Press statement re: Gov. Mark Dayton’s Water Summit

Agricultural pollution and perennial crops must take center stage  

For release: Feb. 27, 2016 

St. Paul, MN

Friends of the Mississippi River is proud to have been a part of today’s historic Governor’s Water Summit at the InterContinental Saint Paul Riverfront hotel in downtown St. Paul. We applaud Gov. Mark Dayton’s first-of-its-kind effort to bring together over 800 Minnesotans from a wide variety of backgrounds — water-quality experts, farmers, urban dwellers, local leaders and others — to focus public attention on the serious challenges facing our waters today and explore potential solutions.

We agree with the Governor when he stated that “clean water is everyone’s responsibility and anything less is unacceptable.” We also appreciate the importance of taking a multifaceted approach, as reflected by the range of issues covered in the summit’s nine key topics (

However, the summit made it clear that one water quality issue rises above all others: To protect and restore the health of the Mississippi River and our states iconic waters, we must reduce agricultural pollution.

Agriculture is by far the largest source of pollution to surface water in Minnesota, and remains exempt from Clean Water Act regulations. Business as usual is not going to get us to clean water.

“Do we recognize that preserving the Mississippi River means reducing ag pollution? Absolutely. Do we blame farmers in general? Absolutely not,” says FMR Executive Director Whitney Clark. “Policy incentives that drive production of inherently leaky cropping systems must change if we’re going to restore our water quality,” added Clark. “It was heartening to see Minnesotans of all different political stripes and backgrounds sitting side by side and exploring ways to take on this most pressing water quality issue.” 

The solution? Minnesota farmlands need more perennials and crop covers.

While traditional conservation practices can help reduce farm runoff pollution, state research shows we need continuous living cover on the landscape; perennial crops and cover crops that protect the soil and reduce pollution year round.

Currently, federal farm policy and financial incentives encourage annual crops like corn and soybeans that agronomists describe as "leaky,” meaning unsustainable nutrient and sediment pollution levels are unavoidable byproducts.  

“Perennial crops and cover crops not only improve water quality, they also restore soil health, reduce the impacts of climate change, and help provide critical habitat for wildlife like birds, bees and butterflies," says FMR Water Program Director Trevor Russell. "Unfortunately, these crops aren't as profitable as traditional corn and soybean agriculture."

According to Russell, “We need policies and incentives that level the playing field, making these crops financially viable for farm operations. That's why we're calling on the Governor to support research and policy reforms that will give us prosperous farms and a healthy environment for all Minnesotans.”

FMR is calling on the Governor to restore our waters and improve our rural economy by:

  • Fully funding the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative to accelerate development of economically viable cover and perennial crops that enhance water quality, soil health and habitat while providing an economic return for producers. (Learn more at
  • Establish a State perennial biofuels standard by modifying our existing renewable fuel standard to require that at least 50% of ethanol blended into Minnesota gasoline be derived from perennial crops by 2026.​


About FMR
Friends of the Mississippi River engages citizens to protect, restore and enhance the Mississippi River and its watershed in the Twin Cities region. Learn more at
Media Contact
Whitney Clark
Executive Director
651.222.2193 x13 - office

Trevor Russell
Water Program Director
651.222.2193 x18 - office

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