New report highlights major flaws in state's agricultural water quality certification program

The MAWQCP may declare farm fields to be meeting water quality goals when limited data suggests that farm pollution levels may greatly exceed state standards.

In January 2012, the state announced plans to launch the newly created Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP). While the concept of a farm certification program has promise, FMR has serious concerns the state implementation of the program.

These concerns are validated in a new report from our friends at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA).

About the report
MCEA conducted a comprehensive analysis of the program, and found that farms can become certified while still discharging high levels of pollution to Minnesota's surface waters. This is the result of two main flaws in how the program measures farm performance:

  1. Reliance on profit-based fertilizer recommendations: The program gives farm operations high scores for following state fertilizer recommendations. However, those recommendations were established to maximize profitability for the producer – and often result in high pollution rates.
  2. Artificial score inflation: The program artificially inflates scores for farms that install conservation practices without scientific justification, dramatically lowering the bar for certification for Minnesota farms.

In addition, MCEA's report found a variety of flaws with state implementation of the program, including incomplete pilot phase implementation, high costs, lack of transparency, poor reporting, and failure to target to the program to high priority landscapes.

Doing more harm than good?
Granting farm operations immunity from clean water regulations at levels of performance well below state standards sends the wrong message, and may undermine farmer participation in future restoration and protection programs. As a result, the MAWQCP may be doing more harm than good.

Until such fundamental program flaws are addressed, FMR urges the state to suspend statewide adoption of program and reconvene the advisory committee to appropriately resolve each of the issues identified in MCEA's report.

For a more on the MAWQCP, including a summary of MCEA's assessment findings, please visit our MN Ag Water Quality Certification Program page.