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Home > Protecting Our Lands & Waters > Water Protection > Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program > Minutes and Agendas > July 8-9, 2014 Meeting Minutes

July 8-9, 2014 Meeting Minutes

July 8-9 Advisory Committee Meeting
Bigwood Event Center, Fergus Falls, MN

Meeting Objectives:

  • Welcome the second term of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program
  • Outline the program evaluation role for the Committee
  • Present program administration and organization to Committee
  • Tour the Whiskey Creek pilot watershed and a certified farm

July 8, 2014

2:00 pm - Welcome and Introductions


Advisory Committee Members: Doug Albin, Dennis Berglund, Dean Fairchild, Kris Sigford, Kirby Hettver, Joe Smentek, Bill Zurn, Dennis Fuchs, Thom Peterson taking notes for Doug Peterson

Pilot Area Staff: Linda Meschke, Sheila Harmes, Bruce Albright, Mark Lefebvre, Don Bajumpa, Aaron Larson, Peter Fjested

MDA Staff: Greg Buzicky, Brad Redlin, Marcie McLaughlin, Bill Fitzgerald, Peter Gillitzer, Whitney Place

2:30pm - Advisory Committee Operations, Pilot Evaluation

Rules of the road for the Committee will remain from the first term: be respectful, disagree without being disagreeable, be open-minded, be present, the parking lot will be used for comments not germane to the specific topic area. If there is something on your mind, please bring it up but it may not be discussed that day.

Background documents in Committee member binders include:

  • Memorandum of Understanding
  • Advisory Committee Recommendations
  • MN Statute 17.9891-17.993
  • MN Executive Order 14-09
  • Certification Procedure
  • Application Form
  • Certification Contract
  • Informed Consent to Release Private Data Form

The second term off this committee will be based on the statute passed—the MAWQCP Advisory Committee will be consulted by the Commissioner regarding the pilot project and expansion of such. In order to evaluate the pilots, the MDA came up with topic areas that need to be discussed. The Committee members can make suggestions or changes at any time.

Proposed Schedule:

July 8-9, 2014: Administration of Pilot Project Financing

Tour of Whiskey Creek Pilot Area 

October 2014: Field Staff and Program Operations

Certifier Accreditation

Tour of Middle Sauk Pilot Area

December 2014: Farm Assessment and Certification

KAP Study

(St. Paul, MN)

2015 Legislative Session: Program must report to Legislature

April 2015: Pilot Evaluation Development

Tour of Elm Creek Pilot Area

July 2015: Statewide Implementation and Planning

Tour of Whitewater River Pilot Area

The comment was made that scheduling a meeting in October will be difficult for the farmers. MDA staff said that they recognized this challenge and will try to make the meeting inclusive.

Someone asked if there is a protocol for changing the assessment tool or on bringing the program statewide before three years of a pilot phase. MDA staff responded that the Committee can make recommendations to the Commissioner on any topic.

Pilot staff commented that three years may not be enough time according to the local advisory committee. Farmers get busy, scheduling around planting and harvesting is a challenge. Another pilot representative added that in working with a producer he identified 15 separate conservation practices to implement. The producer could not install all of these in one year. He also commented that without the assurance of funding for this program, it’s hard for producers to commit to doing this many practices.

3:00 pm        Program Administration and Financing

Marcie McLaughlin, the Pilot Project Coordinator presented how the pilots were functioning administratively and organizationally to the group. She explained the finance structure between USDA-NRCS, MDA, and BWSR. The program decided to use BWSR as a fiscal agent because they have a long history of working with the types of organizations in each of the pilots. They also have E-link which is a system that tracks deliverables and funds spent. Along with E-link, there is a strict Clean Water Fund policy in place to make certain that funds are being used appropriately. Two different funds were sent to each pilot through BWSR: Technical Assistance to support one FTE in each pilot and a pot of Incentives funds.

MDA staff is in constant contact with the pilots and the pilots are in constant contact with MDA about how things are going with the tool, the communications and outreach, what needs to be changed on the application form, etc.

