Resource: “DNR halts pines-to-potatoes conversion in central Minnesota”
Location: Central MN
The Star Tribune reported Sunday that the pines-to-potatoes conversion is part of a bigger, mostly invisible transformation in the watershed that drains into the Upper Mississippi River, a basin that supplies drinking water for 1.7 million people in the Twin Cities. Since 2006, about 275 square miles of natural land in the Upper Mississippi watershed has been converted to row-crop agriculture, according to a University of Minnesota analysis — much of it sandy soils and forests where no one ever expected to see farming.
The DNR estimates that North Dakota-based Offutt already has purchased about 12,000 acres of pine forests in northern Minnesota for conversion to irrigated cropland. A third of that land already has been converted and won’t be affected by the DNR review. Observers say the forest loss in the four counties could expand to include 42 square miles depending on how much more land Potlatch, the giant wood products manufacturer, sells to agriculture-minded buyers.
The DNR said nitrate contamination in water, from fertilizer, is difficult to avoid when growing potatoes in sandy soils and that contamination could hurt groundwater, connected surface waters, fish, and other aquatic species. The cumulative volume of water being consumed also is a concern, as some municipalities in the region have already had to invest in deeper wells.
Landwehr also said the environmental worksheet will consider impacts of deforestation on the area’s wildlife. He said jackpine stands are a rare forest type in Minnesota, home to a number of unique species, including the goshawk and Blanding’s turtle.