Four Hill Farms Inc., proudly operated by Nathan and Jacob Thompson, has recently become water quality certified under the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP). The program, which originated in 2014, is a voluntary process that certifies farming operations utilizing conservation-minded practices to protect water quality throughout Minnesota for a duration of 10 years. Throughout that time, producers are deemed to be compliant with any new water quality rules and maintain priority for technical assistance to implement more practices that promote water quality.
“We knew of other farms taking part in the program and thought it would be a good fit for us because we were already implementing best management practices,” Nathan said. “Plus, we felt it would also be a good learning experience for what we should improve on.”
Located east of Barnesville, Minnesota, Four Hill Farms Inc. encompasses over 2700 acres of cropland, 1250 acres of rotationally grazed pasture for their 200-cow/calf pairs, and a 200-head feedlot while also dedicating 120 acres to conservation easements consisting of warm season grasses. The extensive operation exercises 2 rotations throughout their agricultural fields – one consisting of 4 different cash crops and the other a traditional corn-to-soybean rotation – while also including cover crops and 3 years of alfalfa.
All of which goes toward decreasing their operation’s environmental impact while at the same time, increasing soil health and protecting water quality – and they aren’t slowing down anytime soon.
“This year, we are planning to expand our use of cover crops,” Nathan said, “and will also be moving to a zoned variable rate with our fertilizer applications.”
Cover crops can be defined as any non-cash crop grown to the primary cash crop. These crops have the potential to increase soil organic matter, reduce erosion, improve soil structure, and promote water infiltration. Additionally, as the name suggests, variable rate fertilizer application allows producers to apply different fertilizer rates at each location across a given field. This more precise application reduces the amount of potential runoff, thereby protecting water quality.
Four Hill Farms Inc. can also accredit those same benefits – as well as the reduction of soil erosion – to their adoption of no-till or strip-till for all their crop rotations except sugar beets. This is because a no-till drill will plant crops without tilling the soil while strip-till minimizes tillage by only disturbing the portion of soil needed to sow seeds.
Overall, because of these best management practices implicated by the Thompson brothers, Four Hill Farms Inc. officially became a certified water quality producer on March 14, 2023.
“The certification is a good reminder of the steps we’ve taken and the ongoing changes we can make to improve yield while also minimizing environmental impact by focusing on soil health, fertility management, and erosion concerns,” Nathan said. “The program gives consumers the confidence to know their food and fuel is produced in ways that are safe for them and the environment.”
Posted in: MAWQCP