A quick update on DNR irrigation permits

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) remains engaged with lawmakers and agencies about issues surrounding farming and water sources. As fewer people are elected to office with an agriculture background, it’s important that corn farmers continue to have a seat at the table as regulations are debated and laws are introduced that impact Minnesota’s farms.

Recently, farmers have expressed concerns about irrigation issues, specifically the irrigation permitting process with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Whether you’re looking to drill a new well for irrigation or move an existing well, here is a quick summary of the steps you need to take:

  • Preliminary construction approval through the DNR is required before drilling a well that will withdraw more than 10,000 gallons of water per day or 1 million gallons per year. You can apply for preliminary approval using this form.
  • Once you receive preliminary approval, you still need an irrigation waters appropriation permit. Each water source you use requires a separate permit. After preliminary approval, the well can be drilled and test pump data submitted via the waters appropriation permit form found here.

It’s also important to remember:

  • A permit with the Department of Health is also required. This is typically filed by your well driller.and is different than the permit required by DNR. It is up to the individual farmer to apply for both the preliminary approval and final permit from DNR.
  • If you move an existing well, you do not need to apply for a new permit, but you do need to update your existing permit. Don’t forget to update your permit. It will save you potential hassle in the future.
  • The above links bring you directly to the preliminary approval form and permit form. Both can be also be accessed, along with several other forms and documents, at DNR’s Permitting and Reporting System page.
  • If you have any questions about the permitting process, contact your area hydrologist.

Concerns from the farming community about the irrigation permitting process revolve around a couple of issues:

  • DNR says it will approve or deny permit applications within 45-150 days, according to Alan Peterson of the Minnesota Irrigators Association. Many farmers are experiencing wait times longer than that. It is important that applications are reviewed in a timely manner so farmers can plan accordingly.
  • Peterson also said there is uncertainty in how DNR may approve or revoke a permit. Legislation being discussed in the Minnesota Senate aims to clear up some of that confusion, and hopefully make the reasons for denying or revoking a permit more transparent.

MCGA continues to monitor recent developments concerning irrigation and will continue working on behalf of corn farmers to make sure their voices are part of all farm-related policy discussion, including irrigation.

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Talking fast and planting straight

Joe Maidl

Joe Maidl

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association launched its “Minnesota Farm Team” campaign last week to highlight how corn farmers take care of our land, water and soil. MinnesotaCornerstone.com will profile a different member of the Farm Team every day this week.

To Joe Maidl, a nice, straight crop row is more than an aesthetic satisfaction — it saves time, money, fuel and lowers farming’s carbon footprint.

Maidl farms in Lafayette: “It’s the middle or the south central or what you might call the belly button of the state,” says Maidl. “I farm with my cousin Leon and we share machinery, which makes it all work well. We raise corn, soybeans, sweet corn and peas.”

“It’s really neat how much we know now, where before we were wasting seed,” says Maidl about his and his cousin’s investments in a GPS-synced precision planter and combine. “This stuff gets everything down to a T. Being a realtor and an auctioneer, I was always on the phone while I was planting so we had crooked rows. We were getting a lot of compliments from the neighbors now that I’m finally planting straighter. We’re doing the perfect lap every time, instead of overlapping.”

The local farmer’s cooperative has done soil testing and mapping for the Maidls as well.

“We can put some of those maps into the tractor and the combine. I’m 50 and Leon’s 51 and we are getting educated out here, yet.”

The other part of Joe’s life where art and science meet is the auction house.

He’s been calling, or “crying,” auctions for 13 years, and later got his real estate license so he could help clients get top dollar on their farmland and machinery. His specialty is household goods and antiques.

The most unusual antique he has auctioned? An ancient issue of Playboy.

Joe has seen his share of antique items that have no clear name or purpose, in which case he refers to the scientific nomenclature: “the doohickey that hooks on to the whatchamacallit.”

Thank you, Joe, for helping Minnesota’s Farm Team reduce its carbon footprint and get the highest bids possible on its “doohickeys that hook on to the whatchamacallits.”

