Innovation Grant Spotlight: Keith Hartmann

The 2017 Innovation Grant Program is well underway, with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) investing more than $250,000 in 23 farmer-led projects focused on conservation. Throughout the summer we have been highlighting ongoing projects focused on how to better manage nitrogen and protect water quality.

Keith Hartmann is in his second year of participating in the Innovation Grant Program. The Gibbon farmer joined in year one to test interseeding cover crops in between corn rows while applying nitrogen in the same pass. Hartmann decided to try the practice after years of aerial seeding cover crops at a 50-percent success rate.

“To me, putting that much investment in that low of a success rate simply wasn’t acceptable,” he said.

With his 2016 Innovation Grant, Hartmann built an interseeder that utilized a Yetter Strip Freshener and a firm wheel. In 2017, he tested a more cost-effective setup that switched out the strip freshener for a seed tube and the firm wheel for a coulter. He will test its success to see if the cost savings justified the lesser seed-to-soil contact with the latter option.

Hartmann also adjusted his cover crop mixture, settling on ryegrass, oilseed radish and rapeseed. He excluded turnips and crimson clover in 2017 due to both struggling with residual herbicide and the shade of the canopy cover.

Hartmann’s final adjustment in year two came with his nitrate soil testing procedure. Last year, he took a 12-inch-deep soil core for testing, where this year he will go as deep as 36 inches. The deeper sample will be more effective for late-season testing, according to Hartmann.

Hartmann will also be testing corn yield to ensure cover crops are not hurting the primary crop, obviously a primary concern for many farmers. He is also testing stock nitrate levels in his corn to make sure the cover crops aren’t making a negative impact. And to show the effectiveness of cover crops, a soil nitrate test in November will provide evidence that the living roots of cover crops are effective in holding nitrogen nearly 90 days after the corn dies.

“A lot of time people think you are just planting weeds, but that really is not the case,” he concludes.

Do you have a conservation-minded research project in mind? We are now accepting applications for the 2018 Innovation Grant Program. Find out more at

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