To kick off 2021, Gov. Tim Walz’s administration is setting its sights high for its landmark water-quality initiative.
Less than two years since crossing the half-million mark, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is aiming to certify 1 million acres of farmland for its flourishing Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) by January 2023.
“I’m excited to announce this goal of enrolling 1 million acres in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program by the end of my current term as Governor,” Gov. Walz said. “This is a key effort we can take to ensure our lakes, rivers and drinking water are protected for future generations. We must do this because Minnesota’s natural resources are a unique part of our state and culture. Farmers understand this. They are stewards of our land and water and are already helping to protect these resources.”
MDA Commissioner Thom Petersen lauded the program for the myriad benefits it provides not just farmers, but Minnesota’s environment and agriculture economy.
“We already know that certified farms have a major impact on our environment for the better,” said Petersen, who lives on a horse farm in Pine City. “Soil is being saved on the farm, sediment is staying out of our rivers, and nutrients remain where they should.”
Farmers enrolled in the MAWQCP reported greater profitability on their operations and higher yields when compared to their peers, according to early data from AgCentric’s Farm Business Management Program.
“The certification program is also good for our ag economy,” Petersen said. “Early research has indicated that the average net income of ag water-quality-certified farms is 26% higher than non-certified farms. This program is a win for agriculture and our natural resources, and I encourage farmers and landowners to see what it takes to get their land certified.”
The MAWQCP supports three endorsements available to water-quality-certified producers: Soil Health, Integrated Pest Management, and Wildlife. Farmers can contact their local SWCD to apply for MAWQCP certification and then complete a series of steps with local certifiers using a 100% site-specific risk assessment process. By law, all data is kept private, and only by signing a formal release can a farmer’s name be released publicly. After becoming certified, farmers receive a 10-year contract ensuring they will be deemed in compliance with any new water-quality laws, an official MAWQCP sign to display on their farm and other benefits developed by local MAWQCP providers.
More than 1,000 producers are currently certified in the MAWQCP, covering more than 715,000 certified acres, and implementing more than 2,050 new conservation practices. In summer 2019, Gov. Walz and Commissioner Petersen marked the MAWQCP exceeding the half-million-acre mark. Now more than two-thirds of the way toward his administration’s goal, Walz predicts farmers will continue leading the way in implementing time-tested conservation practices benefiting all Minnesotans.
“We have always been able to count on farmers when we need them the most,” Gov. Walz said, “so I am confident we can make this goal, ensure we’re making measured improvements to our valuable natural resources, and safeguard farming profits all at the same time.”