Guest Commentary: Water quality summit should focus on collaboration

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton recently called for a statewide water quality summit to take place sometime in early 2016. Since agriculture is likely to be a focus of the summit, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight a few of the farmer-driven efforts to improve our state’s water quality, and share what I hope to see take place at the summit from a farmer’s perspective.

I’ll be the first to admit that as farmers, we haven’t done a very good job talking about our conservation efforts. That needs to change. Today’s consumers not only care about where their food comes from, they care about the practices used by the farmers who grow it.

On a personal level, I use several common conservation practices also used on most Minnesota farms. These include grass waterways to reduce soil erosion and buffer strips to keep nitrogen fertilizer and other nutrients that could run off my fields during heavy rains from entering nearby waterways.

By implementing these practices, I’m helping protect water quality in the community where I not only operate our farm, but also raise a family. Furthermore, inputs like nitrogen fertilizer are expensive. I want any fertilizer I apply to be used by the plant, not washed away into the ditch.

On a larger scale, I’m proud to address agriculture and water quality through my role as President of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA). Together with the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council, MCGA supports innovative research through institutions like the University of Minnesota that seek solutions to water quality problems. Corn farmer-funded research also helps farmers better manage their use of nutrients and improve our soils.

Through Minnesota’s corn check-off – a voluntary one-cent “fee” paid by farmers on every bushel of corn sold to market – corn farmers support about $4 million in research projects and initiatives that address water quality, soil health and other conservation issues. The corn check-off also supports faculty positions at the University of Minnesota that focus on farming and water quality. Other commodity check-offs support similar efforts.

I’m sharing my perspective not to boast, but to ensure that the voice of the farmer is heard in the ongoing discussion of agriculture and water quality. Too often, farmers’ voices fail to rise above the racket of political rhetoric and finger-pointing, which brings me to the governor’s water quality summit.

As a farmer, I hope that the summit is an opportunity for everyone to come together and talk about solutions to water quality. I’ve talked a lot about farmer-led efforts to address water quality, but I’ll be the first to admit that farmers are not perfect. When it comes to water quality, we can do better, and we’re working every day to improve.

Speaking of improvement, a recent report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency showed reductions in five of seven pollutants found in Minnesota waterways over a 30-year span. As a farmer, I work every day to increase my knowledge of good farming practices, take advantage of technological advancements and use the latest research to become a better steward of land, soil and water resources.

I know there are plenty of non-farmers out there doing the same. Yes, we might disagree on a few things, but we all share the same goal: improving water quality in Minnesota.

Let’s make sure the summit is an opportunity for everyone to work together. Minnesotans are sick of political rhetoric and name-calling. They want to see people working cooperatively and thoughtfully to achieve real-world solutions.

Improving our state’s water quality might seem like a daunting task, but we’re making progress and on track to make further improvements. Here’s hoping the governor’s water quality summit puts us on a collaborative path toward additional progress.

Noah Hultgren is a family farmer in Raymond, Minn., and serves as president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.


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