Although he’d already adopted best management practices on his Lake Benton family farm, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) President Bob Worth hadn’t seriously considered joining the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) since it launched in 2016.
“I had heard about it through Farmfest and our magazine (Soybean Business) but never knew much about the program,” Worth said.
That all changed when Worth visited the European Union Delegation last September in Washington, D.C., with his fellow MSGA directors. Worth learned how becoming certified would mean he was doing his part in making Minnesota’s high-quality soybeans more attractive to European buyers. Becoming MAWQCP certified also meant Worth could play a role in dispelling myths about modern farming production practices.
“There was so much misinformation on what we do, and it opened my eyes,” Worth said.
This summer, Worth became the latest farmer to enroll in the MAWQCP. On Aug. 22, during an event inside his farm shop, Worth – alongside Rep. Michelle Fischbach, Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Commissioner Thom Petersen, Minnesota State Sen. Bill Weber and assorted officials and fellow farmers – spoke about the “simple process” of enrolling. The event was hosted by MAWQCP Program Manager Brad Jordahl Redlin.
“Leaders lead, and people like Bob lead by example and it makes our job easier,” said Troy Daniell, Minnesota state director with the National Resource Conservation (NRCS). “It’s really easy to sell conservation.”
Rep. Fischbach, who represents Worth’s district, commended Minnesota farmers for their proactive measures to improve soil health.
“This program shows me that when we’re working in policy in Washington and St. Paul, farmers are the first conservationists,” she said. “They’ll do what’s right and take care of their farm and their land.”
By becoming certified, Worth is encouraging other growers to follow his lead.
“This is something we need to really have all of us do in Minnesota,” said Worth, who farms with his son, Jon, and wife, Gail. “And if I don’t do it, how can I expect other members to do it?”
Commissioner Petersen, who’s served in his MDA post since 2019, said the program has blossomed since its humble beginnings, thanks in part to farmers and stakeholders working together to spread the message about the myriad benefits of enrolling.
“For a long time, we had about five farmers (enrolled),” he said. “But we kept working on it. And when you think about all the stewardship processes that go into this, it’s a lot. It’s really a partnership – a lot of the money that supports this program comes from the Farm Bill and the Legacy funds that Sen. Weber works with. NRCS is our host agency, and our Soil and Water Districts are key partners.”
‘Ahead of the curve’
The MAWQCP, in conjunction with MDA, connects growers with local conservation district experts to identify and mitigate any risks their farm poses to water quality on a field-by-field basis.
“The Soil and Water District folks are so easy to work with,” Worth said. “They’re here to help us.”
Producers going through the certification process also have priority access to financial assistance. After being certified, each farm is deemed in compliance with new water quality laws and regulations for 10 years, along with an official MAWQCP sign to display on their farm and other benefits developed by local MAWQCP providers.
The program launched in 2016 with the advocacy support of commodity groups like MSGA. Since then, 1,360 farms totaling over 990,000 acres have been certified across Minnesota. Farms have added more than 2,623 new conservation practices, which protect Minnesota’s waters. Those new practices help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 50,000 metric tons each year.
“This program works on every level,” Gov. Tim Walz said, “and it works because producers are at the center of it, producers help write it and producers help execute it.”
Farmers enrolled in the MAWQCP also enjoy higher profits than non-certified farms, according to a recent study by the Minnesota State Agricultural Centers of Excellence. This marks the fourth year of data highlighting improved financial outcomes. The 101 MAWQCP farms in the study reported 2022 net farm income an average of more than $23,500 or 7.5% higher than non-certified farms. Over four years of data, the average income for MAWQCP farms was $16,000 – $40,000 higher. Other key financial metrics are also better for those enrolled in the MAWQCP, such as debt-to-asset ratios and operating expense ratios.
“The economic sustainability is impressive,” Daniell said. “That ensures that level of stewardship will sustain producers.”
Worth said MSGA is committed to continue supporting the MAWQCP.
“This program is going to help the whole state of Minnesota for agriculture,” he said. “We’re going to keep moving this program along and we’ll get all the farmers certified. And once we get them all certified, we want them to join MSGA.”
The program has made Minnesota the envy of other states, Daniell said.
“A lot of other states would like to implement a similar program,” he said. “Minnesota is leading ahead of the curve.”
MDA is expecting to celebrate its 1 millionth enrolled acre by the end of 2023. To learn more about becoming certified, visit mylandmylegacy.com