The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has committed to pursuing certification of 15,000 acres of croplands it owns and manages as part of a statewide effort to protect water quality.
The effort falls under the Department of Agriculture's Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. Farmers and agricultural producers are certified for voluntarily managing their land in a way that conserves the state’s water.
To date, the program has evaluated and certified over 450,000 acres of Minnesota farmland. With the DNR’s commitment, 465,000 acres will be enrolled into the certification program.
"The DNR needs to be a leader in ensuring croplands we manage contribute to water quality goals," said Tom Landwehr, DNR commissioner. "The certification program demonstrates to us, and to the people of Minnesota, that we are using best practices in our land management activities."
The DNR’s small farm fields, mainly scattered across western and southern Minnesota, are managed to provide a supplemental food source for wildlife, particularly in winter months, to increase wildlife viewing or hunting opportunities, or to provide alternate food sources for wildlife to prevent crop damage on private lands.
In most cases, the DNR uses agreements with local farmers to plant and manage the fields. In return for planting and managing the crop, the cooperating farmer harvests a portion of the field for themselves and leaves the remaining crop to stand through the winter.
The DNR continually seeks opportunities to improve how it manages public lands administered by the agency, including cropland. Improving cropping practices on DNR lands can provide a number of desired benefits, including enhancing feeding opportunities for wildlife, protecting plants and animals on surrounding habitats, conserving and protecting water quality, protecting air quality, as well as sequestering carbon and conserving energy.
"The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program has long been a collaborative effort between federal, state, and local partners," said Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. "We are pleased to enroll these DNR-owned lands into the program. This demonstrates how we can all work together to make clean water a priority."
As a supporting partner in the water quality certification program, the DNR participated in the Agriculture Department’s initial efforts to pilot the program, certifying 900 acres of DNR land in 2015 in southeastern Minnesota.
In 2012, the state of Minnesota began developing the nation’s first Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program to protect and enhance the water quality of its rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands and groundwater.
The following year the Minnesota Legislature authorized the Department of Agriculture to begin implementing the program. Farm producers who implement the necessary conservation practices and participate in the program receive regulatory certainty for 10 years, recognition and priority for technical and financial assistance.
Learn more about the farmland certification program on the Department of Agriculture’s website at mylandmylegacy.com.
Photo: DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr (left) and MN Dept. of Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson sign agreement for MN Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program.