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Home > Ag Chemicals & Fertilizers > Fertilizers > Nutrient Management > Revision of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan > Meetings > March 27, 2012 Meeting Notes

March 27, 2012 Meeting Notes

Time: 9:30 am – 3:00 pm
Location: Orville Freeman Building, St. Paul, MN

Committee Members Present (Y or N)

Byron Adams-N
MN Pollution Control Agency
Dawn Bernau-Y
Fillmore SWCD
Rich Biske-N
Nature Conservancy
Doug Bos-N
Rock County Land Mgt Office/SWCD
Steve Commerford-Y
MN Indep. Crop Consultant Assoc.
Randy Ellingboe-Y
MN Dept. of Health
Pete Ewing- N
MN Area II Potato Growers Council
Warren Formo-Y
MN Agricultural Water Resources Coalition
Brad Englund-Y
MN Crop Production Retailers
Eric Mohring-Y
MN Board of Water and Soil Resources
Dave Pfarr-N
MN Corn Growers Assoc.
Carl Rosen-Y
U of M Depart. Of Soil, Water and Climate
Michael Schmitt-Y
U of M Extension
Faye Sleeper-N
U of M Water Resources Center
Pat Sweeney-Y
Freshwater Society
Jill Trescott-Y
Dakota County Water Management
Skip Wright-Y
MN Dept. of Natural Resources

Alternate Committee Members Present (Y or N)

Matt Drewitz-N
MN Board of Water and Soil Resources
Paul Gray-N
MN Area II Potato Growers Council
Steve Sodeman-N
MN Corn Growers Assoc.
John Lamb-N
U of M Depart. Of Soil, Water and Climate/Ext.
Bryce Nelson-N
MN Indep. Crop Consultant Assoc.
Joan Nephew-N
Freshwater Society
Dave Wall-Y
MN Pollution Control Agency
Dave Wright-Y
MN Dept. of Natural Resources

MN Department of Agriculture Staff
Bruce Montgomery, Dan Stoddard, Greg Buzicky, Jennifer Gallus, Annie Felix-Gerth, Joshua Stamper, Kimberly Kaiser

Dr. Gyles Randall (Emeritus -University of Minnesota)

Handouts given:
1) Nitrogen Management for Reduced Nitrate Losses to Water: A Potpourri of Issues presentation slides
2) Extension Fertilizer Recommendations - Beyond Agronomic Risk presentation slides
3) Outlines for Nitrogen Cycle and Groundwater Contamination and Sensitive Areas chapters

Topic 1) Welcome and Housekeeping
Topic 2) Introductions
Topic 3) Agenda Overview, Rules of the Road

Topic 4) Nitrogen Management for Reduced Nitrate Losses to Water: A Potpourri of Issues
Dr. Gyles Randall presented on future trends, fertilizer use, and tile drainage studies. Dr. Randall noted that the original Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan was one of the best approaches to nitrogen management in the country – it was the right approach for adjusting nitrogen management for the broad range of soils and climates found across the state.

Dr. Randall often hears the U.S. agricultural community feels like it will need to feed 9 billion people by 2050. Feeding that many people will have an impact on our natural resources, and will require more fertilizer and water. Dr. Randall suggested that the U.S. should instead feed the world education, knowledge and know-how.

With regard to N management, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. It needs to be addressed on a site by site basis. Dr. Randall discussed fertilizer use, Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE), and Partial Factor Productivity (PFP). He discussed six “Points of Interest” with regard to the “Survey of N Fertilizer Use on Corn in Minnesota, 2009-10.” Dr. Randall notes that N rates after alfalfa were too high; the rates for 2nd year corn were closer to the right rate, but it is still too high. He is concerned about who is actually making nutrient management decisions for growers, the dealer or the farmer?

Dr. Randall reviewed findings from a 15-yr tile drainage intensity study from Waseca. The data indicate that we are condensing flow times with more intense drainage systems which creates more potential energy for stream bank erosion and other environmental side effects (more narrow spaced lines) drainage systems. Dr. Randall thinks some of the conservation drainage measures are being over sold, and that there are challenges with residence times. The best opportunity to control drainage in Minnesota is from mid-June to the end of July. Challenges and concerns of the future of nitrate loss drainage research were discussed.

Dr. Randall also observed that the nitrate levels under the checks (no or very low N inputs) have dropped significantly in the mid 1970’s. Nitrate-N levels under the checks used to be in the mid-teens and are now 5-6 PPM. Dr. Randall later commented that the corn hybrids due to larger, aggressive root systems are much better at using mineralized N.

There was a question about research long-term changes of mineralized nitrogen. Dr. Randall responded that the north central states attempted to evaluate mineralization tests across the Midwest, but none were consistently effective. Another question - should we be looking more broadly, beyond the 4 Rs, and which BMPs are the best? Dr. Randall - Cropping system is the key. A perennial cropping system would be beneficial, which would require a cultural change, unless cellulosic ethanol could boost that drive. Dr. Randall said he’s not sold on cover crops or sensors. U of M research hasn’t shown good results using the Greenseeker sensor on our soils, because researchers weren’t able to synchronize plant growth and N needs.

