Farming is an independent job. We get to choose how we manage our land, our animals, our time, and our money to a great extent. But, many people do not realize the relationship we have working both with and under government regulations.
One such example is the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Control Program (MAWQCP). This new initiative came from Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton in an effort to continue improving Minnesota’s water quality. In just the first year, over 100 farms signed up without much effort, meaning that they were already using the best practices as directed by the state and federal governments. We believe hundreds more can qualify if they take the time to sign up, and we hope they do.
One agency we work with very closely, as we have for decades, is the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service. They work with farmers to maintain, plan, and exceed best standards in farming. Of course, like many government programs sometimes there are unique quirks that farmers don’t like as we try to place these national regulations on individual farms, but for us it has been a very positive experience.
Last year, our local NRCS office approached us about joining the MAWQCP. Weeks later, we found out our practices qualified us for the program. We got a nice $500 check, some assurance that we would be covered under any small changes over the next decade, and signs designating our farm as using the industry’s latest and greatest practices for water quality.
We will admit, that dairy farmers have a big advantage in this category. As farmers who utilize alfalfa – a permanent crop that can last for three to five years – we use less tillage and build better soil structure over time. Our crop-only farming neighbors can also meet the high standards set by the MAWQCP, but we’ll happily admit that alfalfa is a big boost, and rightfully so! We use our cows’ own manure to fertilize a crop that we don’t need to till, which in turn comes to make feed for our cows. We do the same with our corn, in rotation with the alfalfa ground.
Our row crop farming neighbors are not being inconsiderate. Rather, hay is just a specialized crop with specialized equipment. If you do not have a market it for it, it is difficult to commit a field for three or more years when you already have the equipment you need for corn, soybeans, and small grains (wheat, barley, oats, canola, etc.) – they all share the same or similar planters, tillage equipment, combines, and grain hauling wagons. Hay needs mower-conditioners, rakes, balers, and hayracks or other flat wagons to haul the bales in.
Last December, Minnesota’s Commissioner of Agriculture, Dave Frederickson, came to personally present us with the award (and taste some cheese). We’re proud to display it both on our barn and in our cheese plant, as it’s great water that makes healthy cows, and healthy cows that makes great cheese!