Becoming the most environmentally responsible farmers

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) announced today its intentions to implement an ambitious set of initiatives with the goal of making Minnesota corn farmers the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the United States.

In making the announcement, MCGA President Harold Wolle said: “This is a grassroots, farmer-driven effort that addresses values shared by both farmers and non-farmers. It’s a lofty goal. But we believe the approximately 25,000 corn farmers MCGA represents are already making great strides in achieving it. We want to be a model for the rest of the country in how we take care of the land while also managing profitable and highly productive farm operations.”

The plan calls on Minnesota corn farmers to engage in sustainability programs and implement on-farm best management practices that fit their specific farm. It also expands a new MCGA grant program focused on conservation, calls for greater investment in developing new uses for corn and seeks to grow partnerships with outside organizations.

Examples of action steps include encouraging Minnesota corn farmers to engage in existing sustainability programs like the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program and adopt best management practices (BMPs) such as following the University of Minnesota’s nitrogen fertilizer use guidelines. MCGA also recently launched an Innovation Grant program to help farmers implement new BMPs. The organization has also invested in new market opportunities in the areas of sustainable polymers, biofuels and green chemistry.

“We don’t need to choose between profitability and environmental sustainability. We can achieve both,” said Chad Willis, a farmer near Willmar who Chairs the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC). “Part of being sustainable is remaining profitable so you can invest in new conservation efforts and ensure that the land you currently farm is left in good shape for the next generation.”

Nearly 100 percent of farmer and non-farmer respondents to a recent survey conducted by MCGA said that “protecting water quality of Minnesota lakes, rivers and streams” was important. Nearly 80 percent of non-farmer respondents to the same survey said that as a general rule, Minnesota farmers try to do what’s best to protect water and the environment.

“Farmers live and raise families in the communities where they farm. The last thing we want to do is have a negative impact on our own community’s natural resources,” said Wolle, who farms near St. James. “I think most non-farmers understand that and trust farmers to do the right thing. But farmers are also held to an incredibly high standard, and rightfully so. We have to continuously improve so we can become even better stewards of the land and contribute to healthier and more vibrant rural communities.”

Building new partnerships and strengthening existing collaborations are also a key part of MCGA’s new initiative. MCGA invests approximately $4 million annually in research efforts – the majority through the University of Minnesota — that focus on water quality and nitrogen management. The American Lung Association has been a key partner in helping MCGA make Minnesota a national leader in the use of cleaner-burning ethanol fuel. Recent new partnerships include the Environmental Initiative and Fishers & Farmers.

“We’re asking how we can leverage our resources with the resources of other organizations that share similar goals and values,” Willis said. “Divisiveness and pitting various groups against each other won’t improve water quality and result in more productive farms. We have to invite everyone to the table to collaborate and see how we can work together.”

MCGA leaders will be highlighting the plan at an event at the University of Minnesota on Monday, Oct. 17, titled “9 Billion and Counting: Abolishing Hunger.” The event comes a day after Minnesotans celebrate “Norman Borlaug Day.” Borlaug was a famous U of M researcher who focused on using science to improve agricultural practices.

“I’m proud of our farmer-leaders for setting the bar as high as they have with this set of initiatives,” said Dr. Adam Birr, MCGA Executive Director. “I believe our state’s corn farmers are up to the challenge. This plan incorporates everything from water quality to profitability to help our farmers get there. It’s truly a farmer-driven effort.”

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