“Nothing compares to hands-on learning. Textbooks cannot replicate in-field learning experiences.” – Megan Roberts, Ed. D., Executive Director of Minnesota State Southern Agricultural Center of Excellence.
Certain topics lend themselves better than others to traditional classroom learning styles. Agronomy, plant and soil science are more effectively learned and experienced in a real-world, outdoor environment. We at Farmamerica couldn’t agree more, which is why we have been exploring collaborative research opportunities with non-land grant higher-education universities and colleges to help their students and researchers have access to in-field experiences.
Farmamerica is Minnesota’s 45-year-old agricultural interpretive center. Located near Waseca, Minn., Farmamerica utilizes historic buildings, modern ag exhibits, and over 200 acres of farmland to connect Minnesotans to the evolving story of agriculture. Through partnerships, field trips, guided tours, and public events, Farmamerica strives to help Minnesotans discover that the agriculture industry is part of the solution to the food, fiber, energy, and environmental challenges we face today.
Farmamerica is a Water Quality Certified Farm through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, with endorsements for wildlife and integrated pest management. A portion of its its acreage is utilized by Crystal Valley for their agronomic and seed genetic research. Over 100 of those acres recently became a Discovery Farm Minnesota site where new controlled drainage structures will help students, farmers, researchers and consumers understand the impact and benefits of managing the timing and amount of water discharged by agricultural drainage systems.
The Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center helped secure grant funding from the Natural Resource Conservation Service to install over 20 miles of drainage tile, four controlled drainage structures, and four automated monitoring stations on 114 acres of Farmamerica farmland. This new tile system connects to the recently updated Waseca County Ditch 19 tile system which drains into a holding pond downstream before traveling further in the Le Sueur River Watershed.
Discovery Farms Minnesota is a farmer-led initiative to gather real-world water quality information from different farming systems across Minnesota. Their goal, stated on their website discoveryfarmsmn.org, is to provide “practical, credible, site-specific information to enable better farm management.” Currently, on-farm data is being collected in real time from five other Minnesota farms. But none are tracking controlled water drainage in southern Minnesota. Farmamerica will now serve as an elite demonstration and evaluation site for drainage water management (controlled drainage) in the GreenSeam. The public can monitor the quantity and quality of water leaving these farms online at mda.onerain.com/dashboard/list.
The data collected will illustrate the effectiveness of controlled drainage in southern Minnesota cropland. It will also show how proper tile drainage can slow the flow of excess water into streams and rivers and prevent surface runoff. In addition, the data provides scientific results to help farmers and landowners make more informed decisions on how to manage water movement and nutrient applications on their farms.
Farmamerica hopes everyone in the GreenSeam benefits from partnerships like this one. Through webinars and in-person field days, events, and demonstrations of controlled drainage systems, we hope to help interested parties understand the benefits and operation of water drainage management systems.
Research results will help Farmamerica and other farmers make best management decisions. It also helps agency leaders, legislators, and consumers understand the basics of tile drainage.
Last but not least, this partnership provides in-person research and learning experiences for high schoolers, higher education students, and professors in the GreenSeam — developing future talent for the region.
Jessica Rollins is Farmamerica’s executive director and serves on the GreenSeam Regional Branding and Promotion Committee. She may be reached at email@example.com.