To learn more about the Minnesota Farm Team, visit MNFarmteam.com. You can register to serve as groundskeeper for a day at a Minnesota Twins game and win other great prizes. You can listen to all four Minnesota Farm Team radio commercials below.

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The farmer and the opera singer

Gary Overgaard and his mezzo-soprano wife, Emily.

Gary Overgaard and his mezzo-soprano wife, Emily.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association launched its “Minnesota Farm Team” campaign last week to highlight how corn farmers take care of our land, water and soil. MinnesotaCornerstone.com will profile a different member of the Farm Team every day this week.

Gary Overgaard’s seed customers know about his passion for farming. They know he’s into technology that makes farming more productive and more sustainable. Not all of them know he’s married to an opera singer.

Gary farms in Magnolia, where he got started as a 23-year-old in 1975. A South Dakota State University grad with a degree in animal science, Gary cobbled together off-farm jobs like county extension agent and vo-tec teacher to make a go of it. Now in his 40th year farming, he has sold his hog barn to a younger farmer, investing in the success of the next generation.

Gary uses a variable-rate planter that plants more seed in higher fertility soil (and soil with higher water-holding capacity) and less seed in lighter soils. This technology is one of many that helps farmers today grow more food using fewer resources.

Magnolia, in Southwest Minnesota, might seem like an unlikely spot for an opera career, but Emily Lodine Overgaard has been making harmony with Gary since 1992. They met on a plane to London. She was on her way to sing a mezzo-soprano opera role, he was headed to Copenhagen to Hardi International.

Teaching is a major focus for Emily, especially at Augustana College in Sioux Falls. She has performed under the direction of world class conductors like James Levine and Hugh Wolff. She also has an interesting sideline doing impressions of Julia Child.

You can hear Emily perform the Flower Duet from the opera Lakme on May 2 in Marshall. You can also hear her performances on nine CDs as a member of the Grammy-nominated choral ensemble, Conspirare, who perform everything from Bach to Annie Lennox.

Thank you Gary for being the modern-farm equipment expert on Minnesota’s Farm Team, and thank you, Emily, for giving the team a powerful voice.

To learn more about the Minnesota Farm Team, visit MNFarmteam.com. You can register to serve as groundskeeper for a day at a Minnesota Twins game and win other great prizes. You can listen to all four Minnesota Farm Team radio commercials below.

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The “King” of buffer strips

Farmer Elvis

Bill Brown aka the “King” of buffer strips.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association launched its “Minnesota Farm Team” campaign last week to highlight how corn farmers take care of our land, water and soil. MinnesotaCornerstone.com will profile a different member of the Farm Team every day this week.

Bill Brown and his family were named the Watonwan County Farm Family of the Year in 2013 by the University of Minnesota. After talking farming with Bill for just a few minutes, it’s easy to see why.

Brown is a fourth-generation farmer and farms 567 acres that have been in the family since 1901. He raises corn and soybeans and custom feeds 5,000 head of finishing hogs each year.

Bill also uses buffer strips on his family farm to protect water quality and was the first farmer in his county to use grid sampling to get a better sense of the nutrients on his field.

“It’s important to take the land we’ve been given and be good stewards,” Bill says. “We do our best to keep everything home, keep it on our land and out of the water.”

But Bill is more than a conservation-minded farmer. He’s also an Elvis impersonator. Bill’s Elvis act started 10 years ago at a community theater and has been going strong ever since. Bill and his band “Attitude” play 12-15 gigs per year and have a great time doing it.

Thank you, Bill, for serving as both the buffer strip expert and the “King” on the Minnesota Farm Team.

To learn more about the Minnesota Farm Team, visit MNFarmteam.com. You can register to serve as groundskeeper for a day at a Minnesota Twins game and win other great prizes. You can listen to all four Minnesota Farm Team radio commercials below.

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Lori Feltis: Playing a no-tillage tune

Lori Feltis

Minnesota Farm Team member Lori Feltis owns 17 accordions and practices no-tillage farming.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association launched its “Minnesota Farm Team” campaign last week to highlight how corn farmers take care of our land, water and soil. MinnesotaCornerstone.com will profile a different member of the Farm Team every day this week.

