MN program rewards farmers who protect water quality

Wisconsin State Farmer
DNR recommends you test your well water every year to make sure it's safe for your family to drink.

SAINT PAUL, MN (AP) - Minnesota officials say their water-quality certification program is growing.

Minnesota Public Radio reported that the program now covers about 235,000 acres. It first launched as a pilot program three years ago and offers farmers some financial and technical help to change their farming practices in order to improve their water quality. An expert from the county soil and water conservation district visits farms to identify where there might be a risk of water pollution.

Though the program covers less than 1 percent of the state's 26 million acres of farmland, Deputy State Agriculture Commissioner Matthew Wohlman said its "tremendous progress."

Wohlman said about 370 farmers involved with the program have helped reduce the amount of sediment in Minnesota lakes and rivers, and saved millions of pounds of soil from eroding.

Chuck Uphoff was the first farmer in Stearns County to become certified. Uphoff said he doesn't till his land anymore but instead plants cover crops like oats, rye and clover to hold the soil in place while providing food for his cattle.

"I care about my kids and my grandkids and everybody else's kids that are out there that have to drink the water," he said. "It's important to do what we can do to have success, to keep water quality not only where it is, but to get better."

Some environmental groups say the program isn't doing enough. The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy released a report in December 2015 that said the program should address nitrate pollution caused by farm drainage systems.