FULDA — Mark Enninga recently achieved Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification (MAWQCP), joining 877 Minnesota farming operations — including 10 in Nobles County — that are now Water Quality Certified in the six-year old voluntary program.

The program includes small- to large-sized farming operations and represents Minnesota’s diversity of crop and livestock production across the state.

Enninga and his wife, Elizabeth, raise corn, soybeans and cover crops on their rural Nobles County farm. In the last three years, they have implemented several changes to their operation with an eye toward improving soil and water quality.

The Enningas began their journey with strip till, a process that involves tilling a small strip of soil where the subsequent crop will be planted and placing variable rate fertilizer in the same spot so it is readily available for the plant. They followed up their strip till test by interseeding cover crops into both corn and soybeans late in summer and planting soybeans into a living green cover crop without tillage.

“Trying these new processes comes with a big learning curve, as it is significantly different than how we farmed in the past,” Mark Enninga said. “It’s important to start small and get some experience with timing and equipment set up. We’re still learning and get really excited to share ideas with other farmers and supporters, like those that work with the certification process.

“We wanted to show leadership in this space by getting certified with the program after it was announced,” he added.

Enninga worked with area certification specialist Danielle Evers to complete the process.

Evers said the process can take a few months to complete as farm records delving into use of fertilizer and herbicides, as well as crop rotation and more, are reviewed.

Farms can start the process of becoming a water quality certified farm by:

  • Completing an application that includes self-verification of existing state laws and regulations regarding water quality, such as shoreland setbacks, feedlot permits, disposal of waste pesticides etc.

  • Going through an assessment, which evaluates physical field characteristics, nutrient management, tillage, pests, irrigation and tile drainage as well as conservation practices.

  • Becoming verified with a licensed certifier on the farm. Farms that are certified receive regulatory certainty, meaning they are in compliance with any new water quality rules or laws during the period of their certification, which is usually 10 years; are recognized as certified producers; and receive priority for technical and financial assistance to implement practices that promote water quality.