June 13, 2022

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has received a $100,000 grant from the McKnight Foundation to help farmers develop climate-smart farming practices that can mitigate climate change, build farm resiliency, and may provide them with a new income stream. The money will be used for the new Climate Smart Farms Project, part of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP).

“Because of our changing climate, farmers are experiencing more frequent bouts of drought, heavier rain events, extreme temperature swings, and more invasive pests and plants,” said MDA Commissioner Thom Petersen. “Through this new Climate Smart Farms Project and the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program, farmers can implement proven practices that build soil health, protect water resources, and increase farm profitability. Farmers are at the frontlines of climate change impact and can play a pivotal role in combating those impacts. We’re grateful to McKnight Foundation for this grant.”

The Climate Smart Farms Project supports farmers who are currently enrolled in MAWQCP and would like to seek, or already have, a Climate Smart Endorsement for their operation. They can receive a minimum of $1,000 a year for up to five years to assess and apply climate-focused conservation practices to their operation. Examples of practices include managing nitrogen fertilizer and manure to minimize greenhouse gas emissions or minimizing tillage, grazing livestock, and planting perennial crops to sequester carbon.

Options to enroll in new carbon market programs have been multiplying in the agricultural community. In response, the MDA created the Climate Smart Farms Project, centering farmers’ needs and their leadership on science-based farming practices. The unique project provides growers one-to-one technical assistance to assess their operations and develop climate-smart management options that will best align with private market tools or voluntary public programs. The annual financial assistance serves as a bridge payment for growers while they develop their climate-smart systems and learn how to scale climate-smart practices.

“Farmers in Minnesota are digging in and taking the lead on agricultural climate solutions,” said Tenzin Dolkar, McKnight Foundation Midwest Climate & Energy Program Officer. “The Climate Smart Farms Project will allow more farmers to adopt and be recognized for proven practices that benefit their operation, the environment, and the climate.”

The MAWQCP has a proven track record of putting farmers in touch with local conservation district experts to identify and mitigate any risks their farm poses to water quality. Producers going through the certification process have priority access to financial assistance. After being certified, each farm is deemed in compliance with new water quality laws and regulations for 10 years.

The new Climate Smart Endorsement is now one of five endorsements available to MAWQCP producers. The other four certifications are soil health, integrated pest management, wildlife, and irrigation. These endorsements celebrate those who are going above and beyond to implement conservation efforts on their land.

There are now more than 1,225 producers and 855,000 acres enrolled in MAWQCP. Governor Tim Walz has announced a goal of enrolling one million acres by the end of 2022.

To date, Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality certified farms have added over 2,460 new conservation practices. Those new practices have kept over 42,000 tons of sediment out of Minnesota rivers while saving approximately 124,000 tons of soil and 54,000 pounds of phosphorous on farms each year. The conservation practices have also reduced nitrogen loss up to 49% and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 47,000 metric tons per year.

Farmers and landowners interested in the Climate Smart Farms Project or becoming water quality certified can contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District or visit MyLandMyLegacy.com.

About the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program is a voluntary opportunity for farmers and agricultural landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect our water. Those who implement and maintain approved farm management practices will be certified and in turn obtain regulatory certainty for a period of ten years. The program is available to farmers and landowners statewide.

About McKnight Foundation

The McKnight Foundation Midwest Climate and Energy Program focuses bold climate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, at scale, as quickly as possible in the Midwest.   McKnight’s working lands strategy centers on farmers as the leaders of climate solutions in creating climate-resilient and just food systems.


Media Contact
Allen Sommerfeld, MDA Communications