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Partnership focuses on local water quality; Public-private effort means to aid Cedar River Watershed

Water quality and farming operations in the Cedar River watershed are expected to mutually benefit from the efforts of a new public-private partnership involving Mower Soil and Water Conservation District.

Partnership members unveiled their collaboration during an event Thursday at the Hormel Foods Corp.’s sales cabin in Austin for a group of local agricultural producers who work with CFS Cooperative, an ag retailer.

Described as a “first-of-its-kind,” the Cedar River Watershed Partnership aims to improve water quality and address the watershed’s water-resource challenges, such as flooding and sedimentation (excess soil in streams). It includes Mower SWCD; Hormel Foods; Land O’Lakes; CFS Cooperative; Minnesota Department of Agriculture; and Environmental Initiative, a nonprofit.

Mower SWCD district manager Justin Hanson, who also leads the Cedar River Watershed District, said the partnership hopefully will help provide a better bottom line for farmers while making positive gains for water quality.

“It’s unreasonable to expect that we’ll address all our water-resource issues through cost-sharing programs alone,” Hanson said. “This partnership shifts the traditional service model for government and ag retail to instead empower landowners and producers with tools, information, technical assistance and financial resources to make the best decisions on their land.”

Through the partnership’s work, farmers in the Cedar River watershed – which covers parts of Dodge, Freeborn, Mower and Steele counties – can work with CFS Cooperative, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN and Mower SWCD to help implement precision agricultural practices that address water-quality issues. Farmers, in turn, can voluntarily get certified in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

At Thursday’s event, Matt Wohlman, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, presented field signs for the MAWQCP program to four newly certified ag producers from southern Minnesota – a fifth producer was unable to attend. Three of the producers – Justin Krell, Rodney Krell and Larry Schmeling – farm in the Cedar River watershed’s upper areas around the city of Blooming Prairie.

MAWQCP – also called Ag Certainty – now has certified more than 500 producers statewide and helped improve water quality on more than 300,000 acres. The program rewards farmers for implementing certain practices that help improve water quality by offering specially designated technical and financial assistance and regulatory certainty for a 10-year period. Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN is the first Minnesota private sector business to assist farmers in getting certified in the program in conjunction with CFS.

“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.”

In a statement, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson lauded the new partnership.

“We’re pleased to be a part of this great partnership that is a model for others throughout Minnesota and the nation,” Frederickson said. “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.”

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

Farmers and agricultural landowners in the Cedar River watershed and Mower County can learn more about MAWQCP/Ag Certainty by contacting Mower SWCD’s resource specialist Steve Lawler at 507-434-2603 or  steve.lawler@mowerswcd.org.