A Committee member asked if MDA has received feedback from other sources within the pilots such as SWCD boards, NRCS offices, people at a distance. McLaughlin responded that those who are going through the process will be filling out an evaluation. There is formal evaluation and informal evaluation. As much as staff can be out in the field and talking to producers, we can have those constructive conversations. Everything is being noted and recorded. MDA is open to all input.

Another Committee member would like to hear from people who apply but don’t end up completing certification.

McLaughlin informed the Committee that there is a quarterly packet for each pilot as state and federal funds are charged. These will be available to any Committee members if they are interested.

A pilot representative noted that this type of reporting is done every day. It’s nothing new to SWCD office staff.

Committee member asked who the pilots report to and if they are administering surveys to producers who have gone through the program.

McLaughlin replied that they are taking informal and formal notes on the process and that a exist survey could be administered to record notes.

A Committee member asked what evaluative tools would be used for this program. MDA staff responded that a formal evaluation for producer going through this program is being developed. Within the BWSR framework there are a variety of requirements to identify deliverables.

A Committee member questioned the viability of bringing this complex financial distribution to the entire state. MDA staff responded that it would be difficult. The members should consider which geographic boundary is best to be used to distribute funds. Federal EQIP funds are distributed by county. When dealing with water we want to do it on a watershed basis. When dealing with administration, we need to identify the best structure.

A Committee member asked about NRCS participation. Pilot staff said that there is a dedicated engineer in the area field office to be at their disposal. Everything for this program is elevated to high-priority status.

A committee member asked how much funding timing is currently dictating the progress of pilots as some pilots were not able to begin before funding was in pilots accounts. MDA staff responded that some of the pilots had the financial means to start on the process and that at most it delayed some pilots one or two months.

Several Committee members asked about what outcomes would be tracked. MDA staff responded that much of this has been tracked through E-Link. A pilot representative added that one of the benefits of entering data into E-Link is that it will give you a water quality improvement number that identifies tons of sediment reduced, etc. At the end of the pilot we will be able to identify outcomes. Practices funded through EQIP will be tracked as well through the NRCS system.

4:30 pm - Advisory Committee Feedback

A Committee member asked how crop consultants were incorporated into the process. A pilot representative answered that their ability to tap into crop consultant information has been invaluable throughout the entire process. Another Committee member suggested that the MDA consider how to further engage crop consultants in the program.

A Committee member asked if landowners could get certified as well. A pilot representative responded that landowners are able to be certified but need to understand that their renters will have to operate under these standards.

Committee member asked if the costs and timing are front end loaded and if future certification would experience the background training. MDA staff responded that the first certified producer in each pilot area did take longer than expected as questions arose during the process.

A Committee member asked the pilots to report on their experiences delivering the program on a watershed vs. government line basis.

Middle Sauk pilot: I think Watersheds and SWCDs can work together. We’re co-located in a USDA/NRCS office so we have a farmer relationship within the county so it’s easy to work with the other SWCDS. We have that local relationship which is so important. Administrating through the county line but working on a watershed basis.

Elm Creek: This program is really about water quality. You almost have to have that watershed as a factor in how you’re going to approach it. It doesn’t matter how it’s administrated. You work with partners within the watershed. That partnership and working together is not unique to this project. Not every organization is in the position to do that. If you’re trying to reach WQ goals overall, you have to be tied to the watershed unit.

Whiskey Creek: The state is going to move to the one-watershed one plan. Someday there will be a plan that covers all the counties within the watershed. To assess the benefits of the program you have to look at the watershed. But however you break it down with the delivery of the program, the watershed as the pilot, us and our partners can make that work. We’re going to run into trouble tracking all 81 watersheds. Just get it out to the watershed and let them run with it. Not all areas are covered by Watershed Districts.

Whitewater River: We have a Joint Powers Board across 3 counties. To avoid having the monetary flow chart—if it’s simple to give money to each of the SWCDs from the state to administer it on a watershed basis that’s fine. Those SWCDs are transitioning to a watershed approach on all of their projects. Even though they’re county entities, they still work on watershed projects within that political boundary.

