Sponsored by Minnesota Corn Grower's Association.

Written by John Mages

As combines started rolling and harvest season 2016 began, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) unveiled an ambitious new plan to help Minnesota’s corn farmers become the most sustainable and environmentally responsible farmers in the United States.

Yes, that’s a lofty goal. But as a farmer for the last 35 years, it’s a goal I’m confident that we can achieve.

One of the action steps of MCGA’s plan encourages farmers to engage in an already existing sustainability program. By exploring the possibility of enrolling in a sustainability program, farmers can build upon and improve conservation efforts they’ve already undertaken on their own. It’s also a way to demonstrate to the non-farming public your commitment to growing food, feed, fiber and fuel for an increasing world population while also protecting our precious land, soil and water resources.

I recently enrolled in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) offered by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The program involved an assessment of my farm to determine where conservation improvements could be made. Once those improvements were made, I became “certified,” which puts my farm in compliance with any new water quality rules or laws as long as I’m certified and gives me priority when applying for technical assistance and cost-share programs.

With farming and water quality receiving a lot of attention recently, it was important to me that my farming practices have as minimal effect on our state’s waterways as possible. Water quality is a value that both Minnesota’s farmers and non-farmers share. We want to protect and improve water quality, both for the health of the rural communities where we live and for the next generation of farmers, businesses owners, nurses, teachers and community leaders.

Protecting water quality is a goal I’ve always strived for, and I was doing a pretty good job. But the MAWQCP helped me improve in this important area and become more effective in my stewardship efforts.

Other sustainability programs that MCGA is encouraging farmers to explore include the Green Star Farms Initiative, Field to Market and USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program. Each program helps farmers asses where they stand in the area of conservation and make improvements where they will have the most positive impact on water quality or soil health.

There is no one-size-fits-all program or practice that works for everyone. Minnesota’s corn farms are diverse. A sustainability program or practice might work well for one farm and be ineffective on another. That’s why it’s important have a variety of programs available for farmers to consider as they continue working to develop practices that provide the most environmental benefit on their own farm.

Despite the very public doubts of some folks, it is possible to have productive and profitable farm operations and clean water, healthy soils and vibrant wildlife habitat in Minnesota. We don’t need to choose one or the other. By encouraging corn farmers to seriously consider enrolling in a sustainability program, MCGA is helping corn farmers take another step toward becoming the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the United States.

John Mages farms near Belgrade and is Past President of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.