Nitrogen pollution in rivers deep, wide new Minn. report shows

Environment Stephanie Hemphill · ·

"I think it's really an opportunity for innovation," said MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine. "This is when Minnesota does its best work, when we identify through environmental science, what we see in the world that's an undesirable result, and this should be looked upon as a time when we say, 'now let's roll up our sleeves and get to work on doing something to improve it.'"

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is recruiting farmers for a voluntary pilot program to speed up adoption of best practices. The Water Quality Certification Program will offer certification to farmers who meet certain criteria, and in return give them "certainty" -- during the ten years of certification, they will not be subject to new water quality regulations.

Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said it all comes down to the economics of farming.

"You buy the farm, you're carrying tremendous debt, you're putting tremendous amounts of resources in bringing this crop to fruition," he said. "If it can be clearly demonstrated that there's an option, I think farmers would be willing to do that -- but yet, you've got to be able to service the debt."

The state is in the early stages of setting nitrate standards to protect aquatic life, and is developing a Nutrient Reduction Strategy to help address the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.