If you’re looking for someone who is passionate about farming, Lori Feltis fits the bill. If you’re looking for someone to play a few tunes on the accordion, Lori can do that, too.

Lori farms with her husband, two sons and daughter in Stewartville. On their family farm, the Feltis’s grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat. They’ve also practiced no-tillage farming since the early 1980s.

By not tilling the soil, Lori and her family significantly reduce soil erosion and increase the amount of organic matter and nutrient retention in the soil.

When you’re as passionate about farming as Lori is, being a good steward of the land is second nature. When she’s not farming, Lori speaks to community groups about farming and maintains an active Facebook page with pictures from her farm.

Oh, and Lori also owns 17 accordions. What does that have to do with farming? Nothing, unless you happen to hear Lori playing at a local threshing show. Lori got an accordion for Christmas from her father when she was a kid and taught herself how to play.

“I learned on church music,” Lori says. “That’s the easiest. Eventually I learned some country tunes and it went from there.”

Thank you, Lori, for being both the no-tillage specialist and musician of the Minnesota Farm Team!

To learn more about the Minnesota Farm Team, visit MNFarmteam.com. You can register to serve as groundskeeper for a day at a Minnesota Twins game and win other great prizes. You can listen to all four Minnesota Farm Team radio commercials below.

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MCGA Launches “Minnesota Farm Team” Campaign to Highlight Conservation Practices

Minnesota Farm TeamWhat does corn farming, Elvis Presley, buffer strips and playing the accordion have in common? It’s all part of a new campaign launched by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) to highlight the conservation efforts of Minnesota corn farmers.

The campaign features 30-second radio commercials during Minnesota Twins games that profile a member of the “Minnesota Farm Team,” which is made up of corn farmers who have implemented a specific conservation practice on their farm to improve water quality, protect soil and lower agriculture’s carbon footprint. The commercials also highlight something fun and unique about each farm team member that goes beyond what they do on their farms.

Lori Feltis

Lori Feltis

For example, Lori Feltis practices no-tillage farming to reduce soil erosion on her family farm in Stewartville where she grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat. She also owns 17 accordions and plays at family gatherings and local events.

MCGA also launched MNFarmTeam.com where you can learn more about the members of Minnesota’s Farm Team and enter for a chance to become groundskeeper for a day at a future Twins game.

“This is a slightly different approach to show people the steps corn farmers take to protect our land, soil and water resources,” said Ryan Buck, who farms in Goodhue and serves as MCGA President.

Gary OverGaard

Gary OverGaard and his wife, Emily..

“By using a little bit of humor and good-natured fun, we’re hoping to reach people who we otherwise might not reach. When the commercial airs and that accordion music kicks in or the voice of Elvis comes through your speakers, we want people to take notice and learn something they might not have known about what we do on our farms.”

To reach even more people, MCGA is incorporating TWINGO – a baseball version of BINGO played at Twins home games – into the campaign. On the back of each TWINGO card, fans at Target Field

Bill Brown

Bill Brown

answer trivia questions to unscramble a code word. The code word is then entered at MNFarmTeam.com for a chance to win the groundskeeper-for-a-day grand prize and other prizes from MCGA.

Other corn farmers involved in the campaign include:

  • Bill Brown farms in Watonwan County and uses buffer strips to protect water quality. The fourth-generation family farmer also keeps himself busy away from the farm as an Elvis impersonator.
  • Gary OverGaard has farmed in Rock County for 40 years and practices precision agriculture to reduce fertilizer use and increase efficiency. He’s also married to Emily
    Joe Maidl

    Joe Maidl

    Lodine OverGaard, an internationally recognized mezzo-soprano opera singer.

  • Joe Maidl farms in Nicollet County and uses modern technology such as a GPS-synched planter that reduces fuel usage and lower agriculture’s carbon footprint. When he’s not busy on the farm, Joe is talking fast and selling farmland, machinery and antiques as an auctioneer.

You can listen to all four four commercials below. Be sure to visit MNFarmTeam.com to learn more.


