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Good Water, Pure Science

March 27, 2012 By Katie Sanders, Interim Communications Director

Thanks to a memorandum of understanding signed by Governor Mark Dayton last January with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Minnesota will assemble new water standards. You know that we Minnesotans value our water: we play on it, in it (thawed or frozen), but we mostly drink it.

Many of us recall the dust-up over the film Troubled Waters a few years ago at the University of Minnesota. The Bell Museum was going to premiere Larkin McPhee’s 2010 film when the University shut it down. You remember the rest of the story. The film, a winner of multiple awards was eventually shown and vilified by the usual suspects while lauded by the equally usual suspects.

In many farming states in the upper Midwest those usual suspects have figured out a way to work together. It is called the Iowa On-Farm Network (IOF). What is crazy about the network is of whom and what it is composed. Could you have ever imagined a group where big Ag interest Monsanto would literally sit at the same table with organic farmers? Iowa-On-Farm is it. IOF also provides the science for how this can work. They accomplish this by addressing the needs of the specific farm and farmer. From their website: “The [growing] strips compare a grower’s normal practice with just one alternative, which can be a difference in products used, application method, timing, or other management practices.” IOF practices lead to healthier water standards, and healthier soil. And it isn’t cost prohibitive, it is science.

I’ve included the website. Take a peek for yourself. Their data provides proof of performance--and that crops don’t have to be compromised when you think about the longevity of land and water resources. What I don’t get is why the IOF program can manage this, and much of Minnesota can’t, or won’t. Mind you, I’m not saying Iowa is better than we are. Hey, I’m from Minnesota and am also inherently suspicious of anything coming out of Iowa (except for Interstate 35). But, I’m just saying it is worth a look. Our own dear Stearns (and a smidge of Todd) County has shown IOF principles work very well here. For every dollar they invest in these principles, they receive at least $4 in return. Yet, Minnesota still has another other 85 counties, give or take, to incorporate IOF.

This brings me to why I’m writing. Who will determine the “groundbreaking water quality certification” metrics? Having an idea of how these things work, my suspicion is that your water quality technical committee will have many of the same old influential faces around the table. There are more clean water stake holders than those presently serving on this board. Minnesota is best served by a wide representation of concerns and interests. Minnesotans have a great tradition of finding ways to work together.

The folks at Keystone Alliance have an amazing tool called the Fieldprint calculator to help farmers with their own land issues, not just some generic version of their home county soil. As a gardener, I call tell you, if you move a quarter mile in any direction from my dense clay soil, you end up with quite a different composition of earth. Farmers aren’t any different and the Keystone alliance has figured that out in a way that benefits both farm yields and watersheds.

By the way, as the process of choosing members for the MOA panel go forward, expect many people who have a long history in the water quality debate to question the science of IOF. But, I find it highly unlikely that Monsanto, a Forbes Top 10 of the World’s Most Innovative Companies, and others would invest time in a network that doesn’t work.

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