Agriculture Stewardship-Land, Water, Livestock - January 2020

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Ag Water stewardship

January 2020

Farmer-led Soil Health Coalition gaining ground

soil health coalition

Somewhere throughout the history of language, soil got a bad rap, becoming synonymous with dirt – something vile or unclean. But to a farmer or a gardener, it’s an awesome, complex natural resource that supports our existence.

In recent years a growing movement among crop farmers sees a need for more effort to protect and improve soil health. Last year a group formed the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition, “to encourage voluntary adoption of soil health principles today and for the future.” Organizers emphasize that it’s operated and led by farmers to educate and promote soil health principles and practices.

Coalition chair Brian Pfarr started experimenting with cover crops in 2010 and began integrating reduced tillage and no-till on his family’s Redwood County farm. “We have been reducing fertilizer rates due to the increase in organic matter and the increased nutrient efficiency of our soils as its health improves.” 

Their big kick-off occurred last August when about 200 farmers and agency staff attended a ribbon-cutting (photo) launching the partnership between the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition and Minnesota Natural Resources Conservation Service during the Soil Health Academy at the Grant and Dawn Breitkreutz' Stoney Creek Farm  west of Redwood Falls. They heard about all aspects of regenerative farming and ranching, soil health, plant health, and animal health from well-known experts such as Ray Archuleta and Gabe Brown (see video).

For each 1 percent increase in soil organic matter there is a 25 percent increase in water-holding capacity. Holding back more water and allowing it to drain more slowly will help to even out the erosive flow of water in streams and rivers, now more important with increasing precipitation. Increased soil organic matter improves crop yields.

For more information contact Jennifer Hahn, Minnesota Soil Health Coalition coordinator, 651-485-7848,

Soil health information on the web:

Ag BMPs also help with greenhouse gas reduction

Cover crop photo courtesy of MDA

Agricultural Best Management Practices (BMP) that protect our water and our soil can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect our climate. Minnesota has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Agriculture accounts for approximately one-quarter of Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions, but through best practices, it can reduce emissions or even remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. 

Many Minnesota farmers already implement best management practices like planting shelterbelt trees and reducing tilling to protect soil health and water quality. In addition to greenhouse gas reduction benefits, these practices may help farmers maintain soil health and reduce erosion, which will help them adapt to warmer and wetter climate conditions.

A new technical report estimates greenhouse gas reductions for 21 agricultural best management practices. The emission reductions per acre range are small, but implementing best management practices across the 20 million acres of Minnesota cropland could reduce overall agriculture emissions by 5-10%.

Early adopters of these practices are already making a difference. Water and soil conservation programs from the Board of Water and Soil Resources have reduced cropland agriculture emissions by 600,000 tons per year, approximately 1% of cropland emissions. This report could help focus future work to achieve water quality, soil health, and greenhouse gas reduction goals statewide.

Court: Feedlot EAWs must include greenhouse gas estimates

Meeting Feb. 4 for Daley Farms EAW greenhouse gas emissions supplement 

The MPCA will hold a public information meeting on the Daley Farms environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) supplement and draft permit on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 6:30 p.m., at the Lewiston Community Center, 75 Rice St., Lewiston, Minn. The supplement addresses estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the proposed Daley Farms expansion in Winona County. It resulted from an October 2019 decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Daley Farms draft permit and supplement on GHG emissions are available for review on the MPCA website. The public may submit comments until 4:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 20.

Daley Farms seeks to increase its dairy herd from the current 1,728 cows and calves to 4,628. A calculator developed by the U.S. EPA estimates that the expansion would emit the equivalent of approximately 32,500 tons of carbon dioxide per year, an increase of about 20,300 tons over current levels. The calculator estimates emissions from animal digestion (methane), manure storage (methane and nitrous oxide), and manure land application (nitrous oxide). Daley Farms proposes to reduce its GHG emissions converting cropland to alfalfa and reducing nitrogen runoff.

Map shows where fall fertilizer applications may be restricted

groundwater rule map

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has issued updated maps that will help farmers across the state comply with the Groundwater Protection Rule. The rule will reduce the risk of nitrate from fertilizer impacting groundwater in areas of the state where soils are prone to leaching and where drinking water supplies are threatened. It will restrict fall application of nitrogen fertilizer in areas vulnerable to contamination, and it outlines steps to reduce the severity of contamination in areas where nitrate is already elevated in public water supply wells.

