Ag Commissioner explains new certification program at farm show
By Heather Thorstensen
Date Modified: 04/05/2012 1:58 PM
ROCHESTER, Minn. — Before helping to kick off the 30th annual Agri News Farm Show on March 21, Minnesota's agriculture commissioner, Dave Frederickson, discussed a new certification program that will be available for farmers.
The Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program, the only one of its kind in the country, is avoluntary initiative that will encourage farmers to adopt practices that protect and improve water quality.
"We were always looking at opportunities to create something farmers could use to say 'I met and exceeded water quality in Minnesota'," Frederickson said.
Participating farmers could put a sign at the end of their driveway as a marketing tool for their products, he said.
The program is the result of an agreement made in January between Governor Mark Dayton, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson.
Frederickson expects to sort through 100 to 150 applications submitted by people who want to serve on the program's advisory committee. The committee will make recommendations to Frederickson about the development of the program.
Fifteen members will comprise the committee and eight will be connected to farming. Applications are being accepted by the Minnesota Secretary of State office through April 16.
Michelle Rossman, an Oronoco farmer, asked Frederickson whether the water quality projects recommended to farmers will be backed by science.
"I need information behind me to support what I'm doing," she said.
To provide that data, Frederickson supports the work of Discovery Farms. These are farms with monitoring equipment in place to gather data of what is coming off the land.
"That's my commitment to you — that we have a yard stick to measure," he said.
A farm that meets the program's obligations will be assured that USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service will not change water quality rules for the farm for the duration of certification, Frederickson said.
He noted that EPA's Jacksonsigned on to the agreement, which says it is the state's role to develop and implement water quality standards. That is important because the federal agency has been accused in the past of overstepping its authority on similar issues.
"If you mention EPA with Minnesota farmers, they immediately get suspicious," Frederickson said.
He vowed to keep the program voluntary.
"If it starts to go in the wrong direction, we will end it immediately," he said.
According to Frederickson, theNRCS has committed to provide up to $3 million so far. He expects other dollars will come from the state's Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment and local resources.
Another priority for the agriculture department this legislative session is to consolidate language surrounding food safety issues to help make the state's regulations more comprehensible to business owners and others who have to follow them.
After taking questions from the audience, Frederickson cut a ribbon to celebrate the opening of the farm show with help from Garret Rossman, 5, of Oronoco.