Guest Commentary: A New Tool to Enhance Water Quality (Duane Alberts)

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.

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Infographic: Using Biotechnology to Feed the World

The National Corn Growers Association has developed an infographic outlining the important role biotechnology plays in feeding a growing world population on a fixed land and resource base.

The infographic can be accessed by visiting http://www.ncga.com/upload/files/documents/pdf/publications/UsingBiotechToFeedGrowingWorld.pdf

Media Release: Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center Announces Green Star Farms Initiative

Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center Announces Green Star Farms Initiative

Initiative demonstrates commitment of farmers and ranchers to improve water quality

Saint Paul, MN August 6, 2013: The Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center (MAWRC) has launched the Green Star Farms Initiative, a voluntary education program that raises awareness regarding water quality issues and conservation practices utilized by farmers and ranchers.

Administered by MAWRC, the Green Star Farms Initiative provides an environmental assessment tool designed to assist farmers and ranchers in evaluating their agricultural practices – either on their own or with guidance from the MAWRC’s field staff.

“Farmers and ranchers want to do the right thing in safeguarding their land and our natural resources and the entire country benefits from the water-quality practices they are using,” said Duane Alberts, MAWRC Chairman. “Sound conservation practices are already being employed by many farmers and ranchers, protecting water quality, reducing soil erosion, and providing wildlife habitat. The Green Star Initiative will help us inventory the good practices already in place and accelerate the adoption of advanced stewardship practices.”

The centerpiece of the Green Star Farms Initiative is a web-based assessment worksheet that can be utilized by farmers and ranchers to identify and assess their conservation practices. The primary objective is to gather “real world” conservation practice information – providing credible, site-specific information regarding agricultural management practices.

The results of the self-assessment will provide farmers with additional information and resources to address environmental concerns. When completing the worksheet, farmers and ranchers are encouraged to involve their crop consultant or other advisors who play a role in management decisions.

The Green Star Farms Initiative allows for the reporting of aggregated environmental assessment performance of participating farmers who agree to have their information included in summary reports. Aggregating assessments across a watershed or industry sector provides a measure of the extent to which good conservation practices are applied on Minnesota farms and ranches.

Aggregated environmental assessment information also provides guidance for future research and education programs.

Additional information regarding the Green Star Farms Initiative can be found at GREENSTARFARMS.ORG.

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The Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center is a non-profit research and education organization dedicated to assisting Minnesota farmers in addressing water quality concerns.

Our members and supporters include eighteen agricultural organizations representing more than 50,000 farmers and those who advise them. The leadership and participation of Minnesota’s producer associations truly reflects Minnesota agriculture’s commitment to protecting the state’s water resources.

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Additional information regarding the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center can be accessed by visiting MAWRC.ORG

House Aims to Cut $40B in Farm Bill Nutrition Cuts (via Feedstuffs)

House Republicans have reportedly developed a frame work for a standalone nutrition bill with $40 billion in cuts over 10 years, nearly double the $20.5 billion that was rejected in the comprehensive bill, and much higher than the $4 billion proposed in the Senate version.

CQ Roll Call reported that Rep. Kristin Noem (R., S.D.), who is part of the working group, said they developed six to seven points that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) will use to write a nutrition bill over the August recess. Noem said the nutrition bill could come up the first week in September.

During a luncheon with the Agribusiness Club Aug. 1, House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) admitted that the nutrition spending level differences between the House and Senate may be difficult to conference and may be a “tough bridge to cross to achieve consensus.”

House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) was quick to criticize the $40 billion in cuts and again blamed the Republican Party for “bringing up another political messaging bill to nowhere in an effort to try and placate the extreme right wing of their party.”

Peterson, who had been supportive of the $20.5 billion in the initial House proposal by cutting categorical eligibility, said the additional $20 billion in nutrition cuts, “on top of the poison pill amendments” that brought down the bill in June “effectively kills any hopes of passing a five-year farm bill this year.”

Pre-conferencing barriers

Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said that she had been planning that the House and Senate could immediately go to conference committee during the August recess. However, she said House leadership is not expected to name conferees until it decides on a nutrition title.

“At this point, the path forward is certainly less clear,” Stabenow said. She said conversations with House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) indicate he’s willing to see the farm bill through, however, Cantor is playing “political gamesmanship that is blocking us from getting this done,” Stabnow claimed.

Informal discussions between agricultural leaders have started and will continue, Stabenow said, including a meeting of Senate and House ag committee leaders and their staffs the evening of July 31. But they can’t have serious discussions without the full parameters in front of them, most notably the nutrition title.

“We will not be able to go as far as I would like or expected to go in pre-conferencing,” Stabenow said.

The House is in session for only nine days in September and the Senate returns for five weeks of work when it comes back the first week in September. “This is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off,” Stabenow said.

She shared that it will be difficult to get any kind of extension through the chambers, especially continuing direct payments which members have agreed need to be ended, but are an important piece of helping fund future commodity programs.

This article can be accessed by visiting http://feedstuffs.com/story-house-aims-cuts-40b-farm-bill-nutrition-cuts-45-100929