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Innovative Program Leads the Way on Water Conservation

Posted by Julie MacSwain, Minnesota Public Affairs Specialist on June 29, 2016 at 01:32 PM
A landscape photo of a contour strip.

Since its start, MAWQCP has certified more than 170 farms totaling more than 91,000 acres. Together, the program keeps over 7.2 million pounds of sediment out of Minnesota rivers, reduces phosphorus application by 4,600 pounds, and saves nearly 10 million pounds of soil on farms, each year.

More than a hundred farms in Minnesota are part of a first-of-its-kind project that gives farmers peace of mind for using water-friendly practices on their fields. 

In 2013, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helped kick off the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) in four small watershed pilot project areas. Funded by the NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the project offered producers who demonstrated superior water quality conservation management a 10-year certification by the State of Minnesota and regulatory certainty that they would be in compliance with any new state water quality laws and rules that take effect during the certification period.

“The certification program rewards stewards of our water and land and it gives farmers an opportunity to make adjustments to their production systems and learn more about conservation practices in the process,” said New Munich, Minnesota certified-farmer Chuck Uphoff. “It’s my hope that the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program expands to touch every agricultural acre in Minnesota.”

Following a successful pilot period, in 2015, NRCS selected MAWQCP as one of 115 Regional Conservation Partnership Projects (RCPP) projects and committed $9 million to the project to further develop and expand the MAWQCP as a national demonstration project for protecting both water quality and helping conserve working lands.

RCPP brings together a wide variety of new partners, including businesses, universities, and non-profits to deliver innovative projects that improve water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, soil health and other natural resource concerns on working farms, ranches, and forests.

“All of us, from farmers to state and federal agencies, and from nonprofits to businesses, have a stake in water quality. Together, we have a responsibility to improve this vital and life-giving resource. Minnesota is taking the lead and showing how partnerships and innovative programs can change the conservation landscape and make a real difference,” NRCS Minnesota State Conservationist Cathee Pullman said.

NRCS and multiple partners, including the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), share in the development, delivery and funding of this program. As the lead partner on the project, MDA is contributing up to $10 million in financial and technical assistance and providing education, training, research and promotion for the program. 

“The Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program is an innovative opportunity to bring people together to address a major challenge – helping Minnesota’s farms and waters to prosper together,” said Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture, Matthew Wohlman. “The important partnership with NRCS and the funding through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program has been critical to our success in certifying Minnesota farmers and achieving water quality outcomes. 

Through the MAWQCP, farmers and agricultural landowners become certified producers by voluntarily implementing and maintaining conservation practices that protect our water. Local SWCD professionals assist landowners through the certification process, which assesses every acre of their entire operation, focuses on whole-farm conservation planning and determines only those places where conservation treatments are needed.

Certified producers receive regulatory certainty for 10 years, may use their certification status to promote their business and can obtain specially designated technical and financial assistance to implement practices that promote water quality. This certification also helps assure the public that producers are using conservation practices and managing their agricultural operations to protect Minnesota’s iconic lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater.

Certified producers receive regulatory certainty for 10 years, may use their certification status to promote their business and can obtain specially designated technical and financial assistance to implement practices that promote water quality.

Recently, Land O’Lakes, a private agribusiness and food company, entered the partnership and will use its extensive ag retail network to help expand MAWQCP participation in Minnesota. The company’s seed and crop protection business, Windfield US, has approximately 300,000 farmers in its system representing 100 million acres. 

“As the third-largest farmer cooperative in the nation, working with 25,000 farms in Minnesota alone, Land O’Lakes, Inc. takes private industry participation in the MAWQCP partnership to a new level,” said State Conservationist Pullman. “Helping support this kind of precedent-setting conservation collaboration is what the RCPP was created to do.”

Since its start, MAWQCP has certified more than 170 farms totaling more than 91,000 acres. Together, the program keeps over 7.2 million pounds of sediment out of Minnesota rivers, reduces phosphorus application by 4,600 pounds, and saves nearly 10 million pounds of soil on farms, each year. The large base of support stems from the program’s unique design, which delivers conservation via local partnerships.

Tags: Minnesota, water quality, Regional Conservation Partnership Program

categories Conservation Programs , Environment, Landscape Initiatives, Water & Climate

2 response(s) to "Innovative Program Leads the Way on Water Conservation"

Eleanor Mattice says:
07/11/2016

This is so hopeful. We are trying to come up with a plan to protect critical waterways that intersect with agricultural lands in our area.

Nakhanu Wegesa Fraser says:
01/22/2018

This is a wonderful and very useful program that if adopted in especially semi-arid areas can produce more than we can ever imagine. It will be nice to get more information on how to Synchronize with you. Best regards.

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