Agriculture Stewardship - Land, Water, Livestock - July 2017

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Ag Water stewardship

July 2017

Cover crop, soil health events growing popular

soil health cover crop field day

Interest in using cover crops and building soil health seems to be growing among farm producers. Registrations filled quickly for the Soil Health Field Day June 28 at the U of M West Central Research and Outreach Center at Morris. The next day, June 29, farmers and agency staff filled the large meeting room at the Renville Community Center to hear about cover crops and the experiences of local farmers. Photo: WCROC field day visitors examine cover crop samples being described by Marisol Berti, Professor of Forage and Biomass Crop Production at NDSU.

Most agree on the benefits of cover crops: Soil protection from wind and water erosion, increased soil organic matter, root 'tillage', nitrogen control, water infiltration. But to provide economic incentive, researchers are looking for more ways to cash in on cover crops. For example, camelina yields a healthy, tasty edible oil. It reduces nitrogen leaching in the soil, and also offers pollinator benefits, not to mention bio-fuel for jets. Adding cattle to a farm can generate income from cover crop forage.

Once people hear an amazing statistic about soil biology, they begin to appreciate the value of building soil health. One cup of healthy soil is said to contain nine billion microbes. Healthy soil is a living biobass that helps both crop production and water quality. The farmer panel at the Renville cover crop event agreed that while getting started can be challenging, the results are well worth the effort.

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4R nutrient management field day July 25 at Legvold farm

dave legvold

4R Nutrient Management field day will be held July 25 at the Dave Legvold farm near Northfield. 4Rs - Right source, Right rate, Right time, Right place - uses best management practices that optimize the efficiency of fertilizer use. The Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center is hosting the event and coordinating advance registration. There is no cost to attend, with expenses being covered by sponsors including The Mosaic Company, Environmental Tillage Systems and The Fertilizer Institute.

Speakers include: Tim Radatz of the MAWRC, Mark Dittrich of the MDA, Jeff Vetsch of the University of Minnesota, Melinda Sposari of TF, Steve Emory of CPS, and Adam Herges of Mosaic. CEUs will be available for Certified Crop Advisors in attendance. Photo, KYMN radio: Dave Legvold receives Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification at the Conservation Technology Information Center field day at his farm in 2015. Register here.

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MDA schedules additional Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule listening session

The Dept. of Agriculture (MDA) has scheduled an additional public listening session on a proposal for regulating the use of nitrogen fertilizer in Minnesota for 2 p.m., Tuesday, July 25, at the Holiday Inn in Fairmont. The MDA is seeking public input on a draft of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule, which would help minimize the potential for nitrate-nitrogen contamination from fertilizer in the state's groundwater and drinking water. Nitrate is one of the most common contaminants in Minnesota's groundwater and elevated levels of nitrate in drinking water can pose serious health concerns for humans. Farmers are encouraged to attend to provide public input on the proposed rule. Written comments can also be submitted at the listening sessions, through MDA’s website or by mail. The draft rule and instructions for submitting comments can be viewed online.

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Summer beef tour rambles among the Glacial Ridge hills

rainfall simulator 2017 beef tour

The 2017 Summer Beef Tour showcased a variety of cattle operations among breeds, systems, and even a boutique creamery. The Glacial Ridge Cattlemen's Association hosted the day-long event, based at the Clear Springs Cattle Company south of Starbuck in Pope County. Photo: Rainfall-infiltration demonstration at the Bar J Ranch.

At Redhead Creamery north of Brooten, the tour visitors sampled artisan cheeses produced since 2104 by Alise Sjostrom and family. At Clear Springs, operated by the Wulf family, the tour provided meals, refreshments and a display area for vendors in a large monoslope barn. Other tour stops included Highland Acres Cattle, Bar J Ranch, Bakko Brothers, feed and forage demonstration at Nelson Red Angus, and public grazing land.

The unique geography of the Glacial Ridge area in western Minnesota is well-suited for cattle production. In a landscape seeming to be farther west, beef cattle graze on pasture across the rocky hills; others feed in pens and monoslope barns, or both. Much of the artisan, grass-fed beef popular in metro area restaurants comes from the area. The 2018 Summer Beef Tour will be July 10 at Windom, hosted by the Cottonwood Cattle Producers.

Story July 17 in AgWeek: Central MN hosts cattle tour 'between the corn and the trees'

cattle grape vines
Grape vines cling to the fence along a paddock of Black Angus at the Bar J Ranch

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Experts predict third largest Gulf of Mexico summer ‘dead zone’


Federal scientists forecast that this summer’s Gulf of Mexico dead zone – an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and other marine life – will be approximately 8,185 square miles, or about the size of New Jersey. This would be the third largest dead zone recorded since monitoring began 32 years ago – the average Gulf dead zone since then has been 5,309 square miles. - NOAA news release, 7/20/17. (NOAA photo).

This year’s predicted large size is due mainly to heavy May stream flows, which were about 34 percent above the long-term average and carried higher-than-average nutrient loads. The USGS estimates that 165,000 metric tons of nitrate – about 2,800 train cars of fertilizer – and 22,600 metric tons of phosphorus flowed down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers into the Gulf of Mexico in May. The USGS operates more than 3,000 real-time stream gauges, 60 real-time nitrate sensors, and tracks trends in nutrient loads and concentrations throughout the Mississippi-Atchafalaya watershed, which drains parts or all of 31 states.

To help reduce nutrient runoff, NOAA provides information to farmers through its Runoff Risk Advisory Forecasts, which tell them when to avoid applying fertilizers to their croplands.

