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Sustainable Answer Acre bringing interests together

Early in June, Northern Country Coop officially broke ground on its new grain storage bin just on the edge of Lansing, but the same day it also highlighted its Sustainable Answer Acre (SAA) along Highway 218 near Lansing Corners.

The acre is a 10-year study on eight acres of land designed to study ways to mitigate nitrate seepage into the groundwater. It’s a laudable goal made even more optimistic by the fact that this is an effort bringing together the areas of agriculture, education and conservation to better farming practices that improve the environment for everybody.

The project is looking at three primary practices for managing nitrogen.

In a story written by Johnathan Eisenthal of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, those practices include:

•A full rate of nitrogen in the spring of the year, preplant.

•A split application — one shot preplant and another at V4 or V5 (a point of corn growth where the plant is around a foot high at V4 and a little taller again at V5)

• Another split application — one portion at preplant and a second amount that’s adjusted according to the use of technology like chlorophyll-detecting photography, tissue testing and the data-crunching of Field View software.

The story goes on to say that the three treatments are repeated twice — one set on acres under conventional tillage management, and the other set on a minimum till, cover crop plan.

By the program’s end, it is hoped that there will be three rotations of both crops and enough data to take the next steps of finding a solution for all parties in this issue.

“All of the water that leaves this ground goes through the community and right over their wellhead and on to the Cedar river,” said Steve Lawler in the article. Lawler, a resource specialist at the Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District, went on to say, “We want the community to know (we are working to reduce nitrates). That’s the purpose of this site.”

At the same time, the goal is to ensure that farmers are still able to be profitable with best practices of farming.

“When legislation comes — and there’s going to be legislation — we need to be at the table,” said Northern Country Coop Regional Manager Jeff Irvin, back in June. “To be sustainable it has to be profitable. If it’s not profitable, the farmers won’t pick it up.”

Irvin is right. There needs to be a middle ground that all parties can find vested interest in order to make this work. That’s why the SSA is going to be so necessary moving forward.

The SSA is bringing together the Mower SWCD, Northern Country Coop, Riverland Community College and the University of Minnesota in order to find the right path forward.

It’s especially important that farmers are getting involved in ways that allow them to bring their knowledge of working the land together with people who want to improve the environment we all share.

In recent years,various levels of government have gone the way of mandates in order to compel the conservation needed. In 2018, then Gov. Mark Dayton introduced a plan that called for both voluntary and mandatory mitigation measures. And while those plans were commendable and saw support from many areas, including activists and politicians, there was pushback from farmers. Using nitrate fertilizers is a quick and convenient way to supplement crop growth. In particular, it would restrict applying the nitrates in the fall.

That move could reduce crop yields, but at the same time an answer for both worlds must be found.

That’s why the SSA is so important to future agricultural practices and we urge others, both locally and statewide, to take a look at the 10-year plan, keep track of the data coming out of it and find similar ways to find a place where agriculture and good environmental practices can come together.

“What we’re trying to do is use different farming techniques to minimize the nitrate leakage into the groundwater,” Irvin said. “We’re trying to figure out ways to minimize our footprint.”