Restriction of fall fertilizer applications will begin in vulnerable groundwater areas in September 2020. Farmers can visit the MDA website to view the vulnerable groundwater areas map and determine whether the restriction applies to their land

Nitrogen meetings aim to maximize return, minimize loss

U of M Extension has scheduled 14 Nitrogen Smart meetings this winter. Nitrogen smart is an educational program for producers that presents fundamentals for maximizing economic return on nitrogen investments while minimizing nitrogen losses. Dates and locations, 9 a.m.-noon, are: 

  • Jan. 21, 4H Building, 1900 Fairgrounds, Dr., Faribault
  • Jan. 27, Jackpot Junction,  39375 County Rd 24, Morton
  • Jan. 29, Holiday Inn Austin Conference Center, 1701 4th St NW, Austin
  • Jan. 30, Fairmont KC Hall, 920 E 10th St, Fairmont
  • Feb. 7, Vet's Club, 221 N Meridian St, Belle Plaine
  • Feb. 11, Cass Gilbert Depot, 200 1st St NW, Little Falls
  • Feb. 12, U of M Northwest Research and Outreach Center, 2900 University Ave., Crookston
  • Feb. 17, Prairie Event Center, 201 W Main St, Parkers Prairie
  • Feb. 21, Grand Prairie Events, 105 S Estey St, Luverne
  • Feb. 24, American Legion, 215 3rd St SW, Plainview
  • Feb. 27, American Legion, 525 Main St N, Pine City
  • Feb. 28, St. John's Lutheran Church, 331 Harrison St W, Annandale
  • March 2, Willmar Conference Center, 240 23rd St SE, Willmar
  • March 3, Appleton Civic Center, 323 W Schlieman Ave, Appleton

Water quality endorsements added for soil health, pest management, and wildlife


The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) launched three new endorsements in addition to the 10-year certification a farmer or landowner can receive. The endorsements available to water quality certified producers are for soil health, integrated pest management, and wildlife. “We recognize that many conservation practices targeting water quality also have benefits for other conservation goals, such as wildlife,” said Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen.

The MAWQCP partnered with various non-profit organizations, such as Pheasants Forever and the Minnesota Soil Health Coalition, and state agencies to develop the endorsements. Certified producers who achieve an endorsement will receive an additional sign for their farm and recognition for their conservation excellence. To learn more, contact your local MAWQCP Area Certification Specialist.

From the December 2019 newsletter

  • Cannon River agricultural collaborative - a partnership between the Cannon River One Watershed One Plan (1W1P), Cannon River Watershed Partnership (CRWP), Central Farm Service (CFS), Environmental Initiative, Great River Greening, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN™, the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, Rice County SWCD and Steele County SWCD.
  • Meet Minnesota's water quality certified producers. The program has launched an online story map to recognize certified producers and the great work they are doing to protect water quality across the state.
  • Find water quality certified farms in the Minnesota Grown Directory.

Nutrient management, nitrogen conferences highlight profitability, environmental progress

Nitrogen pie chart

Getting the most out of your fertilizer investment can be challenging, especially in times of low grain prices, and compounded by wet conditions like many have encountered in recent years. And while farmers are trying to zero in on the most efficient fertility program for profitability, state agencies are watching the evolution of nutrient management practices with the goal of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus transport to surface waters and groundwater. 

The 12th annual Nutrient Management conference attendees Feb. 4 at the Verizon Conference Center in Mankato will discuss challenges associated with the 2019 growing season, the latest research on phosphorus and potassium fertilization, and hear a progress report from the MPCA on Minnesota's Nutrient Reduction Strategy. 

The 6th annual Nitrogen: Minnesota’s Grand Challenge and Compelling Opportunity Conference will be Feb. 18 at the Arrowwood Conference Center near Alexandria. Topics include nitrogen management for irrigated crops, nitrogen stabilizers urea recommendations, and nitrogen fertilization of small grains. The Minnesota Dept. Agriculture’s Groundwater Protection Rule will also be discussed.

