I have heard it said that “Farmers are naturally resourceful”, a sentiment with which I whole-heartedly agree. As a fifth-generation Minnesota dairy farmer I have witnessed numerous changes over the years in the management practices utilized by farmers and ranchers to prevent the loss of sediments, nutrients, and pesticides from working lands. The entire country benefits from the water-quality practices utilized on our family-farm and countless others throughout the United States. The sound conservation practices that are being employed by American agriculture have led to improved water quality, less soil erosion, enhanced soil quality and an increase in wildlife habitat.
For example, advancements in crop science allow for the matching of farming practices more closely to crop needs, with the end result being a significant reduction in the amount of nutrient and other crop inputs. Environmental protection has been enhanced because farmers and ranchers have been able to reduce environmental risks and the footprint of farming. There is, however, always room for improvement as we continually strive to do better.
As we in agriculture continue to build upon our success in addressing water quality issues, an important tool that can be used to assess the effectiveness of the water quality management practices being used by a farm or ranch operations is now at our disposal.
The Green Star Farms Initiative, administered by the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center, is a farmer-led process that combines water-quality information with farming-system information to assist in the identification of efficient management practices. The initiative is a new approach intended to challenge farmers, and those who advise them on farming practices, to think critically about both agricultural production and resource protection.
The Green Star Farms Initiative is voluntary in nature and was created with substantial input from farmers and ranchers. It utilizes a web-based assessment tool, as well as a third-party education and technical assistance program, to raise awareness regarding water quality. In addition, it identifies generally accepted conservation practices that farmers and ranchers are using to address water quality issues. By gathering water quality information under real-world conditions, we will have credible site-specific information on water quality management decisions.
The process begins with an environmental assessment farmers and ranchers can use as a simple self-evaluation and management tool. The results of the self-assessment will guide farmers to sources of additional information and resources to address environmental concerns. As the farmer or rancher completes the worksheet, they are encouraged to involve their crop consultant or other advisors who play a role in management decisions.
The Green Star Farms Initiative will allow for the reporting of aggregated environmental assessment performance of participating farmers who agree to have their worksheet included in summary reports. By aggregating assessments across a watershed or industry sector, farm organizations can report the extent to which good conservation practices are applied on Minnesota farms and ranches. Aggregated environmental assessment information also provides guidance for farm organizations, University of Minnesota Extension, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and others in identification of topical areas for research, education and conservation programs. Additional information regarding the Green Star Farms Initiative can be found at greenstarfarms.org/
The bottom line is reducing agriculture’s contribution to water quality issues. Farmers and ranchers want to do right in safeguarding their land and our natural resources and the Green Star Farm Initiative will be extremely beneficial in accelerating the on-going adoption of sound conservation practices – where needed – and will be critically important in improving water quality. Participation in the Green Star Farm Initiative demonstrates the commitment of individual farmers and ranchers to protect water quality and highlights the collective actions being taken by the agriculture sector to achieve sustainability through continuous improvement.
Duane Alberts is Chairman of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center. He farms in partnership with his two brothers, David and Richard, and their families on a 600-registered Holstein cow dairy farm near Pine Island, Minnesota.