July 9, 2014

8:30 - Introductions

Additional Attendees: Bruce Poppel, Bruce Brenden, Troy Larson, Dave Frederickson, Don Baloun, Matthew Wohlman, Santo Cruz

8:45 am - Pilot Project Updates

Marcie McLaughlin gave a number on the status of certifications:

23 applications, 5 certifications, 57 had a field assessed, 23 EQIP applications.

Whitewater River Pilot

Sheila Harmes, Whitewater Pilot Coordinator

Photos of the Whitewater River watershed were presented. Rotational grazing and feedlots are widespread throughout the watershed. The karst topography is challenging to manage water quality, especially drinking water. The past quarter the Whitewater River pilot has attended the Agrinews Farm Show in Rochester, held 2 open houses, a citizen meeting with state Senator Nelson, certified their first farm.

A Committee member asked what incentives are offered at the local level. Harms responded that the state incentive money will be used to supplement EQIP practices to get certified. They are also looking at other incentive options.

A Committee member asked if any local organizations have partnered with the pilot. Harmes responded that Trout Unlimited has helped with hosting meetings.

Elm Creek Pilot

Linda Meschke, Elm Creek Pilot Coordinator

The administration and process is working well. The structure is a little different in the Elm Creek Pilot. There are two staff members working out of Rural Advantage working closely with 5 SWCDs and 5 NRCS offices. As partners we’ve worked together for a number of years on these types of projects.

Meschke explained the process Elm Creek is using: Tim works on the assessment by filling out a form. They do not fill out the tool on the computer in the first visit. They take that information back and run the assessment. If there is a different management applied that is a different assessment. Next, they go over the results of that assessment and discuss with the producer what they need to do differently. Then the farmer goes to the office to sign up for whatever practices they want to do.
After the farmer is eligible, Linda follows up with any certification paperwork that needs to be done to become certified. The key is good communication with SWCD and NRCS and the partners working on this program.

Middle Sauk River Pilot

Mark Lefebvre, Middle Sauk River Pilot Representative

This pilot watershed is entirely located within Stearns County. Of those that have applied, 22 farmers have gone through some type of assessment. The average farm evaluated has 6 fields and 5 crops: alfalfa, corn, small grains. Several people have applied in which their whole farm is in CRP all the way up to 6 crops. You can see the diversity in agriculture in this pilot.

One success is that running the tool allows the farmer to identify the most limiting field in their rotation or operation. The limiting field leads to the discussion to get that field to 8.5. It’s a unique situation in which we can have that discussion: review the nutrient management BMPs, tillage, conservation practices, etc. Fine-tuning things like taking 2nd year alfalfa credits is important for the rotations in this pilot. Several farms have been evaluated that request technical assistance like irrigation water management—they didn’t apply for EQIP, they just wanted to know how to do it.

With the state incentive funds we purchased 60 of the AgriDrain inlets for open tile intakes and intend to use remaining funds to supplement EQIP funding on erosion practices.

The Middle Sauk pilot has a partnership with GNP Incorporated to provide a private incentive to certified producers.

A Committee member mentioned that involving agribusiness needs to be a priority of the MDA and that Land O Lakes should be included in these discussions.

A Committee member was concerned with the application form and whether people who are not lawyers can advise producers on compliance with these laws. This topic is in the parking lot for further discussion.

Whiskey Creek Pilot

Bruce Albright, Whiskey Creek Pilot Coordinator

Albright explained that Whiskey Creek is part of the larger Buffalo Red River Watershed District and has a long standing partnership and organizational structure to complete this type of work.  Whiskey creek has tools, such as the stream power index, lidar mapping and detailed information and authority on drainage that uniquely positions them to be effective.

Albright stated that the WRAP study is nearly completed for the watershed and this will be helpful in focusing programs.

The one watershed-one plan is the direction that many managers are going to because it brings together often overlapping or discontinuous efforts.

Whiskey Creek pilot was asked about using the watershed district and/or SWCD office as a viable option for expanding the program.  Albright highlighted that only about 1/3 of the state has a watershed district and that other partnerships, such as county government or crop advisors, should be options.