Welcome and Introductions
Assistant Commissioner Matt Wohlman welcomed the committee members and attendees and updated everyone about what has been happening with the program.
Brad Redlin, Program Coordinator, conducted introductions of those in the room and presented the agenda for the day.
Pilot Project Implementation
The implementation of the pilot projects was presented through the Advisory Committee’s recommendations made in 2012.
Marcie McLaughlin, Pilot Project Coordinator addressed the Committee recommendation papers regarding Pilot Projects and Incentives.
Marcie McLaughlin explained that the pilots were chosen in June of 2013 and considerations of the Committee recommendations were taken when selecting watersheds. Rather than selecting three pilots as recommended by the Committee, four were selected to be more representative of the state.
A Committee member asked how many applicants there were and why people opted not to apply for selection. Matt Wohlman responded that there were twelve excellent applications. Brad Redlin commented that because this was a formal process, many organizations in contact with MDA may not have had time or staff to get the paperwork together. Additionally, there may not have been enough buy-in with the program at the time.
A Committee member asked if the watersheds selected for the pilots match up with the BWSR One Watershed, One Plan concept. Brad Redlin responded that the pilot watersheds are much smaller than the BWSR watersheds. Additionally, BWSR did not want to stack programs in the same areas and opted to avoid overlap between these two initiatives.
Marcie McLaughlin continued to discuss how the pilots selected are operating under a variety of organizational structures and governance.
A Committee member asked if a producer is enrolled in the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program can they also participate in the Certification Program. Bill Fitzgerald responded that they can participate in both programs, but cannot get paid from both programs doing the same practice.
Marcie McLaughlin explained that the timeline for the pilots is from July 2013-June 2016.
Each pilot area will be conducting a KAP study which measures Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices of people on a particular subject. Producers in watersheds will be surveyed once before the pilot and at the end of the project. The MDA is working with Karlyn Eckman from the University of Minnesota on the project.
A Committee member asked about what the measurement metrics for the program will be. Matt Wohlman responded that the MPCA is in the process of doing assessments of all of Minnesota’s 81 watersheds and will provide the baseline water quality measurement metrics for the program. Marcie McLaughlin also responded that the pilot areas have a number of monitoring and modeling data available locally and will discuss them in the afternoon.
Assistant Commissioner Rebecca Flood addressed the monitoring question by informing the group that MPCA has surface water data collected for all of the pilot projects and they are in the process of completing their Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS). No groundwater data has been collected in the same way that surface waters are monitored.
A Committee member asked what the selection criteria were for the four pilot watersheds. Assistant Commissioner Wohlman said that considerations of geography, diversity in agricultural systems, and organizational capacity and partnerships were considered in the selection process. Brad Redlin added that the selection process included technical staff from the MDA, DNR, MPCA, BWSR and NRCS. The final selection was made by Commissioner Dave Frederickson.
A Committee member asked if there were differences in use classification across the watersheds. Assistant Commissioner Rebecca Flood responded that she did not know the specifics of each water body in the watershed, but the uses would be different in each area. For example, not all bodies of water in the pilot areas will have an intended use of drinking water.
A Committee member asked if there were streams with TMDLs in each watershed to which Assistant Commissioner Rebecca Flood responded that yes, there were impaired waters in each pilot area.
Marcie McLaughlin explained the structure for the incentives in the pilot areas, and each pilot will present their plans in the afternoon.
A Committee member brought up a program in Lake Eerie called the Champion of Change Award from the White House. The suggestion was made to promote this program in a way that awarded good stewardship.
A Committee member asked about the recognition incentive of the program. Brad Redlin responded that those who wish to keep their certification secret will not receive recognition.
Assistant Commissioner Matt Wohlman discussed the incentive payments that GNP (Gold ‘N Plump) has committed to pay in the Middle Sauk River pilot area. In this instance, certified producers would take their certification to GNP for their incentive. This could remain private between the producer and GNP. The incentive payments will be between $5-$10/acre.
A Committee member suggested that in the KAP survey the question addressing confidentiality is included. It was also asked what the reception of data privacy was at the recent open houses. Brad Redlin responded that open house attendees thought that the data privacy was sufficient. The certified producers can decide if they want their certification to remain private or not. However, if they are using state funds or federal funds to implement new practices to get certified, the existing data privacy rules apply in both cases.
A Committee member suggested that staff reach out to organic certifiers as they are already doing some of this work.
A Committee member asked what incentives have received the most buy-in? Brad Redlin responded that across watersheds EQIP funding has been the biggest draw and is equally available in each of the pilot areas.
Bill Fitzgerald, Program Operations and Training Coordinator presented the progress on the Program Operations recommendations from the Committee.
A Committee member asked where the pool of certifiers is going to come from and how much training will there be on conservation and water quality. Bill Fitzgerald responded that there will be professional level training required to be an accredited certifier.
There was a comment made that a public tool needs to be available for producers to walk-through and to develop a better understanding for the program.
Another comment suggested that at a future meeting a presentation could explain what various testing protocols are required for water quality science and certification training.
A Committee member asked if extensions are available. Bill Fitzgerald responded that if there is an extenuating circumstance there may be some flexibility required. The realities of climate and farming require some amount of flexibility in conservation planning.
