The 114-acre field is part of Pipestone Soil & Water Conservation District’s nitrate reduction effort targeting 1,912 acres of ag land here and in other highly vulnerable drinking water supply management areas affecting Edgerton’s municipal treatment systems.
A Clean Water Fund grant from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources offset the cost for Griebel to buy seed and hire someone with the expertise and specialized equipment necessary to plant cereal rye and winter wheat after last fall’s soybean harvest.
“I was interested in trying it anyway, and the funding just pushed me over the edge,” Griebel said. The reason: “Of course to improve profits, but also to improve soil health and to keep the nutrients such as nitrates out of the water system.”
For their three-year commitment, farmers who plant cover crops receive $40 per acre per year; those who plant perennial vegetation such as alfalfa or Kernza receive a one-time $200-an-acre payment. The $299,520 grant runs through 2023.
To date, 17 producers within Holland and Edgerton’s drinking water supply management areas have enrolled 22 parcels ranging from 6.7 acres to 263 acres. All told, farmers enrolled 875 acres in perennial vegetation and 746 acres in cover crops. Another 291 acres were slated for cover crop enrollment this spring.
“The ultimate goal would be to have the majority of these drinking water supply management areas in some sort of soil health practices,” said Laura DeBeer, a Pipestone SWCD-based water resources technician. Her position is partly funded by the Minnesota Department of Health for one-on-one work with producers and water suppliers throughout the six-county region.
“Nitrates are quite mobile in the soil profile,” DeBeer said, explaining the value of perennial vegetation and cover crops. Nitrates that aren’t taken up by growing root systems can leach into the groundwater. Shallow aquifers beneath gravely and sandy soils are more susceptible.
Perennial crops use nitrogen as they grow. Cover crops use nitrogen and then, as plants decompose, release it to fertilize the next season’s cash crop.
“Ultimately we just would like to see more growing roots in the area, being it either perennial vegetation or cover crops between cash crops,” DeBeer said, “and really having the producers in the area know and understand their role in drinking water protection.”
The Minnesota Department of Health links nitrates to blue baby syndrome. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s…