E-mail: An ag official's critical input into Troubled Waters before its release


Both the Land Stewardship Project and the Minnesota Daily have reported on an e-mail that reflects outsider input — if not influence — from an agricultural interest into the editing of Troubled Waters, the controversial environmental documentary on agricultural pollution of the Mississippi River.

As you’ll remember, the University of Minnesota last month canceled its debut, and after a public outcry, went ahead with it. Some have speculated whether agricultural influence — or mere fear of it — might have prompted the original cancellation.

According to the two reports above, Kristin Weeks Duncanson, vice chair of the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council’s board of directors, wrote Bell officials in April after reviewing a copy of the film she’d received from U of M ag Dean Al Levine. (She had not been on the original list of reviewers, but may have been part of the university’s damage control plans that included informing the ag community.)

Background tip: She may have been linked to such criticism before. Duncanson, the Land Stewardship Project writes, used to be president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, which in 2008 temporarily canceled a $1.5 million grant to the U of M after being upset over research that showed biofuels’ negative environmental consequences. (MinnPost’s Dave Brauer recently wrote about that episode here.)

In this case, Duncanson apparently didn’t call for the film to be pulled, but said it needed to some “tweaking.” She had a number of issues with it, including accuracy of data and assertions in the film, focus on organic farming, as well as the exclusion of certain angles and information such as conventional farmers’ efforts to be environmentally friendly.

Among her concerns:

“The film points at the Farm Bill and government policy as the root to all evil when it comes to the problems with the river. … The comments regarding the Farm Bill could be very dangerous for the University.”


Once again we hear the joy and salvation of the organic farmer and grass-fed beef to solve the nutrition problems of people and containment problems in the river. Although there is certainly a place for these types of operations in the food system, they will not feed all the (mouths) of a hungry world.

About agriculture’s reaction:

Don’t get me started on the (U of M Professor David) Tillman comments. No matter what that guy says, the Corn and Soybean folks will be upset. … Who is the audience? Will this piece have the University’s name on it? I am very concerned about the piece.

Her conclusion:

Can it be fixed? Yes, point out the hard work conventional farmers do to be good stewards and how most farmers do not like to use government programs for the most part …

She then suggests other points to include.

You can read the e-mail — part of 2,500 pages of correspondence released by the U under a data request — here.