MN FarmWise seeks farmer-led conservation

MN FarmWise is a community-based, farmer-to-farmer initiative designed to improve water quality by increasing the voluntary adoption of critical conservation practices that reduce flow, sediment and nutrient runoff in vulnerable areas of a Minnesota River subwatershed.

The FarmWise program, sponsored by The Mosaic Company Foundation, is a partnership of the Freshwater Society, the National Park Service and – most importantly – participating farmers. The program began in 2011 with a small seed grant from the Minnesota Community Foundation and is guided by an advisory board that includes farmers and agricultural professionals.

MN FarmWise Advisory Committee

Joan Nephew:
Executive Director, Freshwater Society

Peggy Knapp: 
Director of Programs, Freshwater Society

Lark Weller: 
National Park Service

Warren Formo: 
Agricultural Water Resources Center

Bill Bond: 
Minnesota Crop Retailers Assn.

Beth Kallestad:
Cannon River Watershed Partnership

Dave Legvold:
Legvold Farms, Dakota County

Mark Dittrich: 
MN Dept of Agriculture

Patrick Moore:
Clean Up the River Environment

Gary Sands: 
U of M Extension

Doug Peterson:
President, MN Farmers Union

In its pilot phase, MN FarmWise is working in partnership with the Cannon River Watershed Partnership and farmers and land owners to protect and restore Rice Creek, the only remaining trout stream in Rice County.

Read a Freshwater newsletter about FarmWise and Dave Legvold, a Northfield-area farmer who is a member of the program’s advisory committee. Read an August 2012 news release announcing the program. Read a Northfield News article about FarmWise.

Water quality in the Minnesota River Valley has been the subject of a barrage of media attention and public comment. The debate about who is at fault for the increases in sediment flowing downriver has created acrimony and tension between environmental groups and the agricultural community and has impeded progress on working toward clean water goals. Record land and crop prices have created attractive incentives for farmers to increase yields and farm every available acre.

According to a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report, in order to meet water quality goals for the Minnesota River, sediment loads will need to decrease 50 to 60%. With 62% of the Minnesota River Valley planted in row crops, and agricultural activities comprising up to 90% of land uses, Minnesota must engage and empower local leadership in the agricultural community to generate and implement ideas and projects that improve water quality.

Farmers know their land. There is an existing network of conservation-minded farmers who can and will share ideas with neighbors if they are invited to participate, supported in their efforts, and given the chance to lead. The MN FarmWise program will expand and strengthen farmer-led action to support a conservation ethic.

Ultimately the FarmWise program will generate and test a model process that can be replicated by soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts and others to engage local farmers voluntarily to make land management decisions that meet both economic and water quality goals—and to develop a “toolkit” intended to maximize the effectiveness of these local partnerships. Given the complexity, high visibility and scope of water quality issues in Minnesota’s agricultural areas, we must understand what factors, conditions and processes increase voluntary participation in conservation farming strategies.