New grant funding available through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) aims to increase establishment of cover crops and related tillage practices in targeted areas to engage producers new to these practices, establish best practices, and benefit water quality.
What are cover crops?
Cover crops are grown mainly for soil health purposes rather than as a primary commodity crop. Cover crops and related tillage practices can improve soil health, mitigate erosion, and improve water quality. According to USDA farm census data, conservation practices that improve soil health and water quality — such as cover crops, strip-till and no-till —
are increasing in popularity, but there’s plenty of room to grow. USDA farm census data indicates that less than 2% of Minnesota producers use cover crops on their land.
Producers using cover crops can gain the following benefits:
- The protective canopy formed by cover crops can greatly reduce erosion and runoff while increasing infiltration.
- Cover crops increase soil organic matter, which can improve soil health.
- Certain cover crops can reduce the amount of nitrogen fertilizer needed, potentially lowering costs of production.
- Cover crops can provide high-quality grazing for livestock and food sources for wildlife such as beneficial insects and pollinators.
How will this initiative work?
Soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) awarded cover crop demonstration grants will work with producers interested in incorporating cover crops into their operations. With a focus on new adopters, local conservation staff will provide technical assistance, financial incentives and education to local landowners to establish best practices to increase implementation of cover crops across the state.
BWSR received 18 proposals requesting a total of $3.8 million. Using $1 million in Clean Water Funds, BWSR awarded five grants to the following SWCDs:
- East Otter Tail SWCD
- Traverse SWCD
- Stearns SWCD
- Faribault SWCD
- Root River SWCD
Applicants receiving state funding are awarded between
$125,000 and $250,000.
Projects at a glance
East Otter Tail SWCD plans to use cover crop demonstration grant funding to establish three cover crop demonstration sites where producers can observe practices and benefits firsthand. Additionally, the SWCD will host informational meetings and farmer field days to further engage new adopters. East Otter Tail SWCD strives to establish 1,000 acres of cover crops annually for three years by focusing on education and partnerships.
Stearns SWCD aims to add 1,000 new acres of cover crops within a targeted area in central Stearns County. This area contains more than 38,000 acres of cropland, 8,000 of which are in Drinking Water Supply Management Areas (DWSMAs) with soils rated as highly vulnerable. Stearns SWCD plans to develop a robust farmer recruitment effort using these grant funds.
Traverse SWCD will prioritize cover crop adoption as outlined in their developing Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan. The SWCD plans to work with producers who farm cropland in drinking water supply management areas (DWSMAs), setting a goal of installing cover crops on 200 acres within delineated DWSMAs each year for 3 years.
Faribault SWCD plans to strengthen their existing cover crop program by working one-on-one with new adopters. This project strives to reduce risks associated with establishing cover crops by providing a per-acre financial incentive to eligible farmers to help offset the cost of the change in tillage practice. Educational opportunities for new adopters will also be developed.
Root River SWCD will develop a cover crop program that offers both technical and financial assistance to new adopters, with a goal of adding 400 new acres of cover crops annually for three years. Crop producers with land located within two miles of municipal drinking water supplies will be the primary focus. The SWCD will also provide soil health testing to producers working to implement cover crops for the first time.