Alfalfa is an example of an alternative, perennial cropping system that protects water quality and soil health and enhances habitat while providing an economic return to farmers. Boosting markets for such crops is a win-win for our environment and farm prosperity.
Currently, many farm fields lay bare and brown for much of the year, leading to erosion and runoff. This is a leading cause of pollution for the metro Mississippi. To restore the river's water quality and aquatic life, we need more living cover on our agricultural landscapes.
Adding more perennial and cover crops are great for water quality and soil health, and can also benefit wildlife and our climate (by sequestering more carbon). But such crops have limited markets, and must become more profitable for growers before they can be incorporated into modern farming systems.
At FMR, we continue to focus our water quality work on developing cropping systems that are both good for clean water and profitable for farmers. Two of our main priorities are the Working Lands program, and the Forever Green initiative.
Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program
The Working Lands concept aims to use the power of markets to establish new cropping systems that restore our waters while maintaining overall farm profitability.
This approach was first established through our legislative efforts in 2015 and 2016. In January 2018, the state completed a program study and developed an implementation plan in partnership with a variety of agricultural and environmental stakeholders (including FMR).
In partnership with state agencies, agricultural groups, environmental groups and others, our short-term goal is to secure modest funding to continue the next phase of this work, with a particular focus on:
• Maximizing opportunities to leverage other state and federal funding.
• Identification of demonstration or pilot program initiatives.
• Development of model contracts, payments rates and harvest guidelines for use in future program implementation.
• Targeting crop replacement to maximize the water quality benefit at the lowest cost at the watershed level.
In time, we hope to be able to harness the power of markets to drive cropping system change that improved water quality and habitat as well as profitability and resiliency in Minnesota's agricultural landscapes.
The University of Minnesota Forever Green initiative
The University of Minnesota's Forever Green initiative is a perennial and cover crop development program essential to the success of the working lands approach.
Through this program, Minnesota can accelerate our development of economically viable winter annual and perennial crop options for farmers that reduce runoff pollution and habitat loss currently associated with our current annual cropping systems (corn and soybeans).
Modest funding has been secured for this initiative in recent legislative sessions, and we are hopeful that this vital effort will receive additional funding through multiple sources in future years.
FMR River Guardians will be the first to know about opportunities to help advance important legislation for clean water during the coming 2018 legislative session. If you're not one already, we encourage you to sign up!
River Guardians are also invited to special events, including happy hours, where we discuss important legislative and metro river corridor issues.