What you need to know about the nitrogen management rule

Click here to download a printer-friendly PDF version of the “What you need to know” document regarding the nitrogen management rule, which is being implemented to minimize potential sources of nitrate pollution in our state’s groundwater.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has released the draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule, which is being implemented to minimize potential sources of nitrate pollution in the state’s groundwater and as part of the Minnesota Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan. Through Aug. 25, the public can submit comments on the draft rule, which currently contains two parts:

  1. If a farm is located in a vulnerable groundwater area based on soil hydrology and geology information, nitrogen fertilizer application in the fall and on frozen soils will be restricted.
  2. If a farm is located in an area that has high concentrations of nitrate in groundwater, the draft rule lays out a process for mitigation that includes the use of nitrogen fertilizer best management practices (BMPs) and alternative practices.

Here are some FAQs about the proposed rule:

Where did this rule come from?

The nitrogen fertilizer rule is based on the Minnesota Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan, which outlines the state’s strategy for preventing contamination and responding to elevated nitrate from fertilizer in groundwater. This plan first originated in 1990 followed by a three-year revision before being released in March 2015. The nitrogen fertilizer rule outlines the MDA’s procedure to regulate nitrogen fertilizer use in vulnerable groundwater areas and areas of high concentration.

MCGA has been involved throughout the nitrogen fertilizer rule’s revision process, including the submission of comments on the overall Nitrogen Fertilizer Management plan in 2013 and on this specific rule in 2016. MCGA also has a representative on the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan advisory committee to provide input on the various aspects of the management plan.

When will the law go into effect?

Expected fall 2018

How are nitrate levels determined?

The MDA uses nitrate data from both public and private drinking wells to evaluate pollution frequency and concentration trends.

How do I know if I am in a vulnerable groundwater area and restricted from fall nitrogen application?

A vulnerable groundwater area is land where nitrate can move easily through the soil into groundwater. The saturated hydraulic conductivity of the soil, which measure the soil’s ability to transmit water, as well as if there is karst or bedrock at or near the surface determines if the area is vulnerable. MCGA recommends you view the current vulnerable groundwater area map to see if you are affected.

Vulnerable groundwater areas will be determined section by section. In areas where more than 50% of the section has vulnerable groundwater, fall and frozen soil application will not be allowed in the entire section. If less than half of the section has vulnerable groundwater, application is only restricted to fields with karst or near-surface bedrock. Key exceptions include the application of phosphorous fertilizers (Monoammonium Phosphate and Diammonium Phosphate) and other micronutrients that contain nitrogen. The overall applied nitrogen rate must not exceed 20 pounds per acre.

If my farm is located in an area of high nitrate concentration in groundwater, what is the mitigation process?

Mitigation, or the action to reduce severity, is separated into four levels depending on the level of nitrate concentration found in private and public drinking wells. All areas identified with nitrate contaminated ground water will begin in a voluntary level of mitigation level 1 or 2, depending on if it is near or over the nitrate health risk limit of 10 milligrams per liter. Nitrogen fertilizer BMPs and alternative practices will be promoted within these areas under the advisement of a local advisory team.

The MDA will reevaluate the mitigation level after three growing seasons. Land owners may find themselves in level 3 and 4 if nitrogen fertilizer BMPs are not being used and nitrate groundwater levels exceed the health risk limit. Areas in these regulatory levels will be subject to specific management practices ordered by MDA.

MN Department of Agriculture mitigation criteria map


What are the consequences of not following the nitrogen fertilizer rule?

The general progression of non-compliance includes: 1) educating the landowner, 2) compliance assistance and 3) enforcement. For the latter, the MDA has authority to issue administrative, civil and criminal penalties.

How can I provide comment on this rule?

You know your farm like nobody else does. Share your personal experiences and perspective by submitting your own comment. If you wish to provide comment, you will need to submit your comment to Larry Gunderson with MDA by Aug. 25.

You may submit your comment through the online comment form or mail to the below address:

Larry Gunderson
Minnesota Department of Agriculture – Pesticide and Fertilizer Management Division
625 Robert Street North
St. Paul, MN  55115

MCGA encourages farmers to consider the following factors when submitting comments to MDA regarding the draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule:

  • Describe how both parts 1 and 2 of the rule will impact your farm.
  • Does the depiction of “vulnerable groundwater areas” seem reasonable for your farm given your knowledge of the soils and quality of drinking water in the area?
  • If your farm is located within a vulnerable area as identified in part 1, and if wells in your township have been tested and are not above the 10 ppm limit, are existing farming practices already protecting groundwater?
  • Should the allowance of up to 20 pounds of nitrogen associated with MAP or DAP applications of phosphorus be removed if soil tests are being used to determine phosphorus application rates?
  • If you are in an area that could be affected by part 2 of the rule, are there precision agriculture technologies you are using for nitrogen applications that need to be considered in the development of mitigation strategies?
  • If you are in an area that could be affected by part 2 of the rule, describe the importance of the role of the local advisory team in the mitigation process and the expertise that resides within your community to participate on this team.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) and Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC) are committed to funding independent research that seeks to enhance opportunities for Minnesota corn farmers by improving agricultural practices and creating new markets for what they produce.

Minnesota corn checkoff dollars are funding a wide range of research projects that directly affect local business and families, including the relationship between agricultural management practices and water quality.

For more information on research projects funded by Minnesota’s corn farmers click here.


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