Letter to the Editor: Programs are important to farm families and climate

Published 6:11 pm Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Dear Editor,

In response to the Minnesota Public Radio story that ran in Austin Daily Herald on Nov. 10 about human health risks in southern Minnesota’s groundwater due to excessive use of nitrogen-based fertilizer and manure, I want to share what we are doing to reduce the use of nitrogen and help keep groundwater clean. Two years ago, we began transitioning 50 acres from corn/soy production to pastureland and grazing, partnering with a young farmer who raises grass-fed sheep, cattle and hogs, so he can grow his business and offer healthy food to the community.

Putting deep-rooting grasses and forbes in the soil will have the benefit of holding soil in place while helping to absorb excess nitrogen, reducing the pollution in our groundwater. Cover crops have some similar benefits by keeping roots in the ground year-round, taking up excess nitrogen and providing a natural source of nitrogen, thus cutting the cost of fertilizer and eliminating fossil fuels used in its application.

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In addition to putting land into pasture, we have planted two Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) windbreaks and more than 1,000 trees in the past three years. Trees reduce soil erosion, slow wind speed, provide habitat for insects, birds and wildlife — planting them is one of the best things we can do to protect life on our planet.

We have also taken advantage of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and a Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification (MAWQCP) ClimateSmart grant to help finance our transition. We would not have been able to make these changes, all of which improve water quality and soil health, without utilizing government programs. We consider ourselves fortunate, as EQIP is always oversubscribed — many more farmers apply than receive contracts. And that’s why the conservation funding in the Inflation Reduction Act, which will boost EQIP and other conservation programs, is so important to farmers, to the health of farm families and to our changing climate.

Meg Funfar Nielsen

Glenville, MN