The Nitrogen Management Financial Assistance Pilot Program is a competitive funding opportunity for producers who implement agricultural practices (initiatives) that have the potential to reduce leaching of nitrate-nitrogen into groundwater. This program is funded through the 2023 Legislative Session, which established a funding source to promote practices that reduce nitrate in groundwater.

Eligible applicants

Applicants must:

  • Be an owner or lessee currently operating crop land within a Level 2 Drinking Water Supply Management Area (DWSMA). A list of Level 2 DWSMAs can be found on the Mitigation Level Determination page.
  • Choose one or more options from a suite of ten agricultural practices (initiatives) that have the potential to reduce nitrate in groundwater.
  • Complete the minimum requirements for a selected initiative prior to consideration for payment of grant funds.

Applicants are encouraged to work with their local Soil and Water Conservation District and enroll in their local conservation programs when applicable.

Eligible projects

Successful applicants must choose to implement one or more of the following initiatives on crop land. Each initiative will be evaluated upon completion of work plan requirements. Work plans for each initiative will be incorporated into the contract agreement for reference and adoption by grantee. All grant payments are based on a flat rate (per acre, per sample, etc.) and will be verified by an MDA representative prior to release of funds to grantee.

Introduce cover crops into the cropping system. Cover crops are grasses, legumes, or forbs planted for seasonal vegetative cover, established on an annual basis, between successive cash crops or companion-planted into a cash crop. Cover crops often get planted in fields following a short season crop or other times when a field would otherwise have little or no vegetative cover. Cover crops can be established between growing seasons to protect the soil from erosion and nutrient loss.

A primary purpose of cover crops is to capture left-over nutrients, like nitrate-nitrogen in the soil. Other purposes may include forage production, erosion reduction, suppression of weeds or pests, improvement of soil moisture use efficiency, or overall soil health improvement.

The amount of nitrate leaching reduction from cover crops varies depending on many factors, mainly weather and biomass accumulation of the cover crop in the fall. Despite their variability, research has shown that cover crops provide a nitrate reduction compared to no cover crops. Studies in Minnesota and Iowa have shown reductions in nitrate loads in drainage water between 11% and 76% with rye cover crop.

Requirements to qualify for Cover Crop Initiative funding:

  • Work with MDA field staff, local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Natural resources Conservation Services (NRCS) technician, agronomist, or other natural resource professional to plan, develop, and design a cover crop program based on adoption of species that have a very good or excellent ability to scavenge nitrogen. Inclusion of cover crops into a cropping system involves unique management strategies. Please refer to MDA’s Minnesota Cover Crop Guide, the Midwest Cover Crops Council, or NRCS MN Agronomy Tech Note 33 for information on cover crop species, seeding date, seeding rate, method of seeding, etc.
  • Work with a local SWCD and enroll in their cover crop program, if possible.
  • Funding through this initiative may be available for producers operating in a Level 2 DWSMA who choose to go above and beyond a local county/SWCD, state, or federal cover crop program. For example:  additional or different acres may be funded through this initiative than those acres enrolled in a publicly funded local SWCD, Federal Farm Bill, Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), or other state cost share program.
  • Producers cannot participate in another publicly funded cover crop cost share program on a county, state, or federal level on the same acres enrolled in this initiative. For example: producers participating in a Federal Farm Bill Cost-share program, MAWQCP cover crop program, or other state of Minnesota cover crop program, or local county/SWCD cover crop program are ineligible to enroll the same acres from the publicly funded program into this initiative.

Producer Compensation

Producers who enroll in the Cover Crop Initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the components in the technical resources mentioned above. Producers may be eligible for a payment of $40/acre up to 125 acres for a maximum of $5,000. Payment to producer will be made upon successful establishment of cover crop.

 

Terminate fall seeded cereal grain cover crops the following spring after the cover crop has reached twelve inches in height or after May 13. Delayed cover crop termination, especially with fall-seeded winter cereal grains, has been shown to increase nitrogen retention, thereby reducing nitrate-nitrogen leaching though the soil profile.

