Agriculture Stewardship - Land, Water, Livestock - February 2018

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Ag Water stewardship

February 2018

Ag water quality certification grows to 300,000+ acres


The next time you happen to be cruising around the countryside, be on the lookout for signs of progress on agriculture and water quality. Literally, signs, like the one at right announcing that a farm has achieved Agricultural Water Quality Certification. More are appearing as the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture program is making steady progress. As of January 2018 more than 500 farms managing more than 300,000 acres have met the certification requirements with best management practices for water quality. In return they will be considered in compliance with any new water quality regulations for 10 years.

Financial incentives also help farm owners and managers take the step. Since 2014 more than $5 million in Clean Water Funds have been spent or committed through local partners such as Soil and Water Conservation Districts. In seven regions around the state technical service providers within SWCDs work with farmers on the application and required BMPs. Participating farmers are eligible for grants up to $5,000, and gain leverage for EQIP financial assistance, which brought more than $1.8 million last year.

Feedback from participating farmers so far has been very positive. Among the responses in a recent survey, many say they would be very likely to encourage other farmers to participate. The current goal is to have one million acres enrolled by 2020, says Brad Redlin, program director. A major step occurred recently when Land O' Lakes became an ally through its SUSTAIN program. In the Red River Valley the U of M's Northwest Regional Sustainability Partnership is helping out. "We really rely on many agencies and resources to make progress," says Marcie Weinandt, operations coordinator.

MAWQCP in the news

Certifiably the best: Farmers adopt conservation practices
Fergus Falls Daily Journal, 2/20/18
Forrest Briard farm earns Minnesota water quality certification
Perham Focus, 2/10/18

MAWQCP welcomes new staff

Clarissa Levi began working as the MAWQCP Agronomy and Conservation Services Coordinator in September 2017. Her primary responsibilities include development and implementation of a certified farm auditing process and providing technical support to field staff. Clarissa has more than 14 years of experience in agronomy and conservation work, including time with the Minnesota Pesticide Applicator Recertification Program, Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Pest Survey Program, Alaska’s Citizens Advisory Commission on Federal Areas, the Nevada Conservation Corps, and Caledonia Farmers Elevator. She holds a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Michigan State University and a M.S. in Agronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Danielle Isaacson started in December 2017 as the MAWQCP Program Development Specialist. Her primary responsibilities include program communications, operations, and partnership development. Danielle has a degree in Environmental Studies from Denison University and five years of experience in the environmental field. Most recently, she worked at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency with the MN GreenCorps program.

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Education, reduce runoff among top water 'town hall' themes

water quality meetings

Governor Mark Dayton released a new report summarizing key findings from ten Water Quality Town Hall meetings held last year with Minnesotans across the state. The report, which summarizes more than 3,500 suggestions from more than 2,000 meeting attendees, recommends strategies to boost water quality education efforts, empower local action and collaboration, and increase investments in local clean water infrastructure, among other ideas. Improving education and reducing runoff ranked among the top themes and comments.

Between July and October 2017, Governor Dayton and state agency leaders traveled throughout the state to hear from Minnesotans about their ideas to protect and improve water quality in Minnesota communities. At these Water Quality Town Hall Meetings, the governor and members of his administration talked with Minnesotans about the “25 by 25” Water Quality Goal and other ideas to ensure all Minnesotans have access to clean, reliable, affordable water, no matter where they live. To read the full Water Quality Town Hall Meetings Report, CLICK HERE. Photo: St. Cloud meeting Sept. 6.

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BWSR plan seeks working lands and watershed restoration

camelina oil

The Board of Water and Soil Resources has completed a feasibility study and plan for a Working Lands Watershed Restoration Program. It would provide incentives for landowners to plant perennial and cover crops that will improve water quality. The report includes an overview of promising crops and livestock enterprises, including perennial grasses and winter annual cover crops that keep roots in the soil and vegetation on the land throughout the year, improving soil health and wildlife habitat, storing carbon, and capturing excess nitrogen. Many of these crops can be grown for food or beverage production, grazed, used for livestock feed and bedding, or processed for applications such as bio-jet fuel, bio-based packaging, and renewable chemicals.

The study was directed by the 2016 Minnesota Legislature (Laws 2016, c. 189, s. 4) with the goal of improving water quality by increasing living cover on the landscape at a watershed scale. BWSR coordinated this effort with stakeholders and other state agencies, including agricultural and resource conservation interests, commodity groups, watershed districts, soil and water conservation districts, the biofuels industry, landowners, researchers at the U of M, and the  departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Health, and Pollution Control Agency. Photo: Samples of products from camelina, an alternative crop cultivated for oil, as demonstrated at the U of M-Morris.