Topic 5) Extension Fertilizer Recommendations - Beyond Agronomic Risk
Dr. Michael Schmitt gave a presentation that he and Gyles Randall developed several years ago to address possible reasons why growers don’t always follow U of MN fertilizer recommendations. Dr. Schmitt thinks the recommendations are believable, but not accepted. The U of M focuses on the “agronomic risk,” while growers also consider economic, psychological, environment, societal, and logistical risks. He believes the U of M isn’t doing as good of a job factoring in all the other risks when it comes to its recommendations. Farm size is another factor – i.e. a 300-acre farm versus as 3,000-acre farm. Farmers often won’t admit that they consider all of these factors, so instead they say the recommendations aren’t good. The U of M isn’t surprised that some growers don’t follow the nitrogen recommendations or BMPs, because of all the risk factors involved. The U of M and the farmers can have a much better conversation when they acknowledge these factors jointly, which is why the U of M has revised the nitrogen BMPs to include a range of rates.

With regard to diagnostic nitrogen tools such as soil tests, the supplemental N worksheet, and basal stalk testing, Dr. Schmitt said that a recent survey revealed that the biggest barrier to using those tests are frequently logistical, societal, or psychological rather than agronomic. Dr. Schmitt concluded that the U of M is confident in its nitrogen recommendations.

Randall added that there are farmers reporting on other farmer’s practices, which is a societal risk. He also noted that this year, psychological risk will be great because of the early spring and farmers will be wondering about nitrogen management. Dr. Schmitt noted that risks are not the same for the farmer as for the dealer, and that dealers want to build credibility for themselves and not necessarily for the U of M.

One of the committee members questioned the usefulness of the basal stalk test. Drs. Schmitt and Rosen said that the science just isn’t there yet, except to validate excessive levels. Schmitt said that when it comes to BMPs, he would like to see improvements in farmers adhering to the U of M rates. One committee member suggested the U of M write an appendix in the fertilizer guidelines any time recommendations are changed to address the various issues. Schmitt commented that fertilizer management today is much better compared to 20 years ago.

Other comments included:

  • Committee members should dislodge ourselves from our positions and get to common ground, we won’t get anywhere if everyone stands their ground;
  • It’s easy to focus on what’s best agronomically;
  • Put the above mentioned factors into the presentation of the plan when it goes public;
  • Not a broad-brush sweep to solve this problem. Keep as much science in the plan as we can. We have no way to combat sensationalism. There are some critical areas around the state, but I think the majority of agriculture is doing it right;
  • The message should be carefully crafted;
  • Let’s not just separate the agricultural concerns from the environmental concerns. To ignore the relationship between the surface and groundwater would be a problem. Focus on critical areas would be a good place to start in addressing some of these things we haven’t in 20 years;
  • We’re talking about a public health drinking water concern. We have to be careful when making negative connotations about agricultural drainage water;
  • There is a relationship between surface and groundwater in some areas of the state; we would be remiss not to try to address both.

Dan Stoddard added that groundwater degradation is to be prevented (as called for in the plan). We’re not starting from scratch, and we do have guidelines to follow. Stoddard said that non-degradation of groundwater is the goal as laid out in the Groundwater Protection Act, and that where it is possible, we need to achieve that, but in reality, even with the best management, it may not always be possible.

Greg Buzicky stated that degradation prevention is a goal where it can practicably be achieved, but it is not enforceable, however, there is other language that is enforceable. MDA follows that language and takes it extremely seriously.

Stoddard said that clearly there’s a benefit to address both surface and groundwater (in the plan), but the plan is clearly a groundwater management document.

Topic 6) Review and discuss NFMP Nitrate Conditions chapter
A question was raised asking what happens when comments received about the language of the different chapters varies widely. Felix-Gerth replied that those comments are discussed internally. Stoddard said that the MDA ultimately determines the text, and there is an option to offer a couple of options for general comment. Buzicky added that the document needs to be technically sound. Not everyone will be happy with the final. The opinions of everyone on the committee are very important, and the MDA really wants to hear frank opinions – it really is critically important and that’s why we’ve spent so much time in this process.

Committee member comments:

• The current plan is weak in defining specific thresholds and problem areas. The plan should define strategic areas, and give people real targets to shoot for.

• Should we trust data from private wells, both pre-code and post, due to possible well construction issues, age, or damage. Felix-Gerth explained that there will always be caveats and bias in certain data sets, and that’s why the plan has data and information from public wells, private wells, and monitoring wells.

For the section titled, “Nitrate Conditions in Source Water Protection Areas,” Felix-Gerth suggested the MDA covers raw nitrate levels for the communities of St. Peter, Verndale, Hastings, Park Rapids, Perham, and Cold Spring; and asked if this was too many communities, and if so, how many should the plan cover. Some members suggested three communities would suffice.

Committee member comments:

  • Consider a separate chapter on the cost of nitrate treatment;
  • Maybe put Ann Lewandowski’s presentation in the report;
  • There’s always more information you can add, but chapter gave good background;
  • Brown-Nicollet-Cottonwood info is highly suspect;
  • Chapter is pretty lengthy. By being totally inclusive, people start to lose focus. Bring it to a summary/conceptual level instead of putting out fodder for people to fight over individual data sets, include the references. Suggest MDA write an abbreviated version and a technical version of each chapter. Stoddard said that the MDA has heard comments at past meetings that some people don’t believe there are nitrate issues, so that’s why the information was in that chapter.

Topic 7) Introduce and discuss new draft chapters
Felix-Gerth reviewed the chapter outlines for the Nitrogen Cycle and Groundwater Contamination and Sensitive Areas chapters. Committee was supportive of the material.

Topic 8) Summary & wrap up
After some discussion, Felix-Gerth stated that MDA would hold a meeting next month on April 24th.