For conference information and registration information, click here. Online registration is encouraged. Conference registration is $20. For more information contact Warren Formo at 952-237-9822 or, or Dr. Fabian Fernandez at 612-625-7460 or  

'Cover crops 101' free classes offered in SE Minnesota

cover crops tj kartes

Mower SWCD news release and photo: Farmers and agricultural landowners interested in planting cover crops on their acres can learn the basics of the conservation practice during the return of free workshops in southeast Minnesota. Austin Township farmer Tom Cotter, who has used cover crops extensively in his operation, and TJ Kartes, a Saddle Butte seed dealer based in Blooming Prairie, will lead each session of “Cover Crops 101.”  They will discuss cover crop seed origination; species and species mixes; step-by-step production; and the value of cover crop technology, among other topics. Sessions are scheduled:

  • Jan. 22, Austin: 1-3 p.m. and 6-8 p.m., Room A115, Riverland Center of Agricultural & Food Science Technology, 1900 8th Ave. N.W.
  • Feb. 4, Rochester: 6:30-to 8:30 p.m., Cascade Town Hall (2025 75th St. N.E.).
  • Feb. 6, Faribault: 6:30-8:30 p.m., Forest Township Hall (3625 Millersburg Blvd.).
  • Feb. 18, Albert Lea: 1-3 p.m., Freeborn County Courthouse (Freeborn Room, 411 S. Broadway Ave.).
  • March 20-22, Winona: Date and location pending.
  • March 21, Owatonna: 9-11 a.m. at the Four Seasons Centre (1525 S. Elm Ave.). Part of the North American Farm & Power Show.

Live webinar Jan. 29 from U of M on cover crops

Register online for "Cover crops - Matching your management strategies and goals," scheduled noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29. There are a number of important considerations to address when deciding which cover crops fit best with your operation. In this presentation, U of MN experts will discuss research to help match cover crop management strategies with your goals. Research results on potential benefits and limitations will be highlighted, with a particular emphasis on impacts on cash crop yield and nutrient management.  

Demand drives need for revised water quality permit fees

The MPCA is seeing an increase in demand from permittees for more innovative approaches and tailored technical assistance. These types of activities and complex projects take more time and resources. Water quality fees have not kept pace with costs, so the current fees authorized in rule for water-related permitting do not generate sufficient revenue to administer the associated water quality programs. The MPCA is planning amendments to the water quality fee rules that would revise permit application fees, additional fees, and annual fees.

Revised fees are also needed to distribute permit costs equitably across affected permittees. This includes fees for municipal and industrial wastewater permits, municipal stormwater permits, feedlot permits and registration fees, and subsurface sewage treatment systems (SSTS) tanks and licensing. These amendments would also change the implementation of variance fees, though would not increase them. These amendments will build on strategies identified in Water Fee Advisory Committee: Findings and Recommendations as well as feedback from stakeholder meetings held this past fall.

The MPCA has scheduled additional stakeholder meetings to share information on revising these fee rules. The meetings will also provide more information for stakeholders wishing to submit written comments on this rulemaking. Information about the meetings and participation via WebEx will be available on Jan. 27, 2020 on the rulemaking webpage at

MPCA revising feedlot NPDES general permit for 2021-2026

feedlot permit

With the current National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit for large feedlots set to expire Jan. 31, 2021, the MPCA will be rolling out a new draft permit and seeking comments. The new general permit will be substantially similar to the current 2016 general permit, but some requirements are proposed to be modified or added. 

A draft of the new, 5-year general permit (2021 general permit) is scheduled to have a 30-day public notice in spring or summer of 2020. There will be news announcements, public meetings, and outreach among livestock and other interested groups. 

In Minnesota about 1,200 livestock feedlots currently operate under a NPDES general permit, which covers large CAFOs that have similar operations. The permit combines federal regulations with Minnesota rules and statutes. It is intended to protect surface water quality near feedlot facilities and to minimize potential impacts from pollution caused by pathogens and nutrients, primarily from land application of manure.

Proposed changes:

  • Measures to limit the potential for nitrate leaching and runoff from manure land application areas.
  • Use of MPCA-approved forms for annual report or records of facility activities.
  • Significantly fewer number of pages by eliminating redundant text and numerous references to rules, regulations, and statute citations.
  • An on-line application process is scheduled to be available for use in the fall of 2020.

Look for information and updates on the MPCA  feedlot program permit webpage: 

Commercial Animal Waste Technician training scheduled

Workshops are scheduled this winter for Commercial Animal Waste Technicians to re-certify licensing. Topics include: MDA CAWT program update, resources for CAWTs, new manure nutrient rate guidelines and research updates, where to apply manure-situational awareness, recordkeeping, and biosecurity. There is a $10 fee for each person attending to cover speaker travel costs. Light refreshments provided. More information online here, or contact, 651-201-6146 or email

Workshop schedule:

State receives $9 million for farm conservation practices


Money to help farmers interested in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program

Federal officials have awarded another $9 million grant for conservation practices to help farmers earn certification in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP).

