First farmers certified in Whitewater Watershed

LEWISTON, Minn. — The Whitewater Watershed has its first certified farmer.

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Glen and Tammy Haag were certified as water quality certified farmers on June 27. From left are Cassie Haag, 3, Tammy Haag, Andrew Haag, 1, Connor Haag, 12, Ethan Haag, 6, Glen Haag and Matt Wohlman, assistant Minnesota agriculture commissioner.

LEWISTON, Minn. — The Whitewater Watershed has its first certified farmer.

Glen and Tammy Haag were certified in a Friday morning ceremony in their farm shed while rain pelted the building. Assistant agriculture commissioner Matt Wohlman signed the contract between Haag and the state to make it official.

The contract outlines the duties of the state and the farmer, Wohlman said. It says the farmer will maintain the level of conservation agreed to and the state agriculture department provides regulatory certainty for 10 years.

"My sense is you'd be doing this conservation work anyways," Wohlman said.

This certification is a start not only for his family but for the whole 200,000 acre Whitewater Watershed, Haag said. He knows a lot of farmers who would qualify for the certification. It's not a lot of work for the farmer to go through the assessment, rather the staff at the conservation office do most of the work, he said.


Haag said farmers often get a bad rap for water quality problems. Rather than do nothing, he decided to be proactive in conservation. He credits his father-in-law, David Rupprecht, and his late grandfather-in-law, Hilbert Rupprecht, for teaching him about caring for the land.

The June 17 ceremony was a recognition of his effort. The Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program began in 2012. It's the first-of-its-kind in the nation. The goal is to honor farmers who are doing a good job of managing their farm from a conservation standpoint. Farmers who opt to participate in the program are given assurance that their farms will meet water quality standards for 10 years.

There are four pilot watersheds in Minnesota. Farmers already have been certified in the Whiskey Creek Watershed in northwest Minnesota and the Middle Sauk Watershed in central Minnesota. With Friday's ceremony in the Whitewater, only Elm Creek in south central Minnesota remains.

Wohlman said it's important to commemorate and congratulate the first farmer in each area.

Certification won't result in improvements to water quality overnight, but it will have an effect as it's not fixing a problem here and there, rather it's a whole farm approach.

"We're looking at the entire farm, and it's a system," he said.

The program honors farmers who are not only strong agricultural producers but also good water quality stewards, Wohlman said.

Certification happens one farm at a time, and Wohlman encourages farmers in the pilot watersheds to stop by their conservation office and take a look at the assessment. There is no cost to go through the process, and farmers are under no obligation to proceed to certification. Perhaps farmers will see where improvements need to be made in their farm operation and will choose to make them on their own, and they will forego certification.


Haag chose to be certified on all 800 acres he operates, both rented and owned.

Wohlman said the state agriculture department is learning from the pilot watershed projects and is getting great feedback from the local advisory committees and the state advisory committee. They are in the process of making the assessment tool work better. It will be simpler, faster and easier to use, he said.

Also, they are completing a sensitivity analysis of the assessment tool to determine how effective the tool is scientifically. After the analysis is completed, the agriculture department will be able to release data regarding the effect on phosphorus, nitrogen and total suspended solids.

The Whitewater River Watershed covers about 200,000 acres in Winona, Wabasha and Olmsted counties. It is a tributary to the Mississippi River at Weaver Bottoms.

About 58 percent of land in the watershed is cropped, 8 percent is pasture, 13 percent is woodland and 14 percent is wetland and wildlife management areas.

There are more than 100 miles of trout streams in the watershed.

There are two state parks in the watershed: Whitewater State Park and Carley State Park. 

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