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Save at the pump: Denco II promotion aims to increase the use of ethanol fuels

Denco II, an ethanol plant in Morris, Minn., is rolling out a new promotion this spring to increase the use of E85 and other ethanol-blended fuels like E15 and E30.

Back in 2011, Denco II invested over $100,000 in equipment upgrades to enhance their ethanol load-out system and offer E85 and higher blends directly to retailers. Beginning in April and lasting at least through the summer, consumers will be able to purchase E85 for at least $1 less than regular gasoline at 10 fueling stations in West Central Minnesota.

Participating stations include:

  • Tri-county Co-op in Wheaton, Graceville and Chokio
  • Cenex-Farmers Union Oil Co. in Alexandria
  • Cenex in Glenwood
  • Cenex in Starbuck
  • Food Shop of Morris
  • Jerry’s U-Save in Morris
  • Morris Co-op in Morris
  • Donnelly Co-op in Donnelly

Additional stations are expected to be added in the near future.

“At Denco II we recognize the value of selling our products as locally as we can,” said Carson Berger, Commodities Risk Manager at Denco II. “By increased use and awareness of higher level ethanol blends in our local market, we feel we can help consumers realize the advantage of using higher level blends of ethanol, both in their pocket books and for the environment.”

Berger also cited the positive impact a homegrown product like ethanol has on the economy in West Central Minnesota.

“When you produce a product here in the United States and sell it in United States, that dollar stays here and circulates in our local economy instead of leaving,” he said.

If you live in West Central Minnesota or you’re just passing through, be sure to stop at a participating station to support homegrown fuels and fill up for less this spring and summer.

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Cover Crop Symposium reaches out to crop advisory professionals

A cover crop following corn.

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Many cover crop events focus, naturally, on the farmer. The April 4 Cover Crop Symposium held in St. Cloud shifted the focus to crop advisory personnel, because, in order to make cover crops a workable solution, crop advisers have to have an interactive relationship with the academic research community to assure that cover cropping systems beneficial to farmers become widely available.

Keynote speaker Prof. Rob Myers recently concluded a stint at the University of Minnesota ag campus as the endowed chair of the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture. Meyers conducted cover crop research for the north central zone over the past two growing seasons.

Prof. Myers, an adjunct faculty member with University of Missouri Extension service, spoke about how the agriculture sector can get involved with cover crops and the potential that exists. Co-ops and crop advisers can get involved in termination services, establishments services, selling seed, and numerous other aspects in support of farmers who choose to use cover crops in their rotations. He also laid out the reasons why farmers might find cover crops to be a good addition.

“We had 62 attendees including co-op representatives, seed companies, farmers and staff from several agencies,” said Extension Educator Jill Sackett, the organizer of the event. “The audience was very engaged, interested. They were ready and willing to learn more about it. We did touch base on the potential advantage of including cover crops in an operation.”

Dr. Matt Rourke, University of Wisconsin, spoke about nitrogen credits generated by legume cover crops. Sackett noted that a lot of research already exists about how to grow these crops in Minnesota, it just needs to be adjusted from the use as a forage into the more specialized use as a cover crop. Usually cover crops are seeded more lightly, and the growing season is shorter — 4-6 weeks for a cover crop, compared to 8-10 weeks for a forage.

“The easiest way to incorporate cover crops into an operation would be to get it done mid-August, after a canning crop or a small grain. After red potatoes. After green beans,” said Sackett.

A growing body of research is looking into aerial seeding and other methods for planting a cover crop into a standing crop of corn, usually when it’s between v-4 and v-6.

Seed technology development for corn and soybeans is a part of the cover crop picture, Sackett said. One thing that may influence greater adoption of cover crops with corn and soybean rotations is the increasing parity between full season and shorter season varieties. Even two weeks makes a huge difference in the establishment of a cover crop and its effect on soil biology.

Sackett concluded: “The reason why we feel cover crops have an additional biological benefit is that we know there are specific microbes, bacteria, fungi, nematodes that feed well on corn and soybeans. We know that they are there. We also know that when you extend your rotation in any way, shape or form, you are feeding other things. Even more important, at least as far as nutrient cycling, water retention and soil organic matter are the roots out there until November or even going dormant and then growing again in the Spring. Depending on what you choose for your cover crop. It’s that active growth, active uptake and interaction with the soil microbes that gives a biological benefit to your soil. When you look at the research for no-till or strip-till, doing that together with cover crops provides an even greater benefit.”