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Nitrogen in spotlight at conferences

Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force

The rewards and challenges of nitrogen in agriculture drew attention at a number of recent conferences, scaling from crops, to fields, to watersheds, to the entire Mississippi River basin. Representatives from Minnesota joined other states attending the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force public meeting Jan. 31-Feb. 1 in Arlington, VA. States reported on progress of their nutrient reduction strategies, with the goal of reducing the size of the Gulf hypoxic zone. The largest occurred last year due to high river flows in spring. Minnesota issued its interagency Nutrient Reduction Strategy in 2014, with a five-year review and update due in 2019.

4th annual nitrogen conference

At the fourth annual nitrogen conference Feb. 6 in St. Cloud, experts from Illinois and Iowa touched on the Nitrogen Reduction Strategy in their states. Calling it a 'nitrogen loss reduction strategy', Dr. Howard Brown of the University of Illinois said agriculture must be proactive and make progress on voluntary action to reduce nitrogen loss into waters. He said the lawsuit in Iowa pitting Des Moines drinking water against upstream watersheds was a 'calling card'. Dr. Matt Helmers of Iowa State University said the lawsuit was dismissed because the city sued the wrong entity, not because of the science. The goal of a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen loss to waters remains lofty with only in-field management. Cover crops, drainage management, wetlands and water storage must be increased. They cited helpful websites: Nu-tracker is a program in Illinois that engages high school students to learn about nutrient stewardship. Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association10 ways to reduce nitrogen loads from drained wetlands in the Midwest.

mnicca forrest

Independent crop consultants association convention

Speaking at the winter education meeting of the Minnesota Independent Crop Consultants Association Feb. 15 in Hutchinson, Dr. Yuxin Miao described new research on the potential of precision nitrogen management. Combining soil, landscape, and yield data can create site-specific seed hybrid and nitrogen management. Dr. Miao, a research specialist at the U of M Precision Agriculture Center, described his vision for nitrogen research: Watershed target areas, zone-based precision nitrogen management, nitrogen stresses vs. other stresses, nitrogen management algorithms and strategies for Minnesota, and combine remote sensing and crop growth management. He said Minnesota should establish a conference on precision agriculture. Such a conference is being held Feb. 27 in Aberdeen, SD. Photo: Dr. Miao and MPCA staff Forrest Peterson talk in the exhibit area.

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Extension offers training on how to be 'Nitrogen Smart'

The third year of the U of M Extension Nitrogen Smart program is under way. Nitrogen Smart is an educational program designed to evaluate nitrogen fertilizer options. Farmers can learn how to maximize profits from nitrogen applications while minimizing environmental impacts. Nitrogen Smart is offered through a partnership between Extension, Minnesota Corn Growers, and the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center. The three-hour program started Feb. 14. Locations and times include:

  • Feb. 26, 1 p.m. MN West College, Pipestone
  • March 5, 12:30 p.m., Henry’s Catering, Foley
  • March 12, 1 p.m., Renville County Government Center, Olivia
  • March 13, 1 p.m., South Central College, North Mankato
  • March 16, 1 p.m., Carver County Extension Office, Cologne
  • March 20, 1 p.m., Community Center, Ellendale
  • March 28, 9 a.m., Ag Country, Ada

Three meetings will be tailored specifically for farmers who irrigate:

  • March 1, 1 p.m., U of M Research and Outreach Center, Rosemount
  • March 2, 1 p.m., Monticello Community Center, Monticello
  • March 27, 1 p.m., The Cactus, Perham

Attendees will receive the "Nitrogen Smart" designation good for three years. There is no cost to attend due to support from the Minnesota Corn Growers, and no pre-registration is required. For more information and exact locations visit:

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Reduced tillage, cover crops taking root in Renville County

cover crops

Conservation farming practices such as reduced tillage and cover crops are taking root among farmers in Renville and surrounding counties. The seed is being planted by a handful of farmers, some of who shared their experiences at a meeting Feb. 21 in Renville. More than 100 farmers and conservation professionals heard presentations and a panel discussion among six farmers using the practices, which offer both economic and environmental benefits.

Renville County farmer Dave Wordes began using no-till in 2001 and cover crops three years ago. "The longer we're into no-till we see that we don't need deep tillage anymore," he says. "The hardest thing is making the change." The father-and-son-in-law team of Brad Nere and Kyle VanOverbeke, who farm about 1,350 acres near Danube, have been using cover crops for five years and strip-till for three years. After seeing severe winter wind erosion one year, it "really opened our eyes that we needed to do something different," Kyle says. Dean Schroeder, who started using cover crops five years ago on his farm near Renville, said "I wish I had started cover crops earlier." He encourages farmers to attend a national no-till conference.

