Two years ago, Glenn Hjelle’s farming operation joined the continuously rising number of producers becoming certified as stewards of water quality through the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP). At the time, the voluntary program that certifies farming operations implementing conservation-minded practices garnered over 950,000 certified acres. Today, that number has risen to over one million along with over 1,400 Minnesota producers—a well-earned milestone for the almost decade-old program.
“The certification still makes me satisfied in how I farm—providing a ‘look-what-I-did attitude,” Hjelle said. “And it also provides me with access to multiple funding opportunities to continue implementing the practices I enjoy.”
Hjelle’s farm operates around the town of Barrett in Grant County where over 1,500 acres are utilized in either corn–soybean or wheat–soybean rotations with additional acres enrolled into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to aid in wildlife habitat. Hjelle’s operation focuses on using conservation tillage and cover crops to increase his soil’s health and to become a more profitable farm.
By definition, conservation tillage is any form of tillage where 30% or more of the soil is covered with crop residue whereas cover crops are non-cash crops grown for the enrichment and protection of the soil surface. In conjunction, these two conservation practices increase soil organic matter, improve soil structure, and reduce soil erosion: thereby protecting the surrounding water quality.
“It benefits everyone when we take better care of our soil,” Hjelle said.
Since obtaining his water quality certification status in February 2021, Hjelle’s farming operation has worked hard to gain three out of the five additional endorsements the MAWQCP encourages producers to strive toward. This relatively new extension of the program encourages farmers to attain either the Climate Smart, Soil Health, Wildlife, Integrated Pest Management, and Irrigation Water Management endorsements—recognizable achievements to those who are going above and beyond to integrate conversation into their farming operations.
So far, Hjelle’s farm demonstrates the Climate Smart, Wildlife, and Integrated Pest Management endorsements because of his soil health efforts, maintaining CRP ground and riparian or grass buffers around water bodies throughout his farm, and being more cautious and aware of his herbicide and insecticide applications on his crops. Looking back, Hjelle has witnessed all the practices relating to his certification and endorsements in aiding his operation’s conscience of the environment and becoming more profitable.
“With the cover crops and reduced tillage alone, we have seen better yields during droughts and have reduced our waiting time to resume planting and harvesting after a heavy rain event due to the increased soil aggregation and water infiltration within our fields. Plus, we have also cut out a third of our fuel use,” Hjelle said. “Seeing erosion happening from uncovered fields is devastating. We must remember that this land isn’t ours—that we’re only renting it before handing it off to the next generation.”
For more information about the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program and its endorsements, contact the East Ottertail Soil and Water Conservation office at 218-346-9105 or visit their website: <www.eotswcd.org>.