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MAWQCP: Protecting Agricultural Water Quality Through Certification and Collaboration

POSTED BY:

Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program Manager, Minnesota Department of Agriculture

All Minnesotans want access to clean water and all Minnesota farmers want clean water to be part of their legacy.

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) is a new, voluntary, state-federal program that offers Minnesota’s farmers the chance to certify their legacy of stewardship and protect the Land of 10,000 Lakes’ greatest natural resource. After a brief pilot phase, MAWQCP went statewide in July 2015. Since then, the program has certified 198 farms and we just recently celebrated a 100,000-acre milestone for the program.

The program’s unique structure is crucial to its success. MAWQCP is delivered in partnership with Minnesota’s 89 Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) and it’s easy for farmers and landowners to navigate. Minnesota’s SWCDs are trusted partners and frequent collaborators among the state’s farmers. The process for getting certified is straightforward and personalized – all a farmer needs to do to get started is contact their local SWCD.family next to farmstead sign

There are four steps to the water quality certification process:

  • Assessment – a certification specialist conducts an assessment of a farm’s current risk to water quality on a field-by-field basis using an online tool;
  • Collaboration – the certification specialist meets with the farmer to go over the results of the baseline assessment and collaborates on a plan for mitigating any risks to water identified in the assessment;
  • Verification – the certification specialist conducts a field verification to ensure all risks to water quality have been treated, or that a plan is in place to address the risk;
  • Ongoing Support – the certification specialist and farmer stay in touch as the farmer continues to make improvements and changes.

The process is not one-size fits all. When risks to water quality are identified, farmers are eligible to receive priority technical and financial assistance to make the improvements that make the most sense, economically and environmentally, for their operation. Once they are certified, farmers and landowners receive regulatory certainty and are deemed to be in compliance with any new water quality laws or rules for 10 years.

Traditionally, conservation has been delivered in a piecemeal fashion with a farmer implementing one conservation practice at a time. While individual practices can provide real environmental benefits, they often don’t treat all the risks to water quality on a farm all at once. MAWQCP’s model of conservation delivery overcomes this shortfall. The program works in collaboration with farmers and addresses risks to water quality for every field and every crop on their operations. This field-by-field, crop-by-crop methodology allows small acts of conservation to aggregate quickly, creating meaningful water quality benefits for all Minnesotans.

To date, the program has generated more than 300 new conservation practices, from cover crops to improved nutrient management that are annually:

  • Stopping 7.7 million pounds of sediment from entering our waters,
  • Preventing more than 4,700 pounds of phosphorus from entering our lakes and streams, and
  • Keeping more than 10 million pounds of soil where it belongs, in Minnesota fields.

As more farmers learn about the program and become certified, its positive impact on Minnesota will continue to grow. MAWQCP will help ensure Minnesota’s farms and waters can prosper together, which is a legacy all Minnesotans can be proud of.

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A note from Environmental Initiative:

We’ve partnered with MAWQCP through our Field Stewards program. Farmers who are certified through MAWQCP (currently only in Stearns County) are eligible to receive a per acre payment for their conservation practices by enrolling in Field Stewards. This partnership with MAWQCP avoids duplicate certification standards and ensures farmers are recognized and rewarded for their conservation efforts. Learn more about Field Stewards »

MAWQCP is a partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Learn more about MAWQCP »

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