Requirements to qualify for Delayed Cover Crop Termination Initiative funding:

  • Terminate fall seeded, winter-hardy cover crops the following spring.
  • (1) Either plant cash crop into standing, green cover crop and terminate after May 13 or after cover crop has reached 12” in height. Or (2) Terminate cover crop after May 13 or after it has reached 12” in height and plant cash crop later.
  • Provide records of cover crop seeding date, planting rate, row crop planting date, and date of cover crop termination.
  • Please refer to MDA’s Minnesota Cover Crop Guide, the Midwest Cover Crops Council, or NRCS Minnesota Agronomy Tech Note 33 for information on cover crop species, seeding date, seeding rate, method of seeding, etc. The MDA takes no responsibility for crop loss due to cover crop or cash crop management decisions.
  • Funding through this initiative may be available for producers operating in a Level 2 DWSMA who choose to go above and beyond a local county/SWCD, state, or federal delayed cover crop termination program. Producers cannot participate in any other publicly funded delayed cover crop termination cost share programs on a county, state, or federal level, such as: Federal Farm Bill Cost-share programs, Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program, or other state of Minnesota cost-share programs, or local county/SWCD programs on the same delayed cover crop termination acres contracted in this initiative. A producer may participate in the Delayed Cover Crop Termination Initiative on the same acres as a publicly funded cover crop program as long as the Delayed Cover Crop Termination Initiative does not conflict with guidelines in said publicly funded cover crop program.

Producer Compensation

Producers who enroll in this initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the requirements and technical guidelines stated above. Producers may be eligible for a payment of $25/acre up to 200 acres for a maximum of $5,000 when delaying cover crop termination as described above.

Farmers sharing information with other farmers can be an effective way to promote the use of practices. The Demonstration Site Initiative gives an opportunity for producers to set up and manage an educational project on their farm. Demonstration sites will serve as an outreach and educational opportunity for local farmers and agronomists to learn about the impacts of the adopted practices. The MDA recognizes there is active and ongoing research related to nitrogen management, and development of agronomic best management practices is ongoing. Farmers should adopt best management practices as they become available. 

Requirements to qualify for Demonstration Site Initiative funding:

  • Demonstration sites may consist of cover crop, perennial crop, relay crop, or small grain initiatives that were integrated into the crop rotation.
  • Work with MDA field staff to plan, develop, and design a demonstration site and program based on adoption of any number of BMPs that have the potential to reduce nitrate leaching.
  • The purpose of the project study is to provide site data (ex. economics, methods, or agronomic information) that will be used for demonstration, education, or outreach purposes.
  • The producer agrees to hold at least one educational field day at the site and/or provide published results of the information derived from the demonstration site project during each year of participation. All information collected and released as part of this project is considered public data.
  • Funding through this initiative may be available for producers operating in a Level 2 DWSMA.
  • Producers are encouraged to work with partners to present educational information pertinent to nitrogen reduction or other conservation practices on the demonstration site.
  • The producer will allow MDA staff to access the demonstration site for the purpose of collecting in-field information or outreach and education (field days). MDA shall provide the producer with copies of results and any written summaries for data collected at the site.

Producer Compensation

  • Producers who enroll in the Demonstration Site Initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the guidelines planned out and demonstrated in an individual work plan.  Producers who work with MDA field staff and complete a successful demonstration may be eligible for a payment of $5,000 for a one-year demonstration and up to $15,000 for a three-year demonstration project.

Test manure and/or calibrate manure spreader(s) to give proper nitrogen credit to manure on crop land. Testing of manure and manure spreader calibration are important management strategies to reduce variability and dial in actual N values when determining N needs for a crop.

Manure is an excellent source of nitrogen for plants but can be variable in its availability to plants. Nitrogen (N) is required in the largest quantities by non-legume crops. Applying manure to meet crop N needs will likely overapply phosphorus (P), and possibly potassium (K), for a crop such as corn. On the other hand, using manure to meet P needs of the crop will likely result in a lower application rate and will underapply N and possibly K. Commercial fertilizers will then be needed to balance out N and K needs. Consider the pros and cons of these two options when choosing a manure application rate. Application methods as well as inorganic N content of manure are key variables to manage when working with manure.

Requirements to qualify for Manure Management Initiative funding:

  • Test manure for nutrient content on farms or manure storage areas where testing hasn’t occurred in the last 3 years. And/or,
  • Work with a local SWCD technician, feedlot officer, or Extension Educator to calibrate manure spreader(s). Or self-calibrate manure spreader(s) using a certified scale(s).
  • Provide documentation of calibrated manure spreader.
  • Apply manure at or below the nitrogen rate approved for the DWSMA.

The MDA recognizes there is active and ongoing research related to manure management, and development of agronomic best management practices is ongoing. Farmers should adopt best management practices as they become available.

