Our Governor likes what we’ve done with Water Quality

Farm­ing is an inde­pen­dent job. We get to choose how we man­age our land, our ani­mals, our time, and our money to a great extent. But, many peo­ple do not real­ize the rela­tion­ship we have work­ing both with and under gov­ern­ment regulations.

One such exam­ple is the Min­nesota Agri­cul­tural Water Qual­ity Con­trol Pro­gram (MAWQCP). This new ini­tia­tive came from Min­nesota Gov­er­nor Mark Day­ton in an effort to con­tinue improv­ing Minnesota’s water qual­ity. In just the first year, over 100 farms signed up with­out much effort, mean­ing that they were already using the best prac­tices as directed by the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments. We believe hun­dreds more can qual­ify if they take the time to sign up, and we hope they do.

One agency we work with very closely, as we have for decades, is the USDA’s Nat­ural Resource Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice. They work with farm­ers to main­tain, plan, and exceed best stan­dards in farm­ing. Of course, like many gov­ern­ment pro­grams some­times there are unique quirks that farm­ers don’t like as we try to place these national reg­u­la­tions on indi­vid­ual farms, but for us it has been a very pos­i­tive experience.

Last year, our local NRCS office approached us about join­ing the MAWQCP. Weeks later, we found out our prac­tices qual­i­fied us for the pro­gram. We got a nice $500 check, some assur­ance that we would be cov­ered under any small changes over the next decade, and signs des­ig­nat­ing our farm as using the industry’s lat­est and great­est prac­tices for water quality.

We will admit, that dairy farm­ers have a big advan­tage in this cat­e­gory. As farm­ers who uti­lize alfalfa – a per­ma­nent crop that can last for three to five years – we use less tillage and build bet­ter soil struc­ture over time. Our crop-only farm­ing neigh­bors can also meet the high stan­dards set by the MAWQCP, but we’ll hap­pily admit that alfalfa is a big boost, and right­fully so! We use our cows’ own manure to fer­til­ize a crop that we don’t need to till, which in turn comes to make feed for our cows. We do the same with our corn, in rota­tion with the alfalfa ground.

Our row crop farm­ing neigh­bors are not being incon­sid­er­ate. Rather, hay is just a spe­cial­ized crop with spe­cial­ized equip­ment. If you do not have a mar­ket it for it, it is dif­fi­cult to com­mit a field for three or more years when you already have the equip­ment you need for corn, soy­beans, and small grains (wheat, bar­ley, oats, canola, etc.) – they all share the same or sim­i­lar planters, tillage equip­ment, com­bines, and grain haul­ing wag­ons. Hay needs mower-conditioners, rakes, balers, and hayracks or other flat wag­ons to haul the bales in.

Last Decem­ber, Minnesota’s Com­mis­sioner of Agri­cul­ture, Dave Fred­er­ick­son, came to per­son­ally present us with the award (and taste some cheese). We’re proud to dis­play it both on our barn and in our cheese plant, as it’s great water that makes healthy cows, and healthy cows that makes great cheese!