State & Strib connect the dots between crops and water health

by sue rich

"Clean-water crops" like silphium, a perennial oilseed, can pay dividends for water quality and farm communities. (Photo courtesy of Walton Family Foundation)

"Hemp, hazelnuts, oats, turnips, alfalfa, Kernza … there’s a sizable menu of plants to grow for vegetative cover in fields, but much more needs to be done to protect the state’s soil and groundwater from contamination by nitrogen fertilizer."

So begins a recent story from the Star Tribune's Jennifer Bjorhus. This time, Bjorhus was responding to a call for radically ramped-up field coverage issued not by the usual suspects (FMR, researchers and advocates), but the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

The state ag agency recently released a report underscoring the connection between water quality and the need to alter what we plant in Minnesota's farm fields.

While we're still analyzing the full report, its core message — "increasing vegetative ground cover is an important strategy to help protect water and soil resources" — is certainly one we can get behind. In fact, it's one we've been promoting for years. 

A shift in the conversation?

We're also encouraged that the state is specifically urging farmers to replace traditional row crops of corn and soybeans with "perennials that don’t require tilling ... or to grow different plants off-season so they keep vegetation on the ground."

(At FMR, we promote these as "clean-water crops.")

And we're pleased to see the state pointing out the need for such crops to turn a profit. (FMR, our Forever Green partners and River Guardians have long called for the research and market development needed to make this reality.) 

And as innovative clean-water crops like the Kernza grain in FMR's bake-off competition move closer to mass-scale production, it's exciting to shift from, as Bjorhus of the Star Tribune put it, "maybe one day" to "this is actually happening." 

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