demonstrate this?

So again to the question why the media "got it wrong", I think the blame for that falls at the Governors office who has doubled down on the 50 foot uniform buffer aspects many many times and significantly downplayed any alternative methods.

I'd like to know if this is

I'd like to know if this is going to be implemented in places like my small town along the St. Croix River where the city has been pouring chemicals on the park next to the river. And the small stream running through town is mowed to it's banks along almost its entire length.

ha ha

The person who proposed the buffer rule used a study to justify it that also contained language laying blame at the hand of urban sources as well but he clearly does not intend to do anything to try to correct it. Some could say that since the banks are vegetated with grass that would be enough (crops are vegetation as well) but it's very likely that the amount of chemicals placed on that area are higher than the amount that go on crops.

Picture Equals 1000 Words

Per the comments above, having 50 ft of grass next to the ditch is silly because the water is not allowed to enter over the top of the berms on the sides. If it did there would be big erosion problems. It typically enters through tiles near the water line of the ditch.

http://anthropology.umn.edu/assets/img/drainditchcopy.jpg

However we have thousand of miles of creeks like these out west that been carving our pastures for millenia. Maybe next the environmentalists will think of some way to line them with concrete or rock so they stop eroding.

http://eastmetrowater.areavoices.com/files/2011/12/Browns-Creek-along-tr...

As for sediment, we slowed the flow with lakes, dams, locks, etc. Therefore the water slows and the sedmiment drops out. Long ago these did not exist so the waterways would naturally flush occasionally.

And just a reminder, pretty much all plant residue contains phosphorus. So when you see people mowing their lawn and blowing the clippings on the road, you may want to talk to them.

Grass?

Economic arguments aside for a moment:

This seems a missed opportunity for the state to dramatically improve habitat by restoring some of the lost prairie biome, particularly in SW MN. If the state is going to require the planting of buffers, it behooves everyone involved AND would help the environment to not plant just another monoculture of grass, but to plant a diverse 'crop' of native plants and grasses. Are farmers being allowed to spray pesticides and herbicides on these buffer strips? I sure hope not.

Outside buying up lots of farmland acreage (which is not politically or economically feasible), these strips, along with road ditches, are the best opportunity for us to restore portions of the most endangered ecosystem in North America, the prairie. These ditches and buffer strips could create a wonderful, interconnected web of native life.

Has anyone at the Capitol thought of that?

CRP

Assuming they are treated like CRP, the farmers will be told what can be planted and it will need to be kept free of trees, weeds, etc. Meaning that yes it will be sprayed as necessary.

Here is an interesting piece.
http://www.marshallindependent.com/page/content.detail/id/566173.html

Sportsmen

After discussing this with my Father, apparently the sportsmen clubs / DNR helped to sway the final decision. They wanted more pheasant habitat at the cost to farmers and tax payers.

While driving out and back, I saw that most farmers were staying the ~16 feet from the ditches, however some were farming right up to the top of the berm. It seems to me it would have been much wiser if they had just enforced the 1 rod rule.

It is interesting that we are going to take some of our absolutely best low erodability farm land out of production while people complain about high food costs. Please remember that the ditches we created in the flat areas where there was no where for the water to go.

It is ironic that farmers pay a ditch tax, and then they are not allowed to make full use of the ditch.
http://www.revenue.state.mn.us/local_gov/prop_tax_admin/at_manual/08_04.pdf

Corn and soybeans are not food crops.

So it really *should* have nothing to do with food costs.

Unfortunately, my utopia of great stretches of farmland actually being used to grow produce will never happen. Imagine the food we could grow. Imagine the jobs that would be created.

Perhaps we could have found a middle ground...two rod lengths?

food crops

"So it really *should* have nothing to do with food costs."

This type of sentiment just shows how far from our food people have gotten and how disconnected from agriculture some are. What do you think we feed livestock with? We eat livestock and the livestock eat ground corn and soybeans so yes they are food crops and do have a little to do with food costs. People that have no idea what these crops are raised for should not have a say in how or where they should be raised or in the amount of buffer.

Does it?

I'd be curious to know how many people you think an acre of industrial corn can feed. How about soybeans?

Regardless, these industrial crops are not a direct-to-consumer commodity. You are correct; much of it is grown to feed animals. But think about how inefficient that is when the same land could be used to grow so much produce.

There IS a middle ground, but you're too entrenched to see it.

Industrial corn

Could you explain your use of the word industrial to describe the corn grown here? Is there some difference between industrial corn and regular corn? Seems like it is just a buzz word with no real meaning to it much like anti animal ag groups like to call feedlots "factory" farms. There really is no such thing as industrial corn. The only thing different would be sweet corn but since that is used by food companies for consumers how is that really any different? I'm not sure why you would want to eat field corn or know how many people it could feed anyway. I usually eat 1 to 2 ears of sweet corn for a meal depending on how hungry I am. Tofu the food of vegetarians is made from soybeans by the way. You might know more than I would how much it takes to make that stuff and how much you can eat.

I think you are living in a fantasy world if you think in MN we can switch corn and soybean acres over to vegetables. There is a reason the majority of farmers in MN grow mainly corn and soybeans and it doesn't all revolve around the amount of money they get from those crops. I'm a meat eater so as far as efficiency goes it is plenty efficient for me. I prefer to eat bacon and steaks over a bowl of lettuce and I'm not about to change that for anyone nor should anyone else. If you want to be a vegetarian go ahead but don't expect me to feel bad because you think raising livestock is so inefficient. You are choosing to miss out on many of the other products generated by animal agriculture if you are only focusing on meat production. There are many other products created from livestock that usually are not taken into account when people claim how inefficient it is. Nearly all of the animal is used not just the bacon or steaks. It really isn't that inefficient at all.

Congratulations

You have found exactly one direct-to-consumer product created from the two main industrial crops, corn and soybeans. Well...sort of. As you say, people are not eating corn or soybeans directly from the field...which is pretty much the definition of an industrial crop.

From Wikipedia: An industrial crop is a crop grown to produce goods to be used in the production sector, rather than food for consumption. My terminology is accurate.

"I think you are living in a fantasy world if you think in MN we can switch corn and soybean acres over to vegetables." Did you miss my initial comment? I called it my "utopia". So, yeah, it's a fantasy.

I'm not against the eating and use of animal products...not even remotely. I'm FOR the responsible use of resources, which includes soil and water. Again, the amount of resources required to produce beef is many times higher than to produce most other food...it's even almost twice as much as pork.

direct to consumer

I only pointed out one but that doesn't mean there are not others and it also doesn't mean we should only be raising direct to consumer crops. Please use more reputable sources of definitions since the only corn that is different is sweet corn. All other corn is the same no matter the end product regardless of what Wikipedia says. When you take into account all the products created from the livestock that are fed corn and beans you would see just how efficient it is. Leaving those products out is ignoring 3/4 of the data. The amount you get from animal products per unit of energy put in to the livestock is more efficient than direct to consumer crops that do not have many products generated.

hunters

Lets hope the farmers forced to give up the land charge accordingly to those for the right to hunt on the land.