Farmers in the Middle Sauk River watershed district in Stearns County got a firsthand look at Minnesota’s new Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) during two open house events this week.
The Middle Sauk is one of four pilot areas selected to test and refine the voluntary program, which aims to increase on-farm conservation practices to protect Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. Farmers who become certified and maintain approved management practices are assured that their farms meet Minnesota’s water quality goals and standards for 10 years.
“Certified farms are considered to be meeting their contributions to any targeted reductions of pollutants,” said Dennis Fuchs of the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District. “If you’re doing what you need to be doing, then there shouldn’t be any new regulations that impact you.”
Farmers seeking certification will be evaluated and given a score between 1-10 using the MAWQCP assessment tool. “It’s kind of like a speedometer to see where you’re at in your operation,” Fuchs said. In order to become certified, farmers must score an 8.5 or better.
Management factors such as field characteristics, nutrient management, tillage, pest management, irrigation, tile drainage and conservation practices will be used to determine scores. If a farm doesn’t initially score high enough for certification, the farmer will have the opportunity to make management improvements to become certified.
Farmers seeking to make improvements and achieve certification will have priority for USDA and state funding. Local conservation professionals will also be available to assist in planning and implementation. All information about individual farms will remain confidential.
“The goal is ultimately keeping nutrients on the land where they work for us, not in the water where they don’t,” said Dan Martens, an educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. “We have an opportunity here to leverage state and federal resources to make our own farms better and make our lakes, rivers and streams better. That’s a real deal.”
In addition to the Middle Sauk River, MAWQCP is being piloted at Elm Creek in Faribault, Jackson and Martin counties, Whiskey Creek in Otter Tail and Wilkin counties and the Whitewater River in Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona counties.
The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) encourages farmers in the four pilot areas to consider participating in the voluntary program. MCGA will continue working with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to asses the program’s effectiveness in meeting its goal of protecting Minnesota’s water resources.