Minnesota appeals court ignores threat to Pineland Sands communities’ water and health

MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Court of Appeals will not reverse the state’s decision to allow more irrigation permits in the Pineland Sands region, despite the lack of full environmental review – a ruling that clears the way for the further expansion of industrial-scale potato farming that has razed forests, poisoned drinking water wells and exposed communities to aerial spraying of toxic pesticides.

“We are profoundly disappointed in the court’s ruling,” said Environmental Working Group senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources Craig Cox.

“There is overwhelming evidence that irrigated row crop agriculture – especially industrial potato cultivation – cannot be done in the Pineland Sands without polluting water,” Cox said. “This ruling puts the water and health of tribal communities and the people who live in the area at continued risk. The people of the Pineland Sands region should not be forced to drink contaminated water so the world’s biggest potato producer can sell more of its product to McDonald’s.”

For 50 years, R.D. Offutt Farms, or RDO, the largest potato grower in the world, has been the driving force behind clear-cutting pine forests in the Pineland Sands to expand industrial-scale irrigated potato-growing operations.

Independent scientific analysis found that the latest proposed irrigated potato site would increase nitrate contamination of the area’s groundwater and drinking water to more than double the legal limit under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency study found that nitrate levels in the Straight River, which cuts through the Pinelands Sands and is surrounded by irrigation wells, are now 100 times higher than in areas not harmed by industrial potato farming.

Yet the court sided with the state Department of Natural Resources’ decision that the proposed expansion would not harm the water and the people who rely on it, denying appeals from residents and advocates that the project should not proceed without a comprehensive environmental review.

“It’s not just the Pineland Sands region this ruling threatens,” Cox said. “The area also includes the headwaters of the Mississippi River, which provides drinking water for millions of people, and the main source of pollution fueling the annual Gulf of Mexico ‘dead zone.’”

A coalition of local community members, activists, scientists, legal experts, tribal representatives and environmental groups banded together to fight RDO’s relentless pollution of Pineland Sands communities and resources. The coalition includes Honor the Earth, Minnesota Well Owners Organization, Northern Water Alliance, Pollinator Stewardship CouncilToxic Taters, EWG, agricultural experts and retired state agency officials.

EWG is considering other options to require the Department of Natural Resources to conduct a full environmental review, including petitioning the state Supreme Court to reverse the appellate court decision.


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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