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Minnesota proposes fertilizer tax to combat water pollution
Minnesota Ag Connection - 03/01/2024

Minnesota is taking bold steps towards addressing farm pollution through a proposed fertilizer tax. Authored by Rep. Rick Hansen, the bill (HF4135) seeks to levy a 99-cent fee per ton of nitrogen fertilizer, with the proceeds aimed at aiding clean drinking water efforts in areas impacted by nitrate pollution. This initiative passed the House agriculture committee and is headed to the House environment committee for further consideration.

The tax comes in response to warnings from federal authorities about insufficient state action against farm pollution in southeast Minnesota, a region particularly vulnerable to nitrate contamination due to its geological features. Nitrates, stemming from commercial fertilizers and livestock manure, pose significant health risks, including methemoglobinemia and other serious conditions.

Facing opposition from the farm lobby, the bill represents a shift from voluntary measures to a more direct approach in tackling nitrate pollution. An alternative proposal, HF4044 by Rep.

Steven Jacob, which enjoys farm lobby support, offers tax credits to farmers engaging in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. This program rewards agricultural practices that minimize nitrate runoff, providing technical and financial support to certified producers.

Critics, including farm groups and some committee Republicans, argue that the fertilizer tax would burden farmers, especially amidst declining farm revenues and commodity prices. Proponents, including Hansen, emphasize the urgent need for effective solutions to a longstanding problem, underlined by recent EPA criticisms of the state's efforts in combating nitrate pollution.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture continues to promote voluntary programs encouraging sustainable farming practices. Yet, with nearly three-fourths of the state's surface water nitrate contamination traced back to cropland, the proposed fertilizer tax represents a critical, albeit controversial, step towards safeguarding public health and ensuring clean drinking water for Minnesota's communities.

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