Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
By Dave Frederickson
April in Minnesota means the return of song birds, baseball and green grass. April also means Earth Day, a time to focus on the ways we can care for our environment. I can't think of a better time to talk about the accomplishments of Minnesota farmers as stewards of the earth.
Minnesota farmers rank near the top when it comes to participation in conservation programs like CRP. They are also making improvements on active farmland. Today, our farmers are producing more food while using input amounts similar to those of 20 years ago. Since the late 1980s, corn acres are up 30 percent; corn yields are up 38 percent and overall production is up 85 percent, yet our nitrogen fertilizer use has risen only 12 percent.
Farmers are also partnering with public and private-sector organizations to gather information about the impacts of different farming practices. One example of this is the Root River Field to Stream Partnership, a unique group working to examine the relationship between natural resources and specific farm practices and to implement precision conservation practices. The partnership includes Minnesota farm groups as well as the Nature Conservancy, Monsanto, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Over the next few years, this partnership will intensively monitor surface and groundwater across the Root River watershed to better understand sources of pollution. The information will then be used to help implement conservation practices where they will be most effective.
Another example of stewardship by Minnesota farmers is Discovery Farms Minnesota. This is a farmer-led, public-private partnership that is gathering data and assessing water quality impacts, both negative and positive, of different types of farms across Minnesota. Discovery Farms provides a collaborative model for gathering and sharing practical information and is the first program in the state to monitor water quality on real, working farms. This program focuses on farmer education, encouraging farmers to identify problems and develop solutions. This program will help guide discussion of and investments in private land conservation that will benefit farmers through reduced input costs, improved soil and water quality and enhanced long-term productivity. These investments in conservation are good for all Minnesotans, as well-managed farms reduce nutrient and sediment runoff, help sustain rural community economies and contribute to food security.
Because our farmers have shown such willingness to be active conservation partners, Governor Dayton and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack signed an agreement in January to develop the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program. Our commitment to working with farmers in this effort is rooted in two key beliefs, that voluntary conservation programs work and that working together will lead to better management decisions on the farm.
No doubt there are challenges facing the agricultural sector, and there is a need to continue working to improve water quality. But we shouldn't let those challenges blind us to the fact that farmers are making real progress on reducing their environmental impacts even as they increase food production to feed our hungry world.