Matt Dixon enjoys working with his cow-calf herd and managing pasture on his farm a few miles south of Backus, and he takes conservation of water and soil seriously.

Because of his conservation-minded decisions, Dixon's farm was certified in late 2018 as protecting water quality in Minnesota's Ag Water Quality Certification Program. Farmers from across Minnesota are eligible to participate in this 4-year-old, voluntary program.

The ranks of Minnesota's Water Quality Certified farms include small farms as well as large farming operations and represent a diversity of crop and livestock production - including corn, soybeans, wheat and other small grains, hay, pasture, cattle, hogs, dairy cows and more.

Dixon's farm is in central Cass County and is all in pasture. His farm is the first in his neighborhood to be Water Quality Certified and one of the first in Cass County.

Dixon's pro-active approach to conservation prevents soil erosion, slows water runoff rates and protects the nearby lakes as well as groundwater. Following are some of the conservation practices used on his farm:

• Perennial pasture. All fields on the Dixon farm are in perennial vegetation, being used as pasture. As a result, soil erosion rates (whether by water or wind) are very low, gully erosion is eliminated, water runoff rates are reduced, and soil organic matter levels improve.

• Rotation grazing: Dixon's cow-calf herd is rotated frequently between pasture fields, called paddocks or cells. The benefits of rotational grazing are many: forage production is increased; forage stand longevity is improved; and overgrazing of pasture is prevented, which also aids in reducing both soil erosion and water runoff rates.

• Controlled access to water: On Dixon's farm, the cow-calf herd does not have access to the nearby wetlands, lake or creek. Dixon has a livestock watering system associated with his rotation grazing system.

• Careful management of fertilizer. Dixon does periodic soil sampling and, if fertilizer would be necessary, he will apply these nutrients at the university-recommended rate.

• Careful use of herbicides: When Dixon spot-sprays weeds in his pasture, he applies herbicide carefully and according to label instructions.

These conservation-minded decisions enable Dixon's farm to be Water Quality Certified - the first in his neighborhood of Cass County - because water and soil resources are protected. By using this combination of conservation practices, Dixon protects surface water and groundwater, prevents loss of valuable topsoil and conserves these resources for future generations.

These conservation principles are important to Dixon, as are his goals for his farm.

"I have really enjoyed working with Jim in the Water Quality Certification Program," Dixon said in a news release. "He has been very helpful in showing me the benefits of rotation grazing. My goal as the owner of Fair View Ranch is to produce the best possible registered Angus cattle in the business. I have noticed by implementing rotational grazing it has made my grass last longer throughout the season and has encouraged better quality grasses for higher gains per day. The most enjoyable benefits I noticed were the benefits to the land. There is more wildlife, and we left the grass long so it would be a good filter to allow for better water quality.

"I thank God that I have the opportunity to be a fourth generation farmer - it is a career I have always wanted to do. I'm striving to make the land and the water quality better for my family and neighbors," Dixon said. "I encourage all farmers to talk to Jim or the Cass SWCD about the Water Quality Certification Program to better our environment. "

Farm operators and owners throughout Minnesota are eligible to be involved in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program.

"This program is an excellent way for farmers to tell the story of the good things they are doing to protect water quality, as well as explore the use of new conservation practices,'' said Jim Lahn, the program's area certification specialist who works with the program in 11 counties in north central Minnesota, including Cass.

Producers interested in learning more can contact the Cass Soil & Water Conservation District office at 218-547-7241 or Jim Lahn at 218-457-0250.