A couple weeks ago I wrote about the Minnesota Idea Open contest taking place at this year’s State Fair. A contest for the best water conservation idea, the ultimate winner by popular vote was “Minnesota FarmWise,” a collaborative approach to implementing water-friendly farming techniques.
(Minnesota 2020 has a conversation with its organizers.)
Farming often comes under fire for causing soil erosion and polluting waterways with pesticides and other chemical runoff. (See this post about sedimentation in Lake Peplin.) When excess water from farms is redirected into ditches, it can flow quickly into other natural bodies of water, taking soil with it as it flows and transporting the chemicals that were used on crops.
But we can’t just blame farmers and tell them to stop what they are doing; they have to make a living, and we all need the food they grow.
That’s where Minnesota FarmWise comes in. The project, which is a public-private partnership between the Mississippi National River Recreation Area and the Freshwater Society, takes a balanced, diplomatic approach to the issue by bringing farmers and conservation experts together to implement farmer-approved solutions in the most vulnerable areas of the Minnesota River Valley. The project sponsors plan to use the $15,000 of prize money from the Idea Open competition to form a farmer-to-farmer mentoring program.
One example of a water-friendly farming practice is the use of buffer strips at the edge of fields, especially when farming close to a creek or stream. A buffer strip is a strip of land that maintains vegetation at all times, trapping sediment and absorbing excess pesticides and fertilizers before farm water can flow off the field.
Another tactic is to use a strip till machine, which essentially tills just half the field by tilling in adjacent strips. Because tilling generally causes soil erosion, loss of nutrients, and increased chemical runoff, strip tilling preserves certain advantages to soil health and to the environment.
I hope to see wider implementation of solutions like these and hope to see the collaborative FarmWise model gain adoption as a standard approach. For now it is great to see such a promising effort at preserving our most precious and endangered natural resource – water – here at home.