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On farm data used to learn what's flowing off farm fields

Historically, experts have relied upon models to tell farmers what is coming off their land and what management practices to follow.

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Brandon Schafer reflects after being asked a question during a stop at his family farm near Goodhue. Also pictured are Warren Formo, left, and Kurt Krueger.

Historically, experts have relied upon models to tell farmers what is coming off their land and what management practices to follow.

With Clean Water, Land and Legacy funding, actual on-farm data is now being gathered. Discovery Farms Minnesota is one of several projects underway to determine what actually flows off agricultural landscapes and through agricultural tile lines. The project is still in its infancy in Minnesota, with initial sites installed in 2010, but those involved with the project have high hopes for its success.

This will be some of the foremost data in the Midwest, said Adam Birr, impaired waters technical coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

Discovery Farms Minnesota is modeled after Discovery Farms in Wisconsin and the same analytical procedure to analyze nutrients is used in both states, said George Rehm, a Discovery Farms Minnesota coordinator.

Wisconsin has had Discovery Farms for 11 years and farmers have embraced the data, said Dennis Frame, a University of Wisconsin Extension educator who spoke about the Wisconsin project at winter meetings in Minnesota organized by feedlot officers.

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"Farmers want to know what's really happening," he said at the time.

In Minnesota, there's a lot of river and lake monitoring, but not a lot of farm field data, said Scott Matteson, a Minnesota Department of Agriculture hydrologist.

There's a need for the scientific on-farm data Discovery Farms Minnesota can provide, said Kurt Krueger of Rothsay, president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. Krueger was one of more than 40 people who participated in a Sept. 9 Minnesota Department of Agriculture organized bus tour to visit three monitoring sites in southeastern Minnesota. One was a Discovery Farms site. The other two were part of the Root River Field to Stream Partnership.

Scientific data from Discovery Farms and similar on-farm monitoring efforts will show where pollution is coming from, Krueger said. It's actual data, compared to assumptions made before based on the best available information.

The general public can't just point its finger toward agriculture as the source of all water quality problems in Minnesota, he said.

"In general, we crave good information and we use that information to improve the work we do on the land," said Rep. Paul Torkelson, another tour participant.

Torkelson, R-St. James, said it was good to see state agencies cooperating and working together for water quality monitoring. Involving the Nature Conservancy in the Root River Field to Stream Partnership added to the project's credibility.

"When agriculture can speak with a united voice, we have a much better chance of effecting policy," he said.

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Krueger said the daylong bus trip was time well spent.

"This was excellent, we need to do it again," he said.

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