Technical Resources

Producer Compensation

Producers who enroll in the Manure Management Initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the components the requirements listed above. Producers may be eligible for payments to assist with manure sampling at a rate of $50/sample result. Producers may choose to work with a local SWCD technician, Extension Educator, or Feedlot Officer to calibrate manure spreader(s) or may choose to calibrate the spreader(s) on their own. Either way, the producer must provide the weights and calculations that were used to calibrate the manure spreader(s). Producers may be eligible for a payment of $200 per calibrated spreader.

The fluctuation in fertilizer price affects the economic optimum N rate. To account for this change, the ratio of the price of N per pound to the value of a bushel of corn has been added to the N rate decision. The price/value ratio is used to determine the maximum return to N value (MRTN). The MRTN is the N rate that maximizes profit to the producer.

Effective strategies for reducing nitrate loss to groundwater are practices that reduce the amount of N used to produce a crop with maximum efficiency while reducing the amount of N that may be leached through the soil profile.

Nitrogen application rates will be dependent on the DWSMA BMP rate and University of Minnesota guidelines for corn. University of Minnesota Extension Fertilizer Guidelines for Agronomic Crops in Minnesota

Requirements to qualify Nitrogen Reduction Initiative funding:

  • Take appropriate N credit for all sources, including legumes and livestock manure. Also include N supplied in a starter, weed and feed program, and contributions from phosphorus fertilizers such as MAP and DAP, or other inorganic fertilizers which contain N when calculating the total N rate.
  • N credits from manure shall be from actual test results and applied at known rates.
  • Apply an N rate at least 15 lbs. lower than the 0.1 MRTN rate for corn following corn (160 lbs./ac.) or at least 10 lbs. lower than the 0.1 MRTN rate for corn following soybeans (130 lbs./ac); at least 15 lbs. lower than the 0.1 MRTN for corn following corn on irrigated sandy soils (195 lbs./ac.) or at least 10 lbs. lower than the 0.1 MRTN rate for corn following soybeans (170 lbs./ac.) on irrigated sandy soils; or at least 15 lbs. lower than the DWSMA BMP rate for corn following corn, or at least 10 lbs. lower than the DWSMA BMP rate for corn following soybeans if the DWSMA rate is lower than the 0.1 MRTN.
  • Payment is earmarked for producers who haven’t met the 10 or 15 lbs. threshold in the past.
  • Organic crop land or crop land transitioning to organic is not eligible for the Nitrogen Reduction Initiative.

Producer Compensation

Producers who enroll in the Nitrogen Reduction Initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the components of the technical resources mentioned above. Producers may be eligible for a payment of $25/acre up to 200 acres for a maximum of $5,000. Payment to producer will be made upon receipt of nitrogen records that indicate the applicable reduction in N based on fertilizer inputs and crediting all other sources of N.

Establish a perennial crop on crop land for at least three years where none has existed for five or more years. The integration of perennial crops has been shown to increase overall uptake of nitrogen making it less available for leaching and/or utilize soil moisture thereby reducing nitrate movement when compared to annual row crop production. Perennial crops have a longer growing season compared to annual crops. The resulting uptake of nitrogen and water during the leaching-prone spring and fall periods reduces nitrate leaching losses. Because perennial crops are effective in taking up nitrogen and have lower overall nitrogen needs compared to annual crops such as corn and potatoes, less nitrogen is needed to be applied through fertilizer.

Requirements to qualify for Perennial Crop Initiative funding:

  • The perennial crop will replace an annual row crop or will be used in a rotation with annual row crops where a perennial crop hasn’t been used within the last five years.
  • Seed bed preparation, seeding rate and spacing must be adequate to ensure good establishment of the perennial crop and be based on the technical resources listed below.
  • After establishment, the perennial crop should remain in the field for at least three growing seasons. Perennial crops may include alfalfa or mixed hay, pasture, Kernza, etc.
  • Nitrogen application from fertilizer and/or manure must follow guidance from the University of Minnesota. If additional N is needed, in-season soil or plant testing or other adaptive management technologies verified by the MDA can be used to document and quantify this need and additional nitrogen can be added
  • If used in a rotation with annual crops, adequate nitrogen credit must be taken from the perennial crop using University of Minnesota recommendations.

The MDA recognizes there is active and ongoing research related to new or emerging perennial crops and the development of agronomic best management practices is ongoing. Farmers should adopt best management practices as they become available.

Technical Resources

Producer Compensation

Producers who enroll in the Perennial Crop Initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the components in the University of Minnesota technical resources. Producers may be eligible for a payment of $50/acre up to 100 acres for a maximum of $5,000. Payment will be made upon successful establishment of the perennial crop.

