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Water Quality Certification Program in Minnesota
submitted by Matthew Welsh, Resource Conservationist, Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA
A unique approach to on farm conservation is occurring in the State of Minnesota with promising results since its launch in 2016. The voluntary Water Quality Certification Program works with Minnesota producers to identify water quality risks on their farm and take measures to address them. In the January 2023 Issue of Successful Farming, a young farm family’s conservation journey through the Minnesota Water Quality Certification Program was highlighted in the article “Certifying Water Quality” by Raylene Nickel.  The article introduces the Jasnski family of St Augusta, MN who grow corn, soy, small grains, alfalfa, peas, and cover crop seed. The Jasnkis looked at the State program as “another step in their ongoing efforts to conserve resources”. The process of assessing whole farm risk of water quality impacts allowed the Jaskis to reach the program’s full certification status. The program benefits for the Janskis allowed their operation to be “deemed in compliance for a 10-year period with any new laws enacted relating to agricultural water quality” according to the Nickel article in Successful Farming. The article makes note that the Janskis viewed long term planning of crop rotations and adaption of alternative cover crop plantings as some of the most positive benefits to their operation gained through the Water Quality Certification Program process. The farm family has experimented with grazing cover crops and realized “grazing can benefit plants and soil through cattle saliva and hoof action on soil surface” according to the Successful Farming Article

Intrinsic benefits from livestock grazing cover crops are numerous but of note; manure distribution, biological secretions, and cattle traffic incorporating organic material provide unique soil health benefits. As the Janskis journeyed into grazing cover crops they learned the value of these grazings not just as a forage supply for their cattle herd, but a key way to improve soil health. These principles served well with their evolution in crop rotations, that saw them value diversity and long term planning. As highlighted in the article the power of living roots, stable soil aggregates and diversity has been noted by the Janskis as part of the changes their operation has gone through to make those principles out in the forefront not only to negate the farm’s water quality impact but also to improve on farm efficiency and farm profitability.