Minnesota Seeks to Regulate Neonic Seed

Nebraska Ethanol Plant Environmental Disaster Sparks Treated-Seed Bill in Minnesota

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Environmental Editor
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Minnesota lawmakers considered a bill this week that would ban the use of treated seed in ethanol production and require state agencies to regulate disposal, following the environmental disaster at an ethanol plant in Nebraska. (DTN file photo)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The environmental disaster at a former ethanol plant in Mead, Nebraska, has sparked concern in other states -- most recently in Minnesota.

A Minnesota legislative committee held a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would ban the use of pesticide-treated seed in ethanol production and require the state to set rules regulating such seed.

Legislation originally was introduced last year but didn't make it through the Minnesota Legislature.

During a public hearing of the state's House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee, it became apparent the disaster at AltEn LLC's plant in Nebraska caught the attention of Minnesota lawmakers.

The Mead plant was shut down by state regulators and is still undergoing cleanup by a number of seed companies, that are removing seed treated with neonicotinoids and distillers grains piled on the property while cleaning and monitoring groundwater in the tiny village west of Omaha.

"You know, we didn't know what was happening in Nebraska until it happened," bill sponsor Rep. Rick Hansen told the committee.

"And then we found out that Minnesota seed was going (to Mead). We've said many times in this committee, prevention is better than cleanup."

The committee did not take a vote on the bill Wednesday, and instead will attach it to a budget measure making its way through the Minnesota Legislature.

House File 1317 would take several steps to prevent such a disaster like that in Mead from occurring.

First, it would make it illegal in Minnesota to use pesticide-treated seed in ethanol production as well as prohibit its use in food, feed or oil products.

It prohibits people from using, storing, handling, distributing or disposing of pesticide-treated seed in a manner that "endangers humans, food, livestock, fish or wildlife," or in a way that will "cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment."

In addition, the bill would require the Minnesota commissioner of agriculture to require a caution statement on corn and soybean seeds treated with chemicals to the effect: "Planting seed treated with a neonicotinoid pesticide may negatively impact pollinator health. Please use care when handling and planting this seed."

Also, the state would provide about $275,000 in funding to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the state's department of agriculture to provide guidance to consumers on the proper use and disposal of treated seed.

The bill outlines disposal methods that are prohibited, including burial near drinking water sources or creeks, streams, rivers, lakes and any other surface water. The measure would not allow treated seed to be composted or incinerated in homes or other dwellings.

Pierce Bennett, director of public policy at the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, said state lawmakers need to remember farmers use pesticide-treated seed to reduce the amount of chemicals they spray on their crops.

"When they're choosing to use this technology is often utilized in a way to try to decrease the amount of spray pesticide and also used as a way within precision agriculture to narrow down the scope of what they're doing when they're making these planting decisions," Bennett told the committee.

One of the farm bureau concerns, he said, was decisions made about labeling such products could "disrupt" access to the products down the road.

"Specifically, that process being worked alongside with the EPA as they would be helping to define or approve new labels and what that would mean if we had a Minnesota-specific label," Bennett said.

"Our farmers do their best to protect the environment and be stewards of the land and they utilize products in this way to try to do so."


Christopher Cowen, a lobbyist for the Pesticide Action Network of North America, told the committee such a bill is long overdue in Minnesota.

"Take a look at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture 2021 water quality monitoring report and just see the amount of pesticides and the number of pesticides that are showing up in our groundwater and our well water, in our surface water and even in our rainwater," Cowen said.

"We have a lot of water in Minnesota. We also have a lot of pesticides. And I think now is the time to consider a bill such as this one."

Margot Monson, an entomologist and beekeeper from St. Paul, told the committee about the struggles the Mead community still is having as a result of the disaster.

"Fish and beaver kills have been reported and neonics and fungicides are now being detected in tadpoles and blackbird eggs that live near the facility," Monson said.

"And they're still reeling with persistent and widespread bee losses today. The EPA suggests it is going to take many years to clean it up. But there have been no processes discussed for cleaning it up."


One of the challenges state lawmakers and others are having is sorting out regulatory responsibilities between the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

A provision in the bill requires the agencies to work together on adopting rules for disposal.

Bruce Kleven, a lobbyist for the Red River Valley Sugarbeets Growers Association, said his group would like to see the legislature give specific guidance to the agencies instead.

"The rules must clearly identify the regulatory jurisdiction of state agencies and local governments with regard to such seed," Kleven said.

"It just seems like this is a little backwards where it would maybe be the legislature's call to decide who's going to do what."

So far, the federal EPA has declined to regulate seeds coated with pesticides.

The agency rejected a 2017 petition by environmental groups to regulate treated seed, in a decision issued on Sept. 28, 2022. However, EPA said at the time it would launch a rulemaking to seek additional information on whether and to what extent treated seed should be regulated.

As of 2021, treated seed was planted on an estimated 180 million acres.


Rep. Steve Jacob, a farmer from Altura, questioned the need for the bill. He said farmers are responsible about how they handle seed and chemicals.

"As a farmer who plants treated seeds, I keep track of literally not how much of a bag of seed I have left but how many seeds are in each bag, how many seeds it takes to cover each acre of ground," he said during the hearing.

"The price of that seed is astronomical. I'm not going to let one of those seeds get away from me. And if I have a part of a bag left over from one year to the next, I'm calculating that into my next year's (crops). I can't see myself or any of my neighbors or constituents in my area doing anything other than putting that seed in the ground."

Read more on DTN:

"Seed Treatment Overload: The Unintended Consequences of a Popular Practice," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

"Seed Companies Volunteer to Clean Up Mead," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @DTNeeley

Todd Neeley

Todd Neeley
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