Initiate a spring pre-plant N test following University of Minnesota guidelines.

Most of Minnesota’s soil (coarse-textured sands excluded) mineralize significant amounts of nitrogen from soil organic matter throughout the summer.  This nitrate is consumed by the growing crop until the crop reaches maturity.  Typically, plant uptake of nitrate slows significantly around the first week of September and comes to a halt a few weeks after that.  Mineralization of organic matter continues, however, with significant amounts of nitrate accumulating between early September and Late October.  Because the loss process of nitrate is water-based and requires saturation of the soil, a typical wet spring will cause this nitrate to be flushed via leaching or lost to the atmosphere through denitrification.  It is for this reason that farmers typically cannot credit this “carryover” nitrogen when determining how much fertilizer to apply for the next year’s crop.  It is only through a pre-plant nitrate test that producers will be able to accurately estimate the plant-available N within the root zone.

Requirements to qualify for Perennial Crop Initiative funding:

  • Initiate a spring pre-plant N test.
  • Follow UMN technical guidelines for performing the pre-plant N test.
  • Apply nitrogen fertilizer at rates that follow UMN technical guidelines, yet don't exceed DWSMA rates.

The MDA recognizes there still is active and ongoing research related to nitrogen management, and development of agronomic best management practices is ongoing. Farmers should adopt best management practices as they become available.

Technical Resources

Producer Compensation

Producers who enroll in the Pre-plant Nitrate Testing Initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the components in the University of Minnesota technical resources. Producers may be eligible for a payment of $50/sample up to $5,000 maximum per producer per year.

Precision nitrogen management (PNM) aims to match N fertilizer supply with crop N demand in both space and time. It has great potential to improve corn N use efficiency, increase growers’ profitability and protect the environment while maximizing crop yield. Plant testing and analysis are also useful tools for diagnosing and monitoring nutrients in agronomic crops. The key to successful plant analysis is developing a plan that includes the correct test, timing, sampling technique and interpretation. 

General requirements to qualify for Precision Agriculture Initiative funding:

  • Commercial Precision Ag Company Estimation - Provide documentation that shows fields, acres, estimated N application rates, and type of testing technology used by a commercial precision ag company to estimate in-season N rate.
  • In-Season Tissue Testing or Pre-sidedress Soil N Testing - Provide test results from a lab for in-season soil or tissue testing. The PSNT is most valuable in situations where manure is used and/or legumes have been terminated in the last two years.
  • Purchase Precision Testing Equipment - Provide receipts for precision equipment purchased for the purpose of in-season N testing. Before purchasing equipment, the technology being used must be reviewed by MDA field staff to verify that it provides accurate estimates of additional N need under Minnesota crop production conditions.
  • Precision Soil Sampling - Conduct precision soil sampling (zone or grid based) for nitrate-nitrogen with a minimum of two zones that correspond to a minimum of two nitrogen application rates. Develop management zones or grids based on relevant information, such as soil organic matter, Lidar DEM, yield maps, digital soil survey information, remote sensing, proximal sensing or other geospatial data. Work with an agronomist to develop prescriptions for in-season application of nitrogen where no more than 75% of the DWSMA BMP rate can be applied before sidedress, and the remaining is applied in-season as a variable rate application.

The MDA recognizes there still is active and ongoing research related to nitrogen management, and development of agronomic best management practices is ongoing. Farmers should adopt best management practices as they become available.

Technical Resources

Producer Compensation

Producers who enroll in the Precision Agriculture Initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the requirements listed above. Financial assistance of $50/test sample (zone or grid based) up to $5,000 (provide sample data) or reimburse the cost of testing equipment up to $5,000, or reimburse the cost of commercial infrared, thermal, visible, or other spectral wavelength testing at $20/acre up to 250 acres.

Introduce relay cropping into a portion of the operated cropping acres. Relay cropping is essentially a special version of double cropping, where the second crop is planted into the first crop before harvest, rather than waiting until after harvest as in true double-cropping. In this way, both crops share a portion of the growing season, increasing solar radiation and heat available to each.

Relay crop systems may provide challenges to producers, and an increase in management is crucial for success.  Some potential advantages of relay cropping include potential reductions in nitrogen leaching, increased carbon sequestration, and potential increase in income for producers.  Some disadvantages of relay cropping include a greater level of overall management as pest management and control practices must account for more crops being grown in close sequence and it may increase the potential for insect and disease infestations if pests have more than one host in the crop sequence.  Another disadvantage may be decreased yields for both crops compared to production of each crop grown separately.  MDA is not responsible for reduced yields based on the adoption of relay crops into a cropping system.