The program included presentations about strip-till and reduced tillage by Jodi DeJong-Hughes of U of M Extension and Dorian Gatchell of Minnesota Ag Services. Jennifer Hahn of Pheasants Forever talked about profitable precision conservation. Meeting sponsors included Renville County, Hawk Creek Watershed Project, Renville SWCD, and Cover Crop Champions. Photo above: Cover crop in Renville County soybean field.

cover crops renville county farmers
Farmer panel (l-r): Jason Anderson, Dave Wordes, Dean Dambroten, Brad Nere, Kyle VanOverbeke, Dean Schroeder.

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NPDES and SDS feedlot permit annual reports due March 1

Feedlots with NPDES or SDS operating permits should send their annual reports to the MPCA by March 1, 2018. The form is available on the MPCA feedlot NPDES-SDS permit webpage. We encourage everyone filing to download the document (wq-f3-22b), fill out the Word version, and e-mail the completed report to If e-mail is not available, mail the form with any required enclosures to your regional MPCA office. A map of regional offices along with addresses is found on page 4 of the report form. Paper copies of the form may be requested by contacting the MPCA regional offices.

All land application records for the 12-month period starting Sept. 1, 2016, through Aug. 31, 2017, must be submitted as part of the report and on the included forms. For farms that do not transfer manure, land application records can also be generated and submitted using the MPCA excel based Manure Management Planner under Create Crop Year Records. A link to the planner is located on the feedlot program Nutrient and Manure Management webpage. Annual reports provide valuable information for determining compliance with Minnesota’s feedlot rules. Failure to submit annual reports by the March 1 deadline may result in an enforcement action from the MPCA.

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Water Fee Advisory Committee plans monthly meetings

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is considering an update to its water fees and has created the Water Fee Advisory Committee to provide input to the Commissioner on this important topic. An orientation meeting of the Water Fee Advisory Committee was held on Jan. 8 at the MPCA St. Paul office. The Advisory Committee plans to meet monthly through June 2018. Meetings will be held at the MPCA St. Paul office and are open to the public. Information about meeting dates, agendas, notes, and related materials will be available on the Water Quality Fee Rule webpage. The webpage also contains information about the water fees.

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Applying manure this spring? Start planning now

melissa wilson

It may be hard to imagine spring coming anytime soon with the recent arctic temperatures, but in a few short months it’ll be time to apply nutrients for the upcoming crops, says Melissa Wilson, U of M Extension manure management specialist. If you plan to apply manure, now is the time to start mapping out your plans for the year to save headaches down the road. Here are some tips to get you started on your plans and for applying manure this spring. Tips for spring manure application.

Tips to prepare for the season: 

  • Inspect Equipment. Make sure everything is functioning properly; avoid leaks or spills, make repairs.
  • Get your manure sampled and analyzed, or find your most recent manure analysis.
  • Plan applications for each field. Calculate application rates using the nutrient needs of your upcoming crop (based on the University of Minnesota recommendations) and your manure nutrient analysis. Subtract out any nutrient credits from manure applied in the past 3 years or from legumes grown in the past year.
  • Determine any setbacks needed in fields. This includes streams, ditches, lakes, tile inlets and sinkholes. Also mark locations of sensitive features.
  • Put together an Emergency Action Plan.  List emergency contacts in case of a leak or spill and think of ways that you could possibly contain a spill so that you can have the appropriate tools on hand.

Tips for manure application:

  • Monitor the weather. Avoid applying immediately before a predicted rainfall.
  • Avoid wet or frozen fields. Manure can very easily run off of a frozen field, especially in spring rains. On fields that are wet, adding manure (which has liquid in it) will only increase the likelihood of runoff or the start of tile flow. You are also more likely to cause soil compaction in wet conditions. 
  • Apply manure according to calculated rates. Do not overapply! Nutrients are less likely to be lost to our waterways when applied at appropriate rates.
  • Monitor equipment for leaks. Have equipment handy for stopping leaks and for cleanup. Know the numbers you need to call if there is a spill.
  • Keep records. Always note the field location, manure source and amount applied. Keep records on file for at least 3 years.

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Court delays rule on reporting livestock farm above-limit air releases

On Feb. 1 the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals granted U.S. EPA’s motion to further stay issuance until May 1, 2018 of the mandate that farms with livestock (ranches, livestock operations and/or animal operations) be required to report hazardous substance air releases. No reporting is required until the Court issues its order, or mandate, enforcing its decision to eliminate the reporting exemptions for farms. EPA will be updating the reporting webpage daily to provide current information on the court mandate.

