Public-private partnership works to improve water quality

Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Farm Forum

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A first-of-its-kind Minnesota public-private partnership is helping improve water quality and address water resource challenges including flooding and sedimentation in the Cedar River Watershed in southern Minnesota. The Cedar River Watershed Project is a collaboration between CFS Cooperative, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District, Environmental Initiative and Hormel Foods Corporation.

Through this work, farmers in the watershed, which covers parts of Dodge, Freeborn, Mower and Steele counties, work with CFS and Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN to help implement precision agricultural practices that address water quality issues. In turn, the farmers can become certified in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, which rewards farmers for implementing certain practices that help improve water quality by offering specially designated technical and financial assistance and regulatory certainty for a period of ten years.

“One of the best, most effective conservation efforts start with our food producers and land stewards – farmers,” said Matt Carstens, senior vice president of Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN. “By putting farmers in the drivers’ seat, offering proven cutting-edge conservation tools and technology, and establishing clear benchmarks for success, the Cedar River Watershed partnership is set up for long-term sustainability and measurable improvements to water quality in the region.”

The partnership has now certified three farmers in the Cedar River Watershed, with more interested in the program. The Ag Water Quality Certification Program has now certified over 500 producers across Minnesota helping improve water quality on over 300,000 acres. Together, the program will help keep over 23 million pounds of sediment out of our rivers, while saving nearly 54 million pounds of soil and 13,700 pounds of phosphorous on farms, each year.

The MAWQCP is a voluntary program for farmers and landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that helps protect and improve the state’s water resources. Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN is the first Minnesota private sector business to assist farmers become certified in the voluntary program, in conjunction with CFS. CFS and Land O’Lakes help farmers become certified by:

• Educating and engaging them in the voluntary MAWQCP.

• Serving as advisors for growers, to identify and customize agronomic practices and tools that help protect and enhance soil, optimize fertilizer and crop protection use, and potentially produce more food per acre most efficiently – while helping to improve water quality and saving farmers money.

• Harnessing existing data collection capabilities and technology to minimize manual data entry.

• Assisting growers in identifying local, state, and federal cost-share opportunities.

“Bringing opportunities to our producers to improve their operations is very important to CFS,” said Kevin Kruize, Precision Ag Manager at CFS. “With our Central Advantage GS platform and the partnerships we are establishing with the Cedar River Watershed Project, we are not only gaining insights into each other’s businesses, but are shining a new light on many of the practices our producers have been doing over the years with precision agriculture to support water quality and sustainability.”

“Many people don’t understand all the great things we are doing on our farms,” said James Nash Jr., a certified producer based in Owatonna. “With the use of Central Advantage GS and their involvement in Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, I am able to easily tell my story and prove I am sustainable. Increasing profitability and protecting my resources is critical to my operation, which is why I have a lot of confidence in this partnership.”

“We’re pleased to be a part of this great partnership that is a model for others throughout Minnesota and the nation,” said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. “The work being done in the Cedar River Watershed shows that we can help improve water quality while helping farmers improve their profitability and yield potentials through precision agriculture.”

In May 2016, Governor Mark Dayton and Chris Policinski, Land O’Lakes Inc. President and CEO, signed a Memorandum of Understanding that brought together the resources of the agribusiness company and the state to help enhance water quality in Minnesota. The partnership in the Cedar River Watershed marks a major effort to fulfill the commitment to improve the state’s water resources.

About the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program is a voluntary opportunity for farmers and agricultural landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect our water. Those who implement and maintain approved farm management practices will be certified and in turn obtain regulatory certainty for a period of ten years. After a successful pilot phase in 2014-2015, the program is now available to farmers and landowners statewide. To date, the program has certified over 500 farms totaling more than 300,000 acres. More information is available at