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Ag certainty program gets local incentive

Mower County farmers doing good things on their land for water quality now have another reason to get certified by the state as conservation leaders.

Gravity Storm, a craft brewery in downtown Austin, has teamed with Mower Soil and Water Conservation District and the Cedar River Watershed Partnership (CRWP) – a public-private collaborative – to reward Mower County farmers who are certified through the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP).

A 64-ounce growler of one of Gravity Storm’s craft beers will be provided for each new certification of a Mower County farmer through MAWQCP, also known as “Ag Certainty,” sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA).

Mower SWCD’s Alex Block, a precision-ag associate, worked with Gravity Storm’s head brewer and cofounder Brian Davis on the new incentive for conservation-minded farmers.

 “We’re grateful for Gravity Storm’s commitment toward supporting farmers who are putting in the extra work to protect and improve water,” Block said. “It’s also a great fit because clean water makes great beer.”

Brian and Sandy Wolfgram, who farm near Racine in eastern Mower County, are the first to earn the Gravity Storm growler after working with Block on the MAWQCP application process and getting certified in July.

Like all MAWQCP-certified farmers, they also received a “Minnesota Water Quality Certified Farm” sign and are eligible for up to $5,000 in state grants to implement additional agricultural “best-management practices” on their farm.

Since 2016, Mower County has had 14 farm families certified through the MAWQCP initiative. Others include James Anderson; Bruce Barnum; Tom and Mike Cotter; Jessup DeCook; Wayne DeWall; Tom Finnegan; Steven and Rosalie Ivers; Arvid Jovaag; Lloyd Skifter; Moe Family Farm; Jay Peterson; Brian Swenson andMichelle Janssen; and Matt Taylor.

The Wolfgrams live on the family farm that Brian’s grandfather started nearly a century ago. A dairy operation until the mid-1980s, the Wolfgram farm today operates 113 acres of cropland with another 207 acres of vulnerable land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Most of those CRP acres have been enrolled in conservation multiple times.

  “I’ve always had an interest in maintaining and protecting our land,” said Wolfgram, who has done no-till farming for about 12 years and recently starting using cover crops, which are plants used to slow erosion, improve soil health and enhance water availability, among other benefits.  

The Wolfgrams, who installed solar panels this summer, also plant wildlife food plots and release pheasants every year.

Brian Wolfgram became interested in MAWQCP while enrolling in the federal Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Getting farmers like the Wolfgrams certified is a great way to showcase their conservation efforts and get them extra funding to keep making improvements on their land, Block said.

In late 2019, Mower SWCD added Block’s position due to the continuing growth of the Cedar River Watershed Partnership (CRWP), with his focus on providing area landowners technical support for sustainable agriculture.

Block supports Mower SWCD’s current projects but also works closely with private businesses involved with CRWP, including Land O’ Lakes SUSTAIN, Hormel Foods Corp. and Central Farm Service (CFS). Mower SWCD, the nonprofit Environmental Initiative, and MDA also are part of CRWP.

Launched in early 2018, CRWP is Minnesota’s first public-private-nonprofit partnership that provides farmers with tools and resources to help them adopt new farm management strategies to improve the soil, water, and economic health of their farms. Overall, CRWP’s goal is to get farmers to reach certification through MAWQCP by minimizing the effort required by those farmers through coordinating guidance, services and resources amongst partners.

CFS has been a strong partner for Mower SWCD, Block said, working with him to find farmers doing good ag practices to get them certified or see how “average farmers” compare to them.

“It has been great talking with private ag businesses and cooperatives about how we can better serve them and our customers together,” Block said, noting that many farmers work through trusted ag advisors in the private sector.

 Those interested in MAWQCP certification should contact Block at 507-434-2603, ext. 5, or alex@mowerdistrict.org.