In just four short years, Minnesota Discovery Farms has come a long way.
“The program has really taken off. We’ve established a working network from the southeast corner of Minnesota all the way up to the far northwest,” said Warren Formo, executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center.
Discovery Farms is a farmer-led effort to gather field scale water quality information from different types of farming systems in landscapes throughout Minnesota. The information is gathered under real-world conditions, accounting for the differences in the many farms across Minnesota and helping to develop a true understanding of the relationship between farming and water quality.
Formo provided a progress update on Discovery Farms to a room full of farmers at the MinnWest Technology campus in Willmar. Included in the update were results of a research project conducted on one of the Discovery Farms that compared commercial fertilizer to turkey manure as a nutrient source for crop production. The study also examined environmental impacts.
The results? In general the nutrient source did not affect corn yield or sediment and nutrient losses. The project is just one example of site-specific and on-farm data that is collected on the 11 farms participating in the Discovery Farms project.
“Most of the data that we have on water is really large-scale,” Formo said. “By gathering data at the farm scale, we begin to see that it’s not about the averages, what’s really important to understand is the range of the numbers.”
The results are a learning opportunity for both non-farmers and farmers.
“There are some people that are simply wrong and that sometimes includes farmers,” Formo said. “We have ideas about what’s going on on our own farms and the data doesn’t really bear out. We’re trying to gather data that helps farmers understand, and helps others understand, the true impact of agriculture and farming activity on the water.”
To learn more about recent Discovery Farm projects, check out the 2013 program update and listen to the below interview with Formo.