Gov. Tim Walz has set a goal of enrolling 1 million acres in a voluntary agricultural program aimed to protect Minnesota's water resources.

The governor announced the goal for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, to be reached by the end of 2022, in a video message. Walz said through the program, landowners have the opportunity to "ensure our lakes, rivers and drinking water are protected for future generations."

“Minnesota’s natural resources are a unique part of our state and culture," Walz said. "Farmers understand this. They are stewards of our land and water and are already helping protect these resources.”

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, which began in 2014, has certified 977 farms over 685,000 acres in the state. After being certified, each farm is deemed in compliance with new water quality laws and regulations for 10 years.

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, certified farms have added around 2,000 new conservation practices — including over 110,000 acres of cover crops — and have kept over 38,000 tons of sediment out of rivers while saving nearly 108,000 tons of soil and 48,000 pounds of phosphorus on farms each year.

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The conservation practices have also reduced nitrogen loss up to 49% and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 39,000 tons annually, according to the MDA.

“We already know that certified farms have a major impact on our environment for the better, but the certification program is also good for our ag economy,” said Thom Petersen, Minnesota commissioner of agriculture. "Early research has shown that farmers who implement conservation practices and become certified can increase crop yields and overall farm income. This provides more stability during these uncertain times, and I encourage farmers and landowners to look into the advantages of certifying their land.”

According to a study by AgCentric, the average net income of ag water quality certified farms is 26% higher, or $19,000 more per year, than noncertified farms. Other financial metrics on certified land are also improved, such as debt-to-asset ratios and operating expense ratios. The study also indicated increased yield for corn, soybeans and alfalfa.

The MAWQCP connects farmers with local conservation district experts to identify and mitigate any risks their farm poses to water quality, and producers going through the certification process get priority for financial assistance. There are also endorsements available to water quality certified producers for soil health, integrated pest management and wildlife, which celebrate landowners who are implementing conservation efforts on their land.

Farmers and landowners interested in becoming water quality certified can contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District or visit MyLandMyLegacy.com.