A Committee member asked about how the program addresses any kind of conflict of interest during the certification process. Bill Fitzgerald responded that producers can work with someone they know and trust, however that work will be verified by an independent third party to ensure credibility of the certification. It was further discussed that a conflict of interest policy should be written to make this clear.
A Committee member asked if the entire operation was required in the recertification process. Bill Fitzgerald answered yes, however if minor adjustments are made during the term of certification they can be done through contract amendments rather than recertifying the entire operation.
A Committee member asked how the program addresses instances when the landowner refuses to work with the program. Assistant Commissioner Wohlman noted that this is addressed in the statute. Producers must do what they can on parcels in which they have effective control.
A Committee member asked if under the effective control clause a producer could be certified without reaching the 8.5 score. Assistant Commissioner Wohlman noted that by statute structural practices cannot be required on rented land. Brad Redlin noted that management practices, including non-structural conservation practices, will be then be only means required of a producer by statute to certify new leased land consistent with a producer’s original certification.
Peter Gillitzer, Assessment and Research Coordinator, presented the implementation of the Assessment Tool recommendations.
It was suggested that the application form include a question pertaining to compliance of the 7020 Rules.
A Committee member asked if the CSP program asks for some of the same information if it could be used by the certifier. Peter Gillitzer responded that yes, as long as the producer gives permission to the certifier to use this information.
A Committee member suggested that the Informed Consent form is confusing and should be reconsidered.
A Committee member questioned the rainfall/vegetation cover index in the assessment tool and that it was unclear what percentage to use. Peter Gillitzer said that this was further explained in the technical guide.
A Committee member suggested changing the term “synthetic fertilizer” to “commercial fertilizer” in the assessment tool and related literature.
A Committee member said that the assessment tool has changed since the last presentation given to the advisory committee and that a detailed presentation in the future would be appreciated. The University of Minnesota nitrogen BMPs were also questioned in terms of water quality impacts. Peter Gillitzer responded that the assessment tool was developed with expert technical panels that address these issues and that the tool is ready to change with science. Assistant Commissioner Matt Wohlman commented that one piece of the tool does not get a producer certified and that assessing the risk to water quality does not fall in one area.
A Committee member said that a producer should not get a perfect score for using pesticides when people who do not apply pesticides are more risk averse to water quality. Further comments include that integrated pest management is based on economics, not water quality. A meeting attendee suggested that a plus score could be given in this instance for doing things above and beyond advanced integrated pest management.
Brad Redlin presented the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations on certainty. He explained that one commissioner (of agriculture) would be signing on behalf of all of the state partner agencies. He outlined the provisions of certification that would be included in the producer contract.
Whitney Place, Administrative and Communications Coordinator, presented the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations on promotion of the program.
Before lunch, Assistant Commissioner Matt Wohlman recognized the work of Josh Stamper, the research scientist who developed the assessment tool for the program.
Pilot Area Updates
Bruce Albright, pilot coordinator for the Whiskey Creek pilot area an Administrator of the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District presented the implementation of the program in their pilot.
Bruce Albright outlined the information they have about the Whiskey Creek watershed, the agricultural land uses in the watershed, the local advisory committee advising local and MDA staff on the program, and their plans for state incentive dollars.
Linda Meschke, pilot coordinator for the Elm Creek pilot area and president of Rural Advantage presented the implementation of the program in their pilot.
Linda Meschke outlined the organizational structure of the pilot, the land use in the area and the targeting strategy their pilot is taking. She highlighted a drainage study that has been used in Elm Creek to improve the drainage system in a way that benefits water quality. She discussed incentives for the Elm Creek pilot area.
Middle Sauk River
Dennis Fuchs, Middle Sauk River pilot coordinator and Administrator of the Stearns County SWCD presented the implementation of the program in the Middle Sauk watershed.
Dennis Fuchs highlighted the agricultural industries prevalent in the watershed, the pilot focus on feedlot compliance, and the GNP incentive for certified producers in the watershed. The Middle Sauk pilot area held open houses early in March that were well attended. Local advisory committee members were there to answer questions.
Sheila Harmes, pilot area coordinator and Administrator for the Whitewater River Watershed Project and Mark Root, technician at the Winona County SWCD presented the program implementation happening in the Whitewater River pilot area.
Sheila Harmes explained the geography of the watershed, the process for selection of the local advisory committee, and the organizational structure of the pilot area. Sheila highlighted the interest in certifying DNR lands that are being farmed. Mark Root highlighted the cost of certifying a producer, both in money and local staff time. In the Whitewater River, it is taking almost 40 hours to certify a farm. Sheila highlighted the incentives that the Whitewater pilot area is looking to implement.
Brad Redlin discussed the next steps for the MAWQCP Advisory Committee. The term of the current committee ends on June 24, 2014. The Committee was charged with thinking about their role for the next two-year term.
A Committee member thanked the pilots for their willingness to test this program and for being at the meeting to present their work.
A Committee member asked what the pilots would have done differently thus far. The responses were changes in EQIP funding and payment rates, more flexibility with dollars, targeting efforts with other projects, targeted marketing to producers rather than landowners.
A Committee member suggested that future meetings take place in the pilot areas so that the Committee can get a sense of the landscape, production and local partners in each watershed.
The meeting adjourned.