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Potato company RD Offutt halts agricultural expansion in Minnesota

RD Offutt potato field

RD Offutt, the largest potato producer in Minnesota, is backing away from a controversial expansion in the State just south of the Mississippi River headwaters after state regulators insisted on an environmental study of the potential contamination of groundwater.

For local citizens, who for years have been urging the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to consider the wider impact of expanding row crops and irrigation in a region prized for its forests and clean lakes, it’s a small victory.

For R.D. Offutt, the decision seems to be targeted regulation that will force it to take its business out of state, according to an angry letter the company sent the DNR.

Now, however, the state may not conduct the environmental study, even though irrigation and conversion of forest to row crops continues to expand over a large and sensitive aquifer — one that provides drinking water for the entire region of the state and is a primary source of water for the Mississippi.

Barbara Naramore, DNR assistant commissioner:

“We continue to be concerned about potential for nitrate contamination.”

“But since R.D. Offutt has withdrawn the three high-capacity well permit requests that triggered the DNR’s proposed assessment, it’s not clear whether it can proceed.”
Last week the DNR informed R.D. Offutt that it would look at the cumulative impact of its pending permit requests on nitrate contamination of the aquifer.

In a letter last Monday, the company wrote, “The burdens of doing business in Minnesota outweigh its benefits, particularly when the Company sees others obtain numerous appropriation permits to farm new land in the Pineland Sands Area, without being required to undergo environmental review.”

The company has some 200 irrigation permits in the Pineland Sands region, and has relationships with farmers who have many more. But, it said in the letter, in the last three years it added only five new permits to previously unfarmed land.

Given the difficult regulatory environment, the letter said, the company’s Potlatch land is for sale, and it continues to look for opportunities in other states.

Mark Dickerson, a spokesman for R.D. Offutt:

“We just decided pursuing the permits is not in our best interest.”
He declined to comment further.