Requirements to qualify for Perennial Crop Initiative funding:

  • Introduce relay cropping on a portion of the operated crop acres.
  • Follow guidelines as set forth by the University of MN for establishment, fertilizer use, etc.
  • Consider past herbicide use. Provide information on herbicides used during the previous growing season. Please review herbicide application records for the past two or more cropping seasons. Some herbicides maintain long-term residual soil activity for months or years after application and could impact small grain crop establishment and/or it’s use for animal feed or forage.
  • Payment for relay crop initiative may be made after successful establishment of both crops in the same field during a single growing season. A fall-seeded winter-hardy crop will be seeded in the fall and will over-winter. Then the following spring, a spring-seeded annual crop will be interseeded into the growing, fall-seeded crop. Both crops will be harvested during the same crop year.
  • Introduce a relay crop system into a crop rotation where none exists. Provide crop rotation records for the last 5 years.

The MDA recognizes there still is active and ongoing research related to nitrogen management, and development of agronomic best management practices is ongoing. Farmers should adopt best management practices as they become available.

Technical Resources

Producer Compensation

Producers who enroll in the Relay Crop Initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the components in the technical resources mentioned above. Introduce a relay crop system into a crop rotation where none exists. Financial assistance of $50/acre up to 100 acres.

Include a small grain (oats, rye, barley, triticale, or wheat) as part of the crop rotation in one out of four years, minimum.

Small grains have shown a number of agronomic and water quality advantages when included in a crop rotation as compared to a typical corn/soybean rotation.  Small grains are versatile and can be grown as a profitable crop that is relatively inexpensive and easy to establish.  Whether established in the fall or spring, small grains are an attractive option that provides many benefits.  Their fibrous roots help hold soil in place to reduce erosion.  The biomass that they produce can help suppress weeds and add organic matter to the soil. They can also scavenge nitrate from the soil profile.  Fall established winter cereal grains have shown up to a 30% reduction in nitrate leaching in tile lines.  The greatest nitrate leaching reductions are generally seen in May and June, a time when either winter or spring small grains will be well established and have excellent nitrate leaching reduction potential.  In addition, small grains are known to break up pest cycles and can reduce herbicide use given their short growing seasons.  Most crops other than corn, including soybeans, need a minimum of a two-year break to fully exploit the benefits of a crop rotation.  Including a small grain in the rotation can aid in long-term herbicide and nitrate leaching reductions.

Requirements to qualify for Small Grains Initiative funding:

  • Include a small grain (oats, rye, barley, triticale, or wheat) as part of the crop rotation in one out of four years, minimum.
  • Successful applicants qualifying for payment for small grains initiative will receive half the payment ($25/acre) upon successful establishment of small grain in the rotation and the other half following harvest of the small grain ($25/acre) for one year.
  • Small grains may be harvested as a grain, hay, haylage, or straw and may be established in the fall or spring.
  • Follow technical requirements as set forth by the University of Minnesota for establishment, fertilizer use, management, etc.
  • Introduce a small grain (oats, rye, barley, triticale, or wheat) into a crop rotation where none exists. Provide past crop rotation records for the last 5 years.

The MDA recognizes there still is active and ongoing research related to nitrogen management, and development of agronomic best management practices is ongoing. Farmers should adopt best management practices as they become available.

Technical Resources

Producer Compensation

Producers who enroll in the Small Grain Initiative may be eligible for compensation based on meeting the components in the University of Minnesota technical resources. Introduce a small grain (oats, rye, barley, triticale, or wheat) into a crop rotation where none exists. Financial assistance of $50/acre up to 100 acres.

Amount available

Funding is limited to $5,000 per year, per producer for up to three years to implement one or more of the agricultural initiatives listed under “Eligible Projects”.

Applying

Applications are reviewed on an on-going basis, as received. Eligibility is verified by the MDA Soil Scientists and/or representatives. Contact an MDA Soil Scientist or Coordinator for more information.

Southeast Minnesota (Near Rochester)

Southeast Minnesota (Near St. Paul)

Travis Hirman, 651-201-4194, Travis.Hirman@state.mn.us

Southwest Minnesota (Near Lamberton)

Central Minnesota (Near Staples)

Ryan Perish 218-898-0002, Ryan.Perish@state.mn.us

Central Minnesota (Near St. Cloud)

Casey Field 320-406-4958, Casey.Field@state.mn.us