USDA, EPA and Minnesota Make Conservation Pact

Cindy ZimmermanConservation, USDA

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack this week signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Minnesota to develop a new state conservation program for agriculture. The program is designed to increase the voluntary adoption of conservation practices by farmers and ranchers that protect local rivers, streams and other waters by reducing fertilizer run-off and soil erosion.

Through this partnership producers, who undertake a substantial level of conservation activities to reduce nutrient run-off and erosion, will receive assurance from the state that their farms will meet Minnesota’s water quality standards and goals during the life of the agreement. Vilsack, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson signed the MOU during a ceremony in the Minnesota Capitol.

“Establishment of this program will protect our water resources by providing assurances and incentives to participating farmers that their good deeds – their strong commitment to conservation – will be recognized,” Vilsack said. “Farmers will know the rules of the game while the state, EPA and the public will know that this program will lead to cleaner water.”

The MOU signing is the first step toward developing the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (AWQCP), designed to increase the adoption of recommended conservation practices to improve water quality on agricultural land. The partners will next establish a Technical Advisory Committee to develop the certification program that will support the state’s water quality standards and goals. The committee will solicit input from stakeholders in designing criteria to provide certainty for producers who have voluntarily attained or maintained a certain level of water quality improvements on their agricultural land. Minnesota will test the program in several pilot watersheds.