For EPA officials, there’s ‘no better way’ to learn ag than to visit ND

Jenny Schlecht
Forum News Service

FARGO — Michael Goodis took his first trip on the North Dakota Grain Growers Association’s “E-Tour” — a guided tour of North Dakota agriculture for Environmental Protection Agency employees — about a decade ago. Since then, he’s been a big promoter of the annual trip and this year was selected to go on the tour again.

The 26th annual tour is making several stops across eastern North Dakota to provide 11 EPA officials from Washington and one from Denver insight into the environmental stewardship of the state’s agriculture. The tour began June 25 and will last through June 28. Highlights include demonstrations on drain tiling and seed treatments and a reception with the North Dakota Craft Brewers Guild. The stops include visits with farmers, a look at modern implements and an aerial tour of the Prairie Pothole region.

“There is no better way than seeing it in person,” said Goodis, director of pesticide registration for the EPA’s office of pesticide programs.

Coming to the state and seeing how regulations get implemented is important, Goodis explained, in making sure that the regulations are workable and serving the purpose they need to serve.

On this year’s trip, Goodis said learning about things like how farmers clean their tanks and booms was important. He also noted that learning about how dicamba is used will help regulators make sure they can put “proper conditions” on the herbicide in order to protect “the environment and neighbors who may be impacted by drift” while still allowing farmers to use it.

Jeff Mertz, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association, said some of the tour is just “Ag 101” for people who may never have visited a farm before. The trip also allows the regulators to see the reality of what modern agriculture looks like.

“They’re really amazed at the vastness and just how big the equipment really is,” he said.

Having the EPA officials in North Dakota allows farmers a chance to talk through issues they have had or give the officials some insight into “what if scenarios” they might face. In exchange, farmers and other ag officials get information about the safe use of pesticides and other environmental considerations.

“I think we gain a better understanding by having the EPA here,” Mertz said.

The North Dakota tour isn’t the only tour EPA officials can go on, but it is considered the “gold standard” for EPA tours, Mertz said. He explained that the diverse nature of the state’s agriculture means officials can learn about different ways of planting the same crops and about how different farmers face different pest issues.

The EPA seeks to make pesticide use safer, and that’s important for farmers, Mertz said. He also pointed out that taking care of the environment is important for all in agriculture.

“We’re just stewards of the land,” he said. “It’s our factory, so we want to protect it.”