ST. PAUL — More than 500,000 acres of Minnesota farmland is now enrolled in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program.

The program is voluntary for farmers and landowners. Since the program’s inception in 2014, 772 farms have been certified across Minnesota.

The program marked the milestone on Aug. 1 at Jon and Carin Stevens’ Maple Grove Farm near Rush City. The family grows a variety of crops including corn, soybeans and small grains, as well as raising beef cattle.

“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 Gov. Tim Walz at the event. “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.”

The water program's certified farms have added 1,557 new conservation practices, including more than 52,000 acres of new cover crops that help protect Minnesota’s waters. The practices have kept more than 34,000 tons of sediment out of rivers while saving nearly 86,000 tons of soil and 41,000 pounds of phosphorous on farms each year. The conservation practices have also reduced nitrogen loss up to 49% and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30,000 tons per year.

The program puts farmers in touch with local conservation district experts to identify and mitigate any risks their farm poses to water quality.

The Stevens’ implemented prescribed grazing, managing pastureland and the animals on it, to become certified. They are also studying nitrogen optimization for corn and refining the effectiveness of cover crops in soybeans. Those changes will reduce water runoff and improve soil health.

Jon Stevens said he participated in the program because he sees water quality as part of being a responsible farmer and steward of the land.

After being certified, each farm is deemed to be in compliance with new water quality laws and regulations for 10 years. Certification also can also be used to comply with the state buffer law, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency rewards certified farms by placing their applications first in line for feedlot permitting. 

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