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Ag advisory committee turns in report

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 12/06/2012 2:37 PM

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WASECA, Minn. – The advisory committee for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program has turned its recommendations into Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson.

The committee wrapped up its work with a two-day meeting Nov. 13-14, and submitted the report to Frederickson on Nov. 14. It's now up to him to move forward, said Brad Redlin, who manages the program for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Redlin spoke Nov. 20 at a Drainage Research Forum held at Farmamerica near Waseca.

The advisory committee and the whole idea of a certification program sprang forth from a memorandum of understanding signed in January between Gov. Mark Dayton, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Minnesota is the first state in the nation to set up a program for water quality certification. The idea is to recognize farmers who are doing the right thing for water quality and certify them for a period of time to give them certainty that the rules won't change for them during that time. Participation is voluntary.

The general public will also have certainty and assurance that farmers who are certified are enhancing water quality, Redlin said.

The plan is to launch the program next year in three select watersheds. The watersheds will be HUC 12s, and there are more than 1,000 of these watersheds in the state, Redlin said. There will be a formal public comment period after the plan is laid out and before it moves forward.

Certainty will be offered by the executive branch of the Minnesota government. It does not grant an exemption from existing rules and regulations, he said. Certainty applies only to agricultural land management and practices that could impact water quality. It is applicable to a certain area of land and the certification goes to the person who operates the land.

Certainty is conditional upon the implementation of recommended practices and maintenance of practices during the certification period.

The 15-member advisory committee developed a framework for the certainty program. They recommended that the program be launched with pilot locations and that farmers be able to do an online assessment to determine if they qualify.

If they do qualify, the next step would be to see if cost share or technical assistance is available to help finance projects to bring the property up to certification level.

The next step is to call the certifier. Once certified, the property is subject to audit verification.

A measurement tool of some sort needs to be developed, Redlin said. It is not assembled yet.

The length of the certification is set at 10 years by the committee, but if major changes occur to the property or if the land operator wants to make major changes there is an opportunity every three years to recertify and start the 10-year clock over again.

Program incentives and program promotion were across discussed by the advisory committee, Redlin said.

He emphasized that the recommendations are only that, recommendations. Listening sessions and public comment will be taken before the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program is implemented.

The advisory committee, which was named on May 31, met July 9, July 30, Aug. 20-21, Sept. 10, Oct. 29 and Nov. 13-14.