SAINT PAUL, Minn. – With over 500,000 acres of farmland enrolled in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), farmers are making huge steps towards improving Minnesota’s waters.
“Water is one of our state’s most valuable resources and it’s our responsibility to continue protecting it through proven conservation practices and strong partnerships with our farmers,” said Governor Tim Walz.
The MAWQCP has been available statewide since March 2016. Since that time, 772 farms have been certified and 1,590 new practices have been adopted and certified.
“We certainly track the number of growers and acres, but we also track the practices that have been adopted to obtain stewardship and earn that certification,” said Brad Redlin, manager of Ag Water Quality Program.
The program works by farmers calling their local Soil and Water Conservation District to come to their farm for a risk assessment. Each field is given an individual assessment and the risks for potential water contamination are identified.
Farmers are given credit for the various practices they may already be doing to mitigate risks. If they have already installed water ways in a field or have reduced tillage, that counts towards them earning certification.
Those existing practices do not however count towards the new practices adopted or the measuring of the program’s success.
“We tally this weekly, so this week we are showing that those practices have resulted in 34,770 tons of sediment prevented from leaving the land by those practices,” said Redlin. “These are all on an annual basis, so each year there's 34,770 tons of sediment that aren't going into the water.”
Each new practice added to the program is accounted for and has an industry standard amount of reduced pollution associated with it. These values are figured into a calculation, a pollution reduction estimator, and the result is an annual estimate of reduced pollution due to the steps Minnesota farmers are taking.
“The soil saved is 90,540 tons, and that's just soil loss prevented by the practices,” he said. “All those new practices also are scored at having saved 42,040 pounds of phosphorus.”
These figures are all based on an annual estimate.
It is also important to note that each new practice being counted does not correlate to a specific step a grower takes on their farm, but rather the steps they have taken to mitigate an identified risk in a field.
For example, a field may need a series of three water and sediment control basins to fully mitigate a risk to water quality. Thus, the three basins would be counted as one new practice.
The practices adopted have also reduced nitrogen loss by up to 49 percent.
Since nitrogen is not bonded to soil particles like phosphorus is, it is difficult to calculate an exact value retained by each practice. Additionally, nitrogen levels in soil are more subjective and more easily influenced by a grower’s practices and even the weather patterns. Therefore, an estimated percent saved is the best metric that can be calculated.
“Greenhouse gas emissions are another thing that is reduced through different agriculture conservation practices,” he said. “We were delighted to know that the PCA was thinking along the same lines and developing some formulas to calculate the greenhouse gas reductions for different practices.”
In-field water conservation practices lead to greenhouse gas reductions simply by trapping or just maintaining carbon in the soil. Instead of being released as carbon dioxide, different practices build the carbon in the soil, which is later used by the crops.
“Right now, we know that, again on an annual basis, that those practices are reducing those emissions by 31,121 tons per year of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Redlin.
Every week, as new practices are adopted and new farmers are earning their Water Quality Certification, these new numbers continue to increase and improve.
“With over half a million acres of farmland enrolled in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, farmers across Minnesota are continuing to do what they’ve always done: step up to do the hard work that needs to be done,” said Governor Tim Walz.