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Out of thin air: Using wind energy to make fertilizer

Did you know it’s possible to use wind energy to make fertilizer? And did you know that it’s being done right here in Minnesota, at the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research & Outreach Center (WCROC) in Morris?

I didn’t know any of this, but was curious to learn more, so I visited the WCROC to a get a firsthand look at this innovative project. Mike Reese, WCROC’s director of renewable energy, was kind enough to spend a couple hours with me and walk me through the entire wind-to-fertilizer process.

Of course, I had to ask the obvious question right away: How in the heck did someone come up with the idea of turning wind power into fertilizer?

“It seemed like an elegant idea,” Reese said. “A farmer with a wind turbine could produce his own fertilizer. Or even do it on a larger scale. We thought it was a good way to help reduce farming’s carbon footprint and make use of the local renewable resources.”

Discussions about the project began in 2001 and a wind turbine was installed in 2005. The pilot production plant, which consists of a couple sheds that house the equipment and several storage tanks near the wind turbine, produced its first batch of anhydrous ammonia, which is used to make nitrogen fertilizer used to help grow corn, in January of 2013.

Wind power has many benefits. But it also presents challenges, mainly transmission capacity and inconsistent production when Mother Nature decides to make the wind stop blowing. Those challenges spurred Reese and the team at WCROC to look for ways to store wind energy and add value to it.

How it works
When Reese opened a door to one of the small buildings at the pilot plant, I saw a tanglement of pipes, hoses, valves and other things I would probably break if I started messing with them. I immediately thought to myself, “Everyone is going to ask me how this process works. And I won’t have any idea.”

Wind to FertilizerSure enough, back at the office the next day, a colleague asked how the process worked. I tried to repeat what Reese explained to me, but probably got at least 17 things wrong.

I’ve done some more homework since then, though. If you gave me a very basic test about the wind-to-fertilizer process, I could probably at least get a passing grade. Here is my condensed explanation. If you want more detail, go here.

  • Wind, air and water are used to create nitrogen and hydrogen
  • Power generated from a wind turbine breaks down water, which is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, and captures the naturally-occurring nitrogen in the atmosphere
  • The gasses are compressed and stored in banks of cylinders
  • The gasses are then combined using a catalyst in a 25-gallon chemical reactor to form anhydrous ammonia.

Another neat thing about the process, Reese explained, is how the extra heat created when the nitrogen and hydrogen form anhydrous ammonia is pumped back through a heat exchanger to help heat the incoming nitrogen and hydrogen.

Confused? Don’t worry about it. Just know that this innovative process is happening right here in Minnesota, and the people behind it have a vision to grow this project even further.

Commercial scale
Because of some pesky issues with sealing around the valves, the plant is not yet operating continuously. The system operates at over 1500 psi and 800 degrees farenheit so it can be difficult to find o-rings and other seal materials that can stand up to those harsh conditions for extended time. The team at WCROC is the first in the world to create fertilizer from wind energy, so, of course, there are going to be bumps along the way.

As with any innovation, the process will improve and leaks will be patched through trial and error and an extensive research process.

Right now the pilot plant doesn’t produce enough anhydrous ammonia to be viable on the commercial fertilizer market. Most of the ammonia is sent to a couple of local co-ops. But the WCROC team is working to scale the project up.

“We’d like to be able to develop a system that farmers could use to produce enough fertilizer to supply an entire county and sell back any extra energy,” Reese said. “Once we’re able to operate more steadily, we’ll be able to establish baselines on our fertilizer output and energy input.”

It would take approximately 10,000 tons of fertilizer to supply farmers in an average Minnesota county for the year. That would require roughly 20-30 wind turbines depending on the size and wind resource. The team is also looking at incorporating other energy systems such as solar and biomass.

