Written by Noah Hultgren
Minnesota Corn Growers Association President
A statewide editorial that appeared in ECM publications the week of June 24 called on agriculture to take the lead on managing pollutants. As farmers, we’re always working to improve how we grow food, feed, fiber and fuel for an increasing world population.
And when it comes to the important issue of water quality and managing pollutants, farmers are already playing an important leadership role.
For example, corn farmers in Minnesota voluntarily contribute millions of dollars through a state check-off that funds innovative research efforts at third-party institutions like the University of Minnesota. The majority of this research addresses agriculture water quality and seeks to help farmers better manage nitrogen fertilizer and improve agricultural drainage.
The Minnesota Corn Growers Association also recently started a new Conservation Innovation Grant Program that helps farmers implement new practices to protect water quality. The Corn Growers and other agriculture organizations also support Discovery Farms Minnesota, which is a farmer-led effort to collect accurate, real-world data on sediment and nutrients leaving Minnesota’s farm fields.
These are just a few examples of farmers taking the lead on managing pollutants. Unfortunately, none of these efforts were mentioned in the ECM editorial.
In addition to farmer-funded initiatives and research, modern agriculture technology and improved practices help farmers target their use of necessary inputs like nitrogen fertilizer to better protect our lakes, rivers and streams. The amount of technology in my tractor these days looks like a modified version of the space shuttle. Technological advancements help me know which areas of my fields need additional fertilizer and which areas are fine with less. These advancements are very beneficial to area waterways.
More farmers are using a practice called “side-dressing” where nitrogen fertilizer is applied throughout the growing season. Side-dressing allows farmers to use the same amount of nitrogen, but apply it more often and in smaller doses throughout the growing season to help ensure that it’s available to the crop when needed and kept out of nearby waterways. Farmers also use common conservation practices like grass waterways and buffer strips to protect water quality.
Yes, farmers use buffer strips. They’ve been using them long before Gov. Dayton’s recent buffer law. The everyday conservation efforts of today’s farmers don’t generate proactive headlines, but they are making a difference and are another example of farmers taking the lead on managing pollutants.
As a farmer, it’s frustrating when report after report from government agencies and activist groups points the finger at agriculture for water pollution problems. Is there room for improvement in farm country? Absolutely. Many of the investments, initiatives and existing practices I’ve outlined are making progress.
And the news isn’t all doom and gloom. A recent report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency showed reductions in five of seven pollutants found in Minnesota waterways over a 30-year span. That’s meaningful progress we can build on.
What we need to continue the positive momentum is more partnership and less finger-pointing. Farmers live in the communities where they farm. The last thing we want to do is pollute our own waterways, or the waterways of our neighbors down the road.
Often we’re also told that improving our state’s water quality is too daunting of a task. As a farmer, I find that ridiculous. A big part of farming is overcoming obstacles. Striking the proper balance between maintaining a productive, profitable and sustainable farm operation while protecting our waterways is a challenge farmers are already taking on and will continue to do so.
All Minnesotans share the same goal: Better water quality. We might have some disagreements on how to achieve that goal, but it’s time to end the rhetoric and finger-pointing and start doing a better job of working together to achieve our shared goal.
Noah Hultgren farms in Raymond, Minn., and serves as President of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. This column was sent to newspapers throughout the state of Minnesota.