The goals of the program are to evaluate the effectiveness of agricultural conservation practices, identify underlying processes that affect water quality, and develop technologies to target critical areas of the landscape. Funded projects provide current and accurate scientific data on the environmental impacts of agricultural practices and help to develop or revise agricultural practices that reduce environmental impacts while maintaining farm profitability.
Minnesota ranks #2 in hog production and #1 in sugar beet production in the U.S., generating about 11 million tons of pig manure and over one million tons of sugar processing wastes annually. Presently there are not cost-effective methods available to deal with these waste streams other than land application, which usually results in nutrient runoff into ground and surface water resources.
Enrollment of private lands in conservation programs can provide important natural resource and other public benefits by taking the lands out of production so that they can provide various wildlife, water quality, and ecological benefits. This appropriation is enabling the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources to continue to provide grants to local soil and water conservation districts for employment of technical staff to assist private landowners in implementing conservation programs.
There are currently more than 21,000 miles of drainage ditches and many thousands of miles of subsurface tile located throughout Minnesota and overseen by over 100 different local drainage authorities. Historically public records of these drainage systems have been maintained primarily in hard copy following differing protocols depending on local requirements. However, this antiquated approach limits the usability and accessibility of public drainage records creating various challenges for drainage management efforts.
Elms were once a very widespread tree in Minnesota and amongst the most common and popular in urban landscapes due to their size, shading capability, and tolerance of pollution and other stresses. Over the past five decades, though, Dutch elm disease, an exotic and invasive pathogen, has killed millions of elms throughout the state. However, scientists at the University of Minnesota have observed that some elms have survived the disease and appear to have special characteristics that make them resistant to Dutch elm disease.
This program funded grants to local units of government and other entities to supplement, not supplant existing budgets. Two categories of grants made available: 1) focus on response to invasive forest pest incidents, 2) focus on planning and preparedness for the arrival of invasive forest pests. The program will also update the state's invasive and exotic tree pest plans.
Minnesota supports over 14 million acres of cropland in grain production. Almost 600,000 tons of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are needed annually to maintain productivity on this land, which requires the equivalent of 3,000,000 barrels of oil and costs farmers over $400 million dollars per year. This amount of fossil fuel use results in a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, while the absence of fossil energy resources in the state means that these synthetic nitrogen fertilizers must be imported into Minnesota from other states and overseas.
Terrestrial invasive species are species that are not native to a location and that pose critical ecological and economic challenges once they become established in that location. They come in the form of plants, animals, insects, pathogens, and microbes that can cause harm to natural habitat, urban landscapes, and agricultural systems. The problems posed by terrestrial invasive species continue to grow as existing infestations expand and new exotic species arrive, many of which are poorly understood.
The Minnesota Nutrient Management Initiative (NMI) was developed to help farmers and crop advisers evaluate management decisions using the farmer's actual field conditions.Participating farmers work with a crop adviser to set up field trials. After completing plot harvest and submitting the required forms, farmers and crop advisers are reimbursed for their time and will receive a summary and analysis of their results.
The purpose of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's monitoring activities is to determine the presence and concentration of pesticides in Minnesota's groundwater and surface water. Monitoring information is used to characterize and assess the extent of pesticide impacts to Minnesota's water resources.
"Precision conservation" means targeting conservation practices to places on the landscape where they will be most effective. It's about getting the right practices in the right place, at the right scale.
Long-term forest plot datasets are helpful for understanding the changing conditions and ecology of forestland over time. The USDA Forest Service produced statewide forest inventories in 1935, 1953, 1962, 1977, 1990, 2003, 2008, and 2013. Unfortunately, only the data from 1977 to the present is currently easily accessible and available in full.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has partnered with the USDA National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS) and University of Minnesota researchers to collect information about fertilizer use and farm management. Partners have pioneered a survey tool for characterizing fertilizer use and farm management on a regional and statewide scale. Surveys are conducted over the phone. NASS staff are highly skilled at obtaining critical information over the phone with minimal time and burden on the producer.
Nitrate-nitrogen (nitrate) is one of the contaminants of greatest concern for groundwater in Minnesota. This funding is being used for activities that help identify the severity and magnitude of nitrate contamination and implement practices at the local level to reduce nitrate in groundwater. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is working with many local partners and passing funding through to local government units (counties, cities, soil and water conservation districts) to address this concern.
The MDA's technical assistance helps ensure that current and accurate scientific information is made available and used to address water quality concerns in agricultural areas of Minnesota. This funding has been used to evaluate the effectiveness of conservation practices, share information from research and demonstration sites and enhance outreach and education to the agricultural community and local government partners.
Production agriculture’s dependence on fossil fuel energy carries significant economic and ecological risks. The energy consumed within livestock facilities alone is the equivalent consumption of several large cities, and agriculture currently contributes approximately 14% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the state. As consumers increasingly demand low carbon footprint products, adoption of clean energy systems in crop and livestock production would position Minnesota’s agricultural sector with a competitive advantage.
Minnesota has widespread water quality impairments due to nonpoint-source pollution generated by agricultural, urban, and other human-altered lands. Mitigation of these impairments requires implementing best management practices (BMPs) that are designed to limit soil erosion and nutrient transport from lands to receiving waters. Long-term data sets of water quality and land-use history are needed to tease apart the many factors that affect water quality. In particular, data sets that span periods before and after BMP implementation are needed to determine BMP effectiveness.