“There are a lot of directions we can go with this,” Joel Tallacksen, a biomass scientist at WCROC. “We’re always finding ways to make the process more efficient.”

Two novel technologies being developed in labs at the St. Paul and Minneapolis campus may help University of Minnesota Wind to Fertilizerto make the process more efficient and cost effective so cooperatives and farmers can compete with the mega-scale plants. Once the technologies are ready, they will be tested at the pilot plant at the WCROC.

Homegrown fertilizer
One of the reasons corn farmers support ethanol fuel is because it’s homegrown. Ethanol comes from a corn field in Minnesota, not a Middle Eastern country that harbors ill-will toward the United States, or the environmentally sensitive Alberta Tar Sands.

The wind-to-fertilizer project is another way corn farmers support a homegrown and renewable resource. Most ammonia manufacturing has moved overseas to areas where natural gas is cheap. Why not use an abundant but under-used resource – wind energy – to make fertilizer right in the farming communities where it’s used?

Using check-off dollars, Minnesota’s corn farmers are supporting the research aspect of the wind-to-fertilizer project. It’s one of several projects supported by corn farmers that address nitrogen and corn production.

There’s also a market-based reason for corn farmers to support this innovative project.

Just like in other sectors of the economy, demand from consumers is growing for products that are produced as sustainably as possible. By supporting the development of a system that reduces agriculture’s carbon footprint, corn farmers are being proactive in doing what’s right for the environment, and getting out in front of a changing marketplace.

“Right now, we’re not at a point where something like this can compete on the market, but if the market shifts, this project will help farmers be ready,” Reese said.

Interest in the project is all over the map – literally. Local farmers call daily for updates and the WCROC team has done collaborative research with scientists in Sweden. American Indian tribes have also inquired about the process.

The future
I might not have understood all the details of exactly how wind energy is turned into fertilizer, but I do know this: Reese and his team are breaking new ground with this project. And it’s good to see Minnesota’s corn farmers providing support in the early stages. 

There was once a time where it would have seemed impossible to power our vehicles with a fuel made from corn. Now, all fuel is blended with at least 10 percent ethanol.

Making fertilizer for corn fields from wind energy might also sound like a longshot, but it’s happening. Could wind-to-fertilizer one day become as big a part of our lives as ethanol? You never know.

“If we can produce fertilizer in a renewable and cost effective way, we need to do it,” Reese said. “People want products with a lower carbon footprint and our local economies could use a boost as well.” 

By Adam Czech, MCGA


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Four years later, Discovery Farms Minnesota is going strong

Discovery Farms

Farmers received an update on Discovery Farms Minnesota last week in Willmar.

In just four short years, Minnesota Discovery Farms has come a long way.

“The program has really taken off. We’ve established a working network from the southeast corner of Minnesota all the way up to the far northwest,” said Warren Formo, executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center.

Discovery Farms is a farmer-led effort to gather field scale water quality information from different types of farming systems in landscapes throughout Minnesota. The information is gathered under real-world conditions, accounting for the differences in the many farms across Minnesota and helping to develop a true understanding of the relationship between farming and water quality.

Formo provided a progress update on Discovery Farms to a room full of farmers at the MinnWest Technology campus in Willmar. Included in the update were results of a research project conducted on one of the Discovery Farms that compared commercial fertilizer to turkey manure as a nutrient source for crop production. The study also examined environmental impacts.

The results? In general the nutrient source did not affect corn yield or sediment and nutrient losses. The project is just one example of site-specific and on-farm data that is collected on the 11 farms participating in the Discovery Farms project.

“Most of the data that we have on water is really large-scale,” Formo said. “By gathering data at the farm scale, we begin to see that it’s not about the averages, what’s really important to understand is the range of the numbers.”

The results are a learning opportunity for both non-farmers and farmers.

“There are some people that are simply wrong and that sometimes includes farmers,” Formo said. “We have ideas about what’s going on on our own farms and the data doesn’t really bear out. We’re trying to gather data that helps farmers understand, and helps others understand, the true impact of agriculture and farming activity on the water.”

To learn more about recent Discovery Farm projects, check out the 2013 program update and listen to the below interview with Formo.


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