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Efforts to Protect MN Water from Ag Pollution Get Funding Boost

Minnesota's Regional Conservation Partnership Program gives farmers a financial incentive to prevent polluted runoff into rivers, streams and lakes.  (kconnors)
Minnesota's Regional Conservation Partnership Program gives farmers a financial incentive to prevent polluted runoff into rivers, streams and lakes. (kconnors)
November 12, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Thanks to renewed funding, Minnesota farmers will continue to see rewards for steps they take to control pollution and minimize runoff from their land into local waterways.

A statewide voluntary program that offers landowners financial incentives for reducing pollution has received a new $9 million federal grant.

As agriculture strategy manager, Leif Fixen follows agriculture trends for The Nature Conservancy. He said they're excited that more farmers can now be part of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. And he called it a good road map for those who want to reduce their environmental impact.

"The types of practices that the Ag Water Quality Certification Program promotes reduce and prevent both sediment and nutrients from getting into our lakes, rivers and streams,” Fixen said.

Those practices include using cover crops and buffer zones, and managing nutrients and fertilizers used on farmland. While the number of farmers in Minnesota has been on the decline, the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture's Census of Agriculture said the state's average farm size increased by more than 20 acres between 1997 and 2017. Bigger farms have prompted concerns about more pollution.

Since it was launched in 2014, the water-quality program has seen more than 800 farms sign up, covering more than 500,000 acres. But that only represents about 2% of the state's farmland.

Fixen said it can be hard to convince farmers to take on added costs to change infrastructure when they're concerned about their bottom line.

"During times of a kind of 'down' ag economy, like we're in right now, it gets tough to add those practices on the ground,” he said.

In addition to helping farmers cover the cost of adding environmentally conscious practices, the program exempts them from any new water-quality regulations over a ten-year period, as long as they maintain those practices.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Sustainable Agriculture, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN