New fertilizer rule needs voice of farmers

Published 7:49 am Wednesday, August 16, 2017

By Harold Wolle

President of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is requesting input from the farming community on a rule that limits fertilizer application in some areas of the state in an effort to minimize nitrate pollution in the state’s groundwater. To effectively achieve this goal, farmers need to voice their questions and concerns in order to help MDA formulate a final rule that works in practice, not only on paper.

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The current draft of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule will limit fall and frozen soil nitrogen application in vulnerable groundwater areas and implement a process for mitigation where high concentrations of nitrates are found in groundwater. The public has until Aug. 25 to submit their comments through the MDA.

In the current version of the rule, vulnerable groundwater areas where nitrogen application is restricted in the fall and on frozen soil is determined by how easily the soil transmits water and if karst or bedrock near the surface is present. The MDA has already identified these areas.

Elevated nitrate levels would be determined through nitrate testing in both public and private drinking wells. Where elevated levels are found, a process to lower nitrate pollution will be implemented on farms, including the use of nitrogen fertilizer best management practices and alternative practices.

For more background on the rule and instructions to submit comments by Aug. 25, farmers can visit
nitrogenrule. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association has been involved throughout the process of drafting the rule, and recommends farmers consider a few factors when submitting comments.

If your field is in a vulnerable groundwater area, does that sound reasonable when compared to your own knowledge of the soils and quality of drinking water in the area? If the vulnerable area’s groundwater was found to be below the 10 ppm nitrate limit, it is possible that sustainable farming practices are already protecting groundwater, and that should be expressed.

If you live in an area where nitrate concentration in groundwater is above the limit, the experience and knowledge within the local advisory team for the mitigation process will be vital. Farmers should describe the important role this local team plays and the valuable expertise that resides locally in addressing higher nitrate levels as part of their comments.

Finally, if you are employing precision ag technologies for nitrogen application, make it known in your comments if these practices should be considered in the development of the mitigation strategy. The more options farmers have in the mitigation process, the easier it will be to identify the best solutions in each scenario.

Another version of the draft rule will be released in late fall/early winter with a comment period, followed by the final nitrogen fertilizer rule likely going into effect next fall. At that time, it will be our responsibility as farmers to adhere to its guidelines. By submitting comments today, we are doing our part in crafting a rule that protects our drinking water while maintaining efficient production on our state’s farms.