The mandate would require farms with livestock to report hazardous substance air releases (ammonia and hydrogen sulfide) from animal waste under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) when in amounts greater than/equal to their reportable quantity within a 24-hour period. U.S. EPA factsheets and FAQs provide an overview and basic information for those who are impacted by this new requirement. If you have any questions, contact the Environmental Protection Agency at the information provided below:

This is the result of litigation since 2009 over emissions reporting for animal feeding operations. In 2008, EPA exempted all farm operations from continuous release reporting under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA, also known as the Superfund law) and all but the largest operations from reporting to state and local emergency agencies under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) law. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the exemption in April 2017.

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North Fork Crow River 'one watershed' plan open for review

north fork crow river

The North Fork Crow River One Watershed, One Plan is available for public review and comment through March 31. Comments on the plan should be sent to both: Diane Sander, Watershed Coordinator, Crow River Organization of Water, 311 Brighton Avenue, Suite C, Buffalo, MN 55313,; and Steve Christopher, Board Conservationist, MN Board of Water and Soil Resources, 520 Lafayette Road North, St. Paul, MN 55155,

The One Watershed, One Plan vision is to align local water planning on major watershed boundaries with state strategies towards prioritized, targeted, and measurable implementation plans. It builds on existing local water management plans and priorities, existing and new studies and data, Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) and other related plans from state agencies.

Examples of these statewide plans include: Dept. of Agriculture Nitrogen Management PlanPollution Control Agency Nutrient Reduction StrategyDept. of Natural Resources Prairie Conservation PlanDept. of Health Wellhead Protection plans, and the Metropolitan Council 2040 Water Resources Management Policy Plan.

The North Fork Crow River Water Planning Partnership includes of six counties, six Soil and Water Conservation Districts, two watershed districts, and a joint powers board. The North Fork Crow River watershed drains 1,483 square miles of predominantly agricultural land in parts of Pope (3.7%), Stearns (16%), Kandiyohi (16%), Meeker (28.4%), Wright (31.7%), Hennepin (3%), Carver (0.1%), and McLeod (1%) counties. The North Fork Crow River Watershed District, Middle Fork Crow Watershed District and the Crow River Organization of Water (CROW) are also located within plan boundaries.

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Tile drainage research forum March 6 at NDSU

Producers, tiling contractors, landowners, industry and agency staff, crop consultants, students, and land and water resource managers will have an opportunity to learn about subsurface drainage research in northwestern Minnesota and eastern North and South Dakota during a forum in Fargo on March 6.

The forum will start at 8 a.m. with registration and conclude about 4 p.m. It will be held in the Century Theater at the NDSU Memorial Union. Participants will learn about research projects and results from 14 North Dakota State University and Minnesota researchers. The NDSU Extension Service is sponsoring the event.

The registration deadline is March 4. Visit to register. The cost for those who preregister is $20. The fee includes a parking pass, handouts and refreshments. Lunch is not included. Participants should use the visitors E parking lot north of Centennial Boulevard.

For more information on the program, contact Hans Kandel at 701-231-8135 or To learn more about tile drainage, check out the NDSU and University of Minnesota Extension publication Frequently Asked Questions About Subsurface (Tile) Drainage. - NDSU Extension news release.

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The Farm Bill, Conservation, and the Environment

American Enterprise Institute, Erik Lichtenberg, Nov. 13, 2017
From the beginning, conservation provisions in the farm bill have been linked to farm income support. In the past few decades, spending on conservation programs in the farm bill has both risen and remained relatively stable even in the face of budget retrenchments, so that conservation now accounts for roughly a third of direct farm program payments. The stated rationales for conservation programs in the farm bill are (1) to prevent farmland degradation to preserve productivity and (2) to mitigate environmental externalities, notably damage to water quality, wildlife habitat, and air quality. Summary and link to full report.

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In the news

Using cover crops along with manure
Wallaces Farmer, 2/14/18
Study shows cover crops may increase yields over time
High Plains/Ag Journal, 2/11/18

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Feb. 27: Precision Ag Conference, Ramkota Hotel, Aberdeen, SD.
Feb. 28-March 2: Central Minnesota Farm Show, St. Cloud.
April 12-14: State of the Water Conference, Breezy Point Resort, Brainerd.
March 6: Tile drainage research forum, NDSU, Fargo.
March 13-15: Midwest Poultry Federation convention, 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.