MAPLETON — Steve Trio is among the first family farms in Blue Earth County to become a Minnesota Water Quality Certified Farm. The Trios grow corn and soybeans south of Mankato.

“This is something we care about,” said Trio of Mapleton. “The ag community is working hard to clean water up and make it better.”

Trio applied for certification at the Blue Earth Soil and Water Conservation District. The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program was introduced statewide in 2015 and gained traction in 2016. Farmers work with soil and water conservation district staff to be certified in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture program. The goal is to protect state waters.

The process took close to a year, but Trio got a slew of good ideas on water quality and best management practices. “It was a good process,” he said.

Trio farms with his son, Aaron Trio, who is majoring in agriculture engineering at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. His education includes an internship at ISG in Mankato, where he will be working on agricultural drainage and ditches.

“It’s one of those deals you should be doing if you’re farming,” Aaron Trio said. “It’s a good deal to be recognized for it.”

Farmers begin with an online assessment tool and answer questions on field characteristics, conservation practices, and management of nutrients, tillage, pests, and irrigation and tile drainage. On an index of 1 to 10, they must score 8.5 or greater in each area. Then a certifier comes out to review and verify each field.

At first the process seemed overwhelming. “In reality, once I went through the process, most of the practices I was doing already,” Trio said. “It just takes a little tweaking.”

In his fields, Trio was using terraces and grass buffer strips to reduce runoff. With GPS technology to map his fields, he uses grid soil sampling to pinpoint fertilizer rates. His records showed that his spreading rates were well within University of Minnesota recommendations. The biggest tweak he made was to back off on nitrogen and do split applications, applying more in the spring and less in the fall.

Jerad Bach, district manager for Blue Earth County SWCD, said it was nice to assess the Trio farm to see that the program was attainable. “It is achievable if you do these things,” Bach said.

He said the Blue Earth County SWCD supports “common sense conservation” and will work with farmers to find practices that fit the land.

As a Minnesota Water Quality Certified Farm, a sign can be posted on the Trios' farm to let their neighbors know they are protecting the state’s water.

“As farmers, we do get government funds,” Steve Trio said. “We’ve got to also follow what the community wants.”

For many farmers, a big advantage is regulatory certainty for 10 years. Certified farms are deemed in compliance with any new water quality rules or laws, including the buffer law, for the first 10 years of their certification. Certified farms also may receive technical and financial assistance to implement practices that promote water quality.

Across Minnesota, there are 365 certified farms and over 200,000 acres of farmland enrolled in this voluntary program.

“My way of thinking is to be proactive before you get legislation slapped on you,” Trio said.

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