$25K NMF grant awarded to Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership seeks to assess attitudes.

    The Northwest Minnesota Foundation (NMF) has awarded the Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (NRSDP) a $25,000 grant to assess land owners’ attitudes toward water management and conservation practices in the Red River Valley.

    “The goals are to determine why land owners are not readily adopting best practices, and how local agencies can help farmers overcome those barriers,” said Linda Kingery, executive director of NRSDP.

    The primary concern is related to water resource management.  Along the Red River Valley, seasonal flooding is a major issue year after year. Recent dike improvements and water storage projects remain part of the solution, but water management on privately held lands is the real issue, according to NRSDP.

    A sizeable portion of land will be freed from the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) as contracts expire this year and next year. Many farmers in the region are installing drain tile to boost crop yields on these newly released crop lands. Drain tile removes excess water from fields and improves yields, but also accelerates water flowing into water retention structures and rivers.

    The issue of drain tiling can create an “us versus them” scenario.  Proponents of drain tiling say frozen soils in the spring time will not allow water to flow through the tile, and subsequently will have very little impact on spring flooding. However, drain tiling installed below the frost layer would still let water flow even though soils and water on the surface are frozen. There are many opinions in the Red River Basin around water management issues, tiling, and what is best for the greater good.

    This project timeline has three phases. The first phase will build local collaboration through a project advisory team, coordinated by NRSDP staff and a consultant. The second phase will develop two watershed cases studies within the Red River Basin by engaging the landowners and pre-testing the survey tool. The third phase will actually implement the full survey to agricultural producers. They hope to sample about 3,000 farmers in the region, with an estimated 1,000 completed questionnaires.  Project outputs will include a technical report of the findings, a decision making tool with recommendations, and presentations to stakeholders.

    “The agencies and partners involved with this project are all very capable of completing the project and implementing results,” said Nate Dorr, NMF program officer for grants. “This project is a great fit for our natural resources conservation and community planning programs.”

    Evaluation of the project is tied to three outcomes: increased understanding of farmer values, beliefs, and decision making processes associated with farm management; identification of drivers and constraints influencing conservation practices among farmers; and delivery of strategies for enhanced communication, education, and outreach in the Red River Basin.