Incentives for modernizing

Minnesota EQIP funds innovative program leading the way on water conservation By Julie MacSwain, adapted from June 29, 2016, USDA NRCS blog post

More than 400 farms in Minnesota are part of a first-of-its-kind project that gives farm- ers 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 in four small watershed pilot project areas. Funded by the NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the project offered producers who demonstrated superior water quality conservation management a 10-year certification by the state of Min- nesota 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 stew- ards of our water and land and it gives farmers an opportunity to make adjust- ments to their production systems and learn more about conservation practices in the process,” said New Munich, Minneso- ta, 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 Pro- gram 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, universi- ties and nonprofits to deliver innovative projects that improve water quality and quantity, wildlife habitat, soil health and other natural resource concerns on work- ing farms, ranches and forests.

“All of us, from farmers to state and federal agencies, and from nonprofits to business- es, have a stake in water quality. Together, we have a responsibility to improve this vital and life-giving resource. Minnesota is

16 Irrigation TODAY | July 2017

taking the lead and showing how partner- ships and innovative programs can change the conservation landscape and make a real difference,” NRCS Minnesota State Con- servationist Cathee Pullman said.

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

“The Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certifica- tion Program is an innovative opportunity to bring people together to address a major challenge — helping Minnesota’s farms and waters to prosper together,” Matthew Wohlman, assistant commissioner of agriculture, said.

Through the MAWQCP, farmers and agricultural landowners become certified producers by voluntarily implementing and maintaining conservation practices that protect 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 certifi- cation status to promote their business and can obtain specially designated technical and financial assistance to implement prac- tices that promote water quality.

Minnesota farmer Chuck Uphoff and Mark Lefebrve, nutrient management specialist at the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District, stand next to Uphoff’s Minnesota Water Quality Certified Farm sign after he signed his certification agreement.

Photo credit: USDA NRCS blog at

This certification also helps assure the pub- lic that producers are using conservation practices and managing their agricultural operations to protect Minnesota’s iconic lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater.

In May 2016, Land O’Lakes, a private agri- business 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, WinField United, has approximately 300,000 farmers in its system representing 100 million acres.

Since its start, MAWQCP has certified more than 400 farms totaling more than 235,000 acres. Together, the program keeps over 14.5 million pounds of sediment out of Minnesota rivers, reduces phosphorus loss by 8,650 pounds, and saves more than 20 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.

Julie MacSwain recently became the assistant state conservationist –

partnership coordinator for the Oregon Natural Resources Conservation Service. Prior to that, she was the state public affairs specialist for NRCS in Minnesota. MacSwain has been with NRCS for 32 years and has held positions including soil conservationist, district conservationist and public affairs specialist in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

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