Written by Brian Thalmann
My family has been farming in McLeod County for almost 140 years. We would not have made it this long in farming unless we actively worked to be innovative in our farming practices and continuously improve the measures we implement to protect nearby waterways.
I also serve on the board of directors of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA). Working in close partnership with the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council, we recently set a goal of helping Minnesota corn farmers become the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the United States.
That’s a bold goal, but it’s a goal I’m confident we can achieve. Why? Because farmers are always looking to innovate and improve. Becoming the most sustainable and environmentally responsible corn farmers in the United States isn’t just something you declare, then forget about. In order to actually achieve the goal you need action steps to get there.
One of the action steps in MCGA’s plan includes expanding the organization’s new Innovation Grant (IGP) Program. Through this program, MCGA offers grants to help farmers implement new conservation practices that enable them to better manage nitrogen fertilizer, protect water quality or compare farming measuring tools.
It’s also a way for those of us at MCGA to put our money where our mouth is. We think Minnesota corn farmers can become the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the world, and we’re providing this valuable tool to help achieve that. This is on top of the $4 million we invest annually in third-party research to address water quality, nitrogen management, and other important challenges corn farmers face.
A number of projects funded by the IGP program have already been implemented. Farmers in Sibley, Renville and Nicollet County built custom equipment to interseed cover crops while applying in-season nitrogen fertilizer during the growing season. Applying fertilizer during the growing season saves farmers money and ensures that fertilizer is not over applied. Cover crops help the soil retain organic matter and protect nearby waterways from the potential of run-off during heavy rains.
Other farmers used the program to make drainage systems more environmentally responsible, fine-tune nitrogen fertilizer rates and host field days where area farmers get together and discuss potential new conservation practices.
The IGP program has been significantly expanded this year in conjunction with MCGA’s new plan. A total of $255,000 is available.
With corn prices below the cost of production yet again this year, and many farmers struggling to turn a profit, some farmers may be hesitant to look outside the box and try something new. We think the IGP program can alleviate some of that hesitation.
After all, better management of nitrogen fertilizer is not only good for water quality – a value both non-farming and farming Minnesotans share – it’s also good for a farmers’ bottom line. Fertilizer is expensive. The last thing a farmer want is his or her expensive fertilizer ending up in a waterway after a heavy rain instead of remaining in the soil to help nurture a bountiful crop.
MCGA’s definition of sustainability is broad. In addition to protecting water quality, we believe sustainability includes helping farmers remain financially sustainable so they can implement new conservation efforts and maintain profitable and healthy farms for the next generation.
The innovative spirit of farmers and their willingness to look in the mirror and improve where needed makes me confident that we can have a robust agricultural sector and clean water here in Minnesota. It’s not an either/or option.
By exploring the IGP program, Minnesota corn farmers can take another step toward becoming the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the United States.
Brian Thalmann farms near Plato and serves as MCGA’s treasurer. The deadline to apply for Innovation Grants is 3 p.m. on Dec. 15, 2016. More information can be found at mncorn.org/research-rfps.