Progress report for ONC22-099
In the words of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, “the Minnesota River is unhealthy. Sediment clouds the water, phosphorus causes algae, nitrogen poses risks to humans and fish, and bacteria make the water unsafe for swimming.” Regenerative agriculture is a tool to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment loading. The majority of the region is in a corn/soybean rotation, and roughly half of farmers in Minnesota are tenants who face unique obstacles. Many tenant farmers have difficulty negotiating leases which make regenerative practices economically viable. Corollarily, many non-operating landowners have difficulty “speaking the language” of conventional farmers and nudging them toward more regenerative operations. We propose a series of interactive conferences bringing together farmers with landowners and facilitating ongoing peer-to-peer mentorship. As farmers learn best from other farmers, we have partnered with farmer and landowner leaders through every step of the process. Facilitating ongoing peer-to-peer support among conventional corn/soybean farmers is critical to enacting landscape-level change and improving water quality in the region.
- Educate 250 farmers at 5 conferences through the Minnesota River Valley on ways to negotiate with landowners to make adoption of regenerative practices more feasible
- Educate landowners regarding the benefits of encouraging regenerative practices on their land
- Expose landowners and farmers to each other’s perspective
- Recruit landowners and farmers to an ongoing mentorship opportunity where they may have more success at adopting or encouraging regenerative practices
- Increase number of producers that adopt enduring regenerative agricultural practices
- Improve economic sustainability of tenant farming and farmland leasing through smarter contracts and regenerative agriculture
Educational & Outreach Activities
The first of five SOIL HEALTH & FARMER-LANDLORD RELATIONSHIPS Workshops was held on January 11, 2023 in the western Minnesota county of Lac qui Parle. The Minnesota Soil Health Coalition and the Lac qui parle Soil and Water Conservation District partnered with us on this event. Planning for this workshop included the development of a database of nearly 900 non-operating landowners with agricultural land in this county. Both a landowner and tenant farmer were booked as presenters. Marketing included sending event invitation postcards to these landowners, social media events, radio announcements and text blast to farmers in the area. A Pre-event survey was developed to assess participants knowledge and experience with soil conservation practices and leases. A Post-event survey was designed to evaluate how the event impacted participants' attitudes and interest in implementing soil conservation practices. A toolkit was also assembled with information on on soil health principles and a sample of a lease structured to encourage regenerative practices.
Disappointingly, winter in Minnesota brought an ice storm on January 11th and treacherous road conditions reduced our already low registrations to a single actual participant. While the weather is not within our control, we are evaluating our marketing strategies to be more effective. Communications with the partner organizations was also a negative factor leading to the decision to replace our contracted event coordinator. We are still on track to complete the remaining four workshops and have reached to Lac Qui Parle County for a possible 'do-over'.
While we are too early in implementation to identify accomplishments, our project will lead to future success stories.
- Promoting leases that encourage/enable regenerative agriculture encourages economic viability for both farmers and landowners.
- Regenerative agricultural practices increase farmer economic resilience by improving water storage, infiltration, and soil health. These practices also reduce erosion, protecting the landowner’s assets. By reducing leaching and runoff, regenerative agricultural practices lead to more economically viable communities with more vibrant tourism and a reduced need for costly water treatment facilities.
- Our program will be socially sustainable through building ongoing community among and between farmers and landowners.
- By increasing the adoption of regenerative agricultural practices among the largest group of farmers in the region, we will reduce sediment loading and nutrient transport to the Minnesota River. Water storage is a compelling need. Most of the opportunity is found on private farm land. Transforming food production systems in ways that embrace cover crops are among our greatest opportunity to store water. This enhances watershed stability and provides drought protection. Cleaner waters make for better habitat for aquatic life.
- We estimate that 46,875 acres will be converted to regenerative practices. This will lead to to a reduction of 192,188 tons per year of erosion at a valued at $2,071,875 in nutrient loss. Specifically, we estimate a reduction of 548,438 pounds of nitrogen and 2,475,000 pounds of phosphorus.