A pilot program to encourage water conservation practices on Minnesota farms reached a milestone this week.
A Red River Valley farming operation became the first to be certified under the Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, which rewards farmers who go the extra mile to reduce pollution.
State Department of Agriculture officials visited the Nordick family farm about an hour south of Moorhead to determine if it is using accepted phosphorus and nitrogen management and conservation practices.
The Nordicks also had to prove that they are properly using and disposing of pesticides, planting grassland buffers along public waterways — and that the farm's septic system meets state standards.
Whiskey Creek runs through the Nordick farm, carrying water to the Red River. That's why it’s one of four pilot sites for the water quality certification program. The other locations are Whitewater River in southeast Minnesota, Elm Creek in the southwest and Middle Sauk River in the central part of the state.
The Nordicks, who largely farm corn and soybeans, have restored several spots along the creek where fast-moving water dug deep gullies. They hauled in tons of rock and created grass-covered berms to reduce erosion.
But they still need to make improvements to culverts that move about 296,000 gallons a minute at full capacity. All that water not only erodes the creek, which is more like a ditch, but also spills out onto farm fields carrying soil and nutrients back to the stream.
"We've got great black dirt out there and we just hate to see that end up in our streams," James Nordick said. "So by doing this we're detouring the problem of overland flooding and reducing the erosion out in the field."
For Nordick, conservation isn't simply a matter of doing the right thing for the environment. He said managing water and fertilizer makes economic sense.