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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Clean Water Fund > Clean Water Research Program > Feasibility of an On-Farm Water Quality Program in Minnesota

Feasibility of an On-Farm Water Quality Program in Minnesota

Principal Investigator: Jim Anderson
Co-Investigator(s): Ann Lewandowski and Dennis Busch
Organization(s): University of Minnesota Water Resources Center and University of Minnesota Extension
Sponsor: Clean Water Legacy Act
Award Amount: $48,500
Start Date: 6/1/2007 | End Date: 7/15/2008
Project Manager(s): Adam Birr and Bruce Montgomery (Bruce.Montgomery@state.mn.us)

FINAL REPORT: Feasibility of an On-Farm Water Quality Program in Minnesota

Tractor field applying manureThis is a well researched topic that is useful for anyone interested in starting a Discovery farms program or simply learning more!

This study examined the potential value, cost, designs, and support for a long-term program aimed at answering questions about the relationship between agricultural land uses and water quality through outreach and water quality monitoring on active Minnesota farms. In this report, the authors provide information about on-farm water quality monitoring programs in other states, focusing heavily on Wisconsin Discovery Farms. Included is information about program development, operational structure, stakeholder involvement, funding and budget, data collection and dissemination of information.

The goal of this study was to explore the feasibility of a Minnesota on-farm demonstration network similar to Wisconsin's Discovery Farms which emphasizes local grower involvement in addressing questions about the relationship between agricultural land use and water quality.

What is a Discovery Farm?

  • On-farm monitoring network with the goal of discovering and understanding water quality issues at the farm scale
  • A meaningful way for the agricultural community to be engaged in water quality issues
  • An opportunity for producers to learn from each other about the relationship between agriculture and water quality
  • An opportunity to validate research results, examine the economic implications of recommendations and suggest future research directions

Core Messages and Recommendations

The Wisconsin Discovery Farms program inspired discussions of on-farm monitoring in Minnesota and is the primary model for a Minnesota program. The Wisconsin program has been on the ground for nearly a decade; demonstrating substantial and unique impacts, and providing Minnesota with many lessons-learned.

The Wisconsin Discovery Farms have clearly affected farmers, rule makers and other stakeholders who now expect information from the program to be part of the water quality discussion.

  • Minnesota should pursue a program modeled after the Wisconsin Discovery Farms.
    • Outreach should be a central component of the program.
  • Any new on-farm water quality program should build on the strength of Minnesota’s existing research station network while filling in gaps between plot level research and watershed-scale monitoring to improve the empirical understanding of farm-scale agricultural runoff.
    • Monitoring stations should complement, not duplicate, efforts at existing research stations.
  • A network of water quality monitoring stations should be established on working farms to assess runoff at the field or multi-field scale. In addition to water quality data, the program should collect information about farm practices, finance and crop data such as yield.
  • On-farm monitoring sites should be selected to represent major agricultural systems and regions across Minnesota.
  • Monitoring design should allow for comparison with Wisconsin and North Dakota Discovery Farms.
  • At least some of the sites should be positioned within monitored watersheds to examine the relationship between farm runoff/drainage and surface water quality.
  • Program directors should answer to a strong steering committee dominated by members of the major agricultural producer organizations.
  • Funding should come from diverse sources to avoid being tied to the mission of a single agency or group.

The network will provide meaningful research, practical and economical solutions, educational opportunities and guidance to Minnesota producers, researchers, water resource managers and other stakeholders.

Do you want more information?

This report reviews multiple monitoring programs including the Wisconsin, North Dakota and Arkansas Discovery Farm programs as well as the Pioneer Farm program at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. It also reviews water quality monitoring programs that currently exist in Minnesota.

Visit the Discovery Farms Minnesota website to learn more!


MDA Contact

Margaret Wagner
Supervisor, Clean Water Technical Assistance Unit