ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota farmer brings new approach to water management

On Dec. 3, I had the privilege to share with the Agriculture Committee of the U.S. Senate both my experience as a Minnesota farmer working on water management and my thoughts about how we in agriculture can contribute to improved water quality.

We are part of The Trust Project.

On Dec. 3, I had the privilege to share with the Agriculture Committee of the U.S. Senate both my experience as a Minnesota farmer working on water management and my thoughts about how we in agriculture can contribute to improved water quality.

For many of us in agriculture, good stewardship of our own land -- and the land we rent -- is a core value passed through the generations. It's also fundamental to good business and ensuring that we can pass successful farms on to the next generation. Good stewardship means we are always seeking to improve our operations. In recent years, we've been learning to use cover crops to build soil health. It helps us retain nutrients in the soil, use less fertilizer, and keep sediment and nutrients out of the water.

Farmers working together to manage water resources also goes back generations. For many years, my farming community in south central Minnesota focused entirely on making sure we had infrastructure to move excess water off of fields. More recently, we worked together to design a two-tiered ditch system with a holding pond and native grasses that gets the water off of our fields but slows the water down and absorbs the nutrients it carries with it. This helps improve water quality downstream, increase productivity of working lands, and decrease flooding of houses in the nearby town.

We as producers need to do conservation differently. We need to focus on water quality outcomes at the watershed level, not just stewardship of our individual operations. With technical support from universities, agencies or the private sector, we need to measure agricultural practices and environmental outcomes at multiple scales. We need to work together as producer communities to set conservation goals, to determine a basic level of stewardship we all should achieve, and to invest cost share and public dollars on cost-effective structural practices that achieve outcomes.

Government should focus resources to achieve specific conservation outcomes; provide regulatory certainty to producers who voluntarily demonstrate continuous improvement to achieve water quality goals; and facilitate collection and sharing of data to improve knowledge while ensuring voluntarily shared data remains private and cannot be used for regulatory action.

ADVERTISEMENT

Forward-looking producers and landowners are ready to provide leadership. As a member of the Advisory Committee of AGree, an effort that brings together a variety of producers with companies along the food and ag supply chain, environmental organizations, and public health and international development experts, I have worked with other producers to develop an approach we believe can successfully engage farmers and ranchers in achieving improved outcomes in working landscapes. What we are calling Working Lands Conservation Partnerships would be producer-led, watershed-scale, cooperative efforts to enhance both long-term productivity and improve environmental outcomes in a manner that could be recognized both by the public and public agencies as well as the supply chain.

I am proud that in Minnesota, we have much good work on water quality already underway in the agriculture community. And there is much more for us to do as we seek to work with other sectors to achieve Minnesota's water quality goals. If we remain true to the can-do spirit and cooperation among neighbors that are part of our Minnesota legacy, and we are willing to try new approaches, we will no doubt be able to pass along healthy working landscapes that can sustain farming families over the generations to come.

Editor's note: Weeks Duncanson is an adviser to AGree.

Related Topics: CROPS
What To Read Next
South Dakota Public Utilities Commission hits Banghart Properties LLC, with cease-and-desist on grain trades.
John and Sharon Leiferman's bale-grazing success at Dakota Winds Ranch Inc. is just the latest development in a life of frugality born in part by the 1980s farm crisis.
Maddock Ranch has a commercial herd made up of 100 cows and feeds about 400 to 500 calves annually.
Louis and Cyril Keller are the inventors of the Bobcat skid-steer loader and were selected as 2023 inductees into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.