The bottom line: Ag Water Quality Certified farms earn higher profitability

Numbers don’t lie. They also tell a story.

Farmers enrolled in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) have higher profits than non-certified farms, according to five years of data from the Minnesota State Agricultural Centers of Excellence.

The “Influence of Intensified Environmental Practices on Farm Profitability” study examines financial and crop and livestock production information from farmers enrolled in the Minnesota State Farm Business Management education program. The 126 MAWQCP farms in the study saw more gross cash farm income and net farm income in 2023 vs. non-certified farms. Looking at five-year average data, the average net cash income for MAWQCP farms was over $213,600 compared to nearly $163,000 for non-MAWQCP farms. Other key financial metrics are also better for those enrolled in the MAWQCP, such as debt-to-asset ratios and operating expense ratios.

The five years of data serve as an indicator of a positive return on investment for whole-farm conservation management that farmers implement to become certified.

“We now have continuous data that shows the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program provides better economic outcomes on top of the benefits to our water and soil resources,” said Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen. “With so many advantages to the MAWQCP, I encourage all farmers and landowners to look into certifying their land and contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District for more information.”

MSR&PC Director Paul Freeman, who also served as president of MSGA, was an early champion of the MAWQCP.

“The MAWQCP producers participating in Farm Business Management can enhance farm profitability by benchmarking various aspects of their farm operations,” said Keith Olander, Executive Director of AgCentric, and Agricultural Partnerships. “This study shows that these producers operate with a higher level of efficiency compared to their peers.”

Click here to find details on the economic study.

The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) has been a staunch supporter of the MAWQCP from its inception. Numerous farmer leaders from both MSGA and the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council have enrolled in the program, helping to spread the word of the program’s benefits. During international visits, Minnesota Soybean leaders tout the MAWQCP as a sign of Minnesota’s sustainable farming practices. The MAWQCP is also a longtime supporter of MN Ag Expo and Soybean Business, and was profiled in the November-December 2023 cover story of MSGA’s official magazine.

“I’ve been recommending it to other farmers because so many have been doing the same practices that we’ve been doing,” said MSGA Director Mike Skaug, a Beltrami farmer who enrolled in MAWQCP in 2018. “It’s easy for any farmer to get certified.”

The MAWQCP puts farmers in touch with local conservation district experts to identify and mitigate any risks their farm poses to water quality on a field-by-field basis. Producers going through the certification process have priority access to financial assistance. After being certified, each farm is deemed in compliance with new water quality laws and regulations for 10 years.

Since the program’s statewide launch in 2016, the 1,500 Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality certified farms have added more than 2,915 new conservation practices that protect Minnesota’s waters. Those new practices have kept over 48,250 tons of sediment out of Minnesota rivers while saving 144,125 tons of soil and nearly 60,375 pounds of phosphorous on farms each year. The conservation practices have also reduced nitrogen loss up to 49% and cut greenhouse gas emissions by over 58,250 tons per year.

Farmers and landowners interested in becoming water quality certified can contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District or visit MyLandMyLegacy.com.

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