Since it began in 2014, the MAWQCP has certified over 800 farms totaling nearly 550,000 acres. Farmers have installed over 1,700 new conservation practices across Minnesota as part of the program. Those new practices have kept over 37,000 tons of sediment out of Minnesota rivers while saving nearly 103,000 tons of soil and 45,000 pounds of phosphorous on farms each year. The conservation practices have also reduced nitrogen loss up to 49% and cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 36,000 tons per year.

MPCA Feedlot Program Update

NPDES and SDS annual reports due March 1

Feedlots with NPDES or SDS operating permits are required to send their annual reports to the MPCA by March 1, 2020. The form is available on the MPCA feedlot NPDES-SDS permit webpage. Everyone filing needs to download the document (wq-f3-22b), fill out the Word version, and e-mail the completed report as a PDF document to the address provided on the form. Cover letters that accompany permits include the e-mail address of your MPCA staff contact, or call your MPCA regional office for assistance.

All land application records for the 12-month period starting Sept. 1, 2018, through Aug. 31, 2019, 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.

Online forms for feedlot registration, permits in the works

The MPCA is developing a new online service for registering livestock feedlots and manure storage areas. The new online registration service is expected to be available this spring, to register a new site or update the registration of an existing site. Feedlot owners, operators, consultants, county and state inspectors will be able to use the new online service, which will be quick and easy to use. You’ll receive a confirmation email immediately after registering, which will serve as the registration receipt. Online permit applications are expected to be available this summer. To see an example of a similar online service, check out the industrial stormwater general permit webpage.

2020 feedlot calendar

2020 record-keeping wall calendar available online

The 2020 feedlot inspection record-keeping calendar is now available on the MPCA feedlot program website, NPDES and SDS permits page. The monthly calendars contain check boxes for daily, weekly and monthly inspections of water lines, manure storage basins, stormwater controls, and perimeter tiles. It also lists contact information for county feedlot officers and MPCA staff.

Permit termination form now online only

The form to complete a feedlot NPDES or SDS permit termination must now be submitted online. Paper forms are no longer being used. Permit holders must now use the permit termination form on the MPCA e-services webpage. A link to the e-services page is also located on the NPDES-SDS permit webpage.

Kourtney Frank joins feedlot staff in Brainerd office

Kourtney Frank (formerly Brevik) has joined the MPCA Feedlot Program in Brainerd to fill the vacancy when Will Martens moved to the St. Paul office. A  graduate of U of M-Crookston with a BS in Animal Science, she has various work experiences including a position as a breeding and farrowing technician at T and D Rolf Farm in McIntosh and most recently at Wakefield Pork in Little Falls. She also worked as a farm manager for several years at an organic family farm near Little Falls.

Poultry barn floor factsheet updated

An updated factsheet about poultry barn floors has been posted on the MPCA feedlot program Construction, operation and technical requirements webpage. This clarifies when a soils investigation is needed, and when it needs to be submitted to the MPCA or County Feedlot Officer for review. The new version is also simplified from three to two pages.

County feedlot officer convention March 24-26 at Alexandria

The 19th annual conference of the Minnesota Association of County Feedlot Officers is scheduled for March 24-26 at the Broadway Ballroom in Alexandria. MACFO represents 50 counties participating in a cooperative arrangement with the MPCA and county government to administer Minnesota's feedlot rule. The agenda includes updates from the MPCA, program education and training, and field trip.

MPCA feedlot staff opening in Marshall office

The MPCA feedlot program has posted a staff opening in the Marshall office. This position includes educating and assisting feedlot owners to understand and comply with feedlot rules and regulations; conduct inspections of feedlots to determine compliance; initiate enforcement actions to return feedlots to compliance; and support and oversee county feedlot officers to follow process and procedures. The closing date is Jan. 29. More information here.


Jan. 28-29: Minnesota Pork Congress, Minneapolis Convention Center.
Feb. 4: Nutrient management conference, Verizon Center, Mankato.
Feb. 6: Minnesota Independent Crop Consultants Association convention, Crow River Winery, Hutchinson.
Feb. 14: Precision Ag Workshop, Pheasants Forever-John Deere, Minneapolis Convention Center.
Feb. 18: Reduced tillage and cover crops, Renville Community Center.
Feb. 18: Nitrogen conference, Arrowwood, Alexandria.
March 17-19: Midwest Poultry Federation convention, Minneapolis Convention Center.
April 24-26: Minnesota Horse Expo, State Fair coliseum.

Send the news

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.