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Fields being irrigated near Menahga, Minn. in April 2015. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

Environmental groups, Minnesota DNR and R.D. Offutt to seek agreement on pines-to-potatoes study

FARGO – Groups petitioning for an environmental review of a local potato grower's expansion into the pinelands of north-central Minnesota say they're willing to negotiate with the grower and state officials.

The Land Stewardship Project, Pesticide Action Network and Toxic Taters said in a news release Monday that they've given the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 30 more days to respond to their petition.

The extension creates time for the DNR, the three groups and the Fargo-based grower, R.D. Offutt Co., to discuss the terms of a proposed study that would examine the impact of RDO's expansion into the Pinelands Sands Aquifer, a region with sandy soil that's vulnerable to water contamination, the release said.

The environmental groups believe the study, backed by RDO and the DNR, is an insufficient alternative to the environmental review that the groups' petition requested. "As the study is currently designed, there is no opportunity for public input, and the scope is much too narrow to account for impacts like pesticide drift and pollinator decline," Lex Horan of Pesticide Action Network said in a statement.

RDO's clearing of forestland to grow crops in Cass, Hubbard, Becker and Wadena counties has raised concerns about drinking water contamination, water overuse and loss of wildlife habitat.

The petitioning groups are seeking an environmental review of the irrigation well permits requested by RDO. The company initially asked for permits to dig 54 irrigation wells, but has since reduced that number to five. The DNR has already approved a permit for one of the wells.