Minnesota Governor Unveils Plan to Restrict Fall Fertilizer Application03/12/2018
Gov. Mark Dayton has unveiled updated proposals governing nitrate runoff into groundwater, which adds restrictions on nitrogen fertilizer used in the fall.
“It’s a lot more focused on the problem areas in Minnesota,” Dayton said at a press conference Tuesday. “It’s much more attuned to farmers’ concerns and complaints.”
The proposed rules come as the Dayton administration grapples with local governments and agricultural producers over runoff and water quality standards. State officials want to restrict nitrogen-based fertilizer application in some high-risk areas of Minnesota and near public water supplies during the fall months, with a few exceptions. The proposal also directs officials to build voluntary and mandatory water quality practices in high-nitrate concentration areas.
In south-central Minnesota, much of the Minnesota River and parts of Brown County would fall under those fall restrictions. Farmers commonly apply fertilizer in the fall after harvesting crops, but state officials hope the rules would mean more farmers using fertilizer in the spring. Though applying fertilizer in the spring gives farmers a tighter planting schedule, fall fertilizing increases the chance of nitrate runoff after snow melts in the winter.
The additional restrictions and exemptions come after state agricultural officials held 17 meetings across the state last fall. More than 1,500 farmers and landowners attended those meetings, according to state officials. Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said the rules focus on public drinking water sources.
“We really do want to get this rule right,” he said.
The growing fight to reduce nitrates, phosphorus and other waste in Minnesota’s wastewater has strained some communities and farmers. Cities are looking at high costs to replace wastewater treatment equipment while farmers worry about how the rules affect their ability to grow crops in a tight market.
“I think we all want to see our groundwater stay safe,” said Harold Wolle, past president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “At the same time, you know, it’s essential that farmers have nitrogen fertilizer available to them to grow a very good crop.”
Wolle didn’t get to see the new maps unveiled Tuesday detailing where the fall restrictions fall in the area, but he did say many high-nitrate areas already have mitigation rules in place.
Dayton said his office plans to outline more details of his proposal to lawmakers during the next few weeks. Frederickson said farmers will have more opportunities to comment and shape the rules. The GOP-controlled Legislature appears to be less than thrilled with the governor’s updated plans, however.
House Agriculture Finance Committee Chair Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, and Senate Agricultural Policy Committee Chair Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, called the governor’s proposal “a reactionary re-branding of a vastly unpopular rule” in a statement Tuesday. They urged Dayton to drop his nitrate requirements and work closer with lawmakers on another solution.