Minnesota's nutrient reduction strategy

Minnesota and other states in the region have developed strategies toward achieving the goal of a 45 percent reduction in phosphorus (by 2025) and nitrogen (by 2040, with interim goal of 20 percent by 2025). On Minnesota’s urban and crop land, combinations of tactics are needed to meet initial nutrient reduction targets for the Mississippi and Red rivers:

  • Conservation tillage and erosion control on an additional 6.5 million acres of cropland.
  • Vegetative cover increases during spring and fall on 2.6 million acres, including cover crops where crops are harvested early, and perennials on riparian lands and marginal cropland.
  • Fertilizer and manure application efficiency improvements on 2.2 million acres for phosphorus and 11.9 million acres for nitrogen.
  • Storing and treating tile line waters draining 0.6 million acres of row crops by constructing wetlands, bioreactors and restricting drainage at non-critical times of the year.
  • Municipal wastewater treatment improvements to greatly reduce nitrate and to address phosphorus reduction at sites not yet fixed.
  • Continued progress on full regulatory compliance for urban runoff, feedlots and septic systems.

To meet long term water quality objectives, we also need additional vegetative cover to protect soil and capture nitrate during the spring and fall months on corn and soybean acres.

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Research funds awarded to buffer, multiple BMP projects

jeff strock

The Dept. of Agriculture has selected two projects to receive Clean Water Fund research contracts. Thirteen proposals were submitted totaling more than $2.8 million in requested funds. The two selected projects total $556,703.

Dr. Jeffrey Strock, U of M Southwest Research and Outreach Center, Lamberton, will research “Integrated Landscape Management for Agricultural Production and Water Quality.” It establishes a site where the impact of multiple, combined BMPs can be measured. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment will be monitored individually and cumulatively from in-field, edge-of-field, and in-stream BMPs.

Research data collected will be used to determine the hydrologic, nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment reduction potential of these integrated strategies and their potential for meeting Minnesota's Nutrient Reduction Strategy goals. Additionally, the project will demonstrate the ability to meet the dual goals of maintaining farm productivity while improving watershed conditions and water quality. Photo: Dr. Jeffrey Strock at field day in 2014 on Brian Hicks farm in Redwood County.

Dr. Gary Sands, U of M Dept. of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, will research “Improving Design, Performance, and Implementation of Saturated Buffers.” This project seeks to increase both the effectiveness and use of saturated buffers as a BMP to reduce nitrogen loss from artificially drained agricultural lands. It will develop a planning tool to enable local professionals and conservation staff to integrate key site information into the decision-making process for siting and designing saturated buffers.

Additional information is online at - Dept. of Agriculture news release, 6/13/17.

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Open for comment: Possible increases to MPCA water quality permit fees

The MPCA is requesting comment on possible amendments to chapter 7002 and 7083 rules governing water quality fees. This includes fees for municipal and industrial wastewater permits, noncontact cooling water permits, stormwater permits, feedlot permits, septic systems, environmental review, variances, and more. The MPCA may make rule changes to some or all of these fees. 

The notice is available by visiting the MPCA public notice webpage. Additional information about this rulemaking, including two fact sheets, “Funding Minnesota’s water protection work” and “Public input needed on adjusting fees for water programs” are available on the Water Quality Fee Rule webpage.

The MPCA published notice in the June 26 State Register. The public comment period for this notice closes at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug.14. A stakeholder video conference on this rulemaking will be held on Monday, July 24 from 2-4 p.m. and again from 6-8 p.m., at the MPCA St. Paul office and regional offices. The purpose of the meeting is to share information about this rulemaking so that stakeholders are able to provide verbal input at the meeting and written comments by Aug. 14.

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Ag-conservation field day events

July 25: 4R Technology Review field day, Dave Legvold farm, Northfield.
Aug. 9: Soil health field day, Ditlevson farm, Blooming Prairie, Freeborn SWCD, 507-373-5607 ext. 3.
Aug. 11: Water quality and soil health day, 9-2, Mazeppa, RSVP by Aug. 7 to Minnesota Farmers Union, 651-639-1223.
Sept. 6: Strip till expo, Fergus Falls, details TBA.
Sept. 8: Cover crop and soil health learning tour, Rushmore.

If you know of other field day events for this calendar, please contact Forrest Peterson, 320-441-6972, Thanks!

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In the news

Dodge County feedlot legal battle is over
Rochester Post-Bulletin, 6/29/17
County board weighs in on feedlot notice changes
Perham Focus, 7/14/17
Who knew fish could ‘speak' about water quality?
KARE-11, 7/10/17
Iron enhanced sand filtration for agricultural tile drainage
U of M Stormwater Research Updates, 10/2016
House committee rejects ag lab closings
AgWeek, 7/13/17

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July 18-20: 6th annual Red River Valley Agricultural Water Issues Forum, 8-noon, Badger (18th), Ada (19th), Dumont (20th).
July 30-Aug. 2: Soil and Water Conservation Society annual conference, Madison, WI.
July 31: Water quality town hall meeting, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Rochester Community and Technical College.
Aug. 1-3: Farm Fest, Gilfillan farm, Redwood County.
Sept. 20-21: Animal nutrition conference, City Center Hotel, Mankato.
Sept. 26: Ag and Animal Science Conference, MinnWest Technology Campus, Willmar.
Oct. 17-18: Minnesota Water Resources Conference, St. Paul RiverCentre.

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The MPCA Feedlot Update welcomes news from partners about, projects, people, and upcoming events. Email submissions to Past issues of Feedlot Update are available on the feedlot program publications webpage.