Back in 2020, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz set
certified in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification program by the end of 2022. The goal was about a year late, yet the milestone, struck in October, is still one worth noting.
Program manager Brad Jordahl Redlin said with several applications coming each week and around 300 applications open at a time, it was never a question of if they would reach the goal, rather when.
“We were really pleased to see it,” Redlin said of the milestone. “It’s always spinning, always adding.”
When considering ways to build healthier soil and water and enhance a farm’s legacy, this water quality program stands out among the crowd. It all started with the first certifications back in 2014. Redlin said he’s had a front row seat since they began shaping the program in 2012. He said it’s an honor to get to see the inner working of these farm operations as farmers invite them in to see their strengths and perhaps vulnerabilities.
It’s a voluntary program that gives farmers an opportunity to implement conservation practices on the land that enhances water quality. While water quality is in the name, soil health, added revenue streams, enhanced profitability and funding opportunities are also realized by many who become certified in the program. Certified acres are also deemed compliant with water quality laws and regulations for a period of 10 years.
For the producer, these are practices that can make a lot of sense. Redlin works in the pesticide and fertilizer division of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. On a certification event in 2023, Redlin described what the practices were doing on
just one of over 1,400 farms that are certified. Just the act of adding cover crops to that operation was expected to have significant benefits on the farm and on water quality well beyond those acres.
“Just that one practice resulted in 7,000 tons per year of soil saved in this farming operation… 2,000 tons of sediment prevented from being lost … and 2,000 pounds of phosphorus saved from being lost per year on this operation,” Redlin said.
Cover crops are not an uncommon practice of farmers, even those who do so outside of this certification program. But cover crops are just one option that works for some farms. The program seeks to assist with what works best for each operation.
Redlin said by becoming certified, and getting a sign to stick in the ground, it shows the greater community that this operation is taking steps towards better water quality. He said that a little sign can provide a stage or podium for farmers to share their story. It shows the public that the producer is using conservation practices that promote water quality.
With 1 million acres now enrolled, Redlin said it’s clear that growers believe in it.
“No sense doing a program if the growers aren’t going to participate,” Redlin said. He believes a key is that the department plans to keep this a voluntary program.
Redlin said that there are other programs with similar characteristics in other states. But what sets it apart is an entire operation approach.
“No one does the whole farm, all aspects, all points in the rotation, full service model, comprehensive engagement that we do in this program,” Redlin said. Survey results have shown that participants appreciate that this program looks at everything, all the work that they are doing to be better.
On the Twin Rivers Seed Farm in Staples, Minnesota, the process to certification took about a year. Others have taken up to four years, if major work needs to be done such as building up erosion control systems on a sugarbeet farm. In comparison, a pasture-based farm, with perennial vegetation, can be certified rather quickly.
The types of farms and amount of acreage is fairly wide open. Area certification specialist Jim Lahn said that acreage he has helped certify has ranged from 6,000 acres to just 1 acre. In the end everyone getting certified has a similar reason for doing it.
“I think that interest continues because producers, they want to tell the story of the good things they are doing to protect Minnesota’s water quality and they are willing to make changes if needed,” Lahn said.
The governor has not yet called for the next goal for the program, Redlin said. Even so, staff are pressing onward with applications continuing to come in.
What does it take?
While becoming certified in anything can seem like quite an undertaking, the MAWQC Program includes a one page, single sided application to get started.
That application includes five questions that relate to pollution control, wetlands conservation, sewage treatment, chemical use, and shoreland protection. A producer who can answer “yes” to all those initial questions is well on their way to certification. If producers answer “no” to any of them, a representative can begin working to offer technical and financial assistance to help a producer become compliant and eventually get certified.
process, visit the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website at
Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minn., where he is starting to homestead with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-640-2312.
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