State Urges Minnesota Farmers to Plant More Vegetative Cover to Fight Nitrate Contamination
Hemp, hazelnuts, oats, turnips, alfalfa, Kernza … there’s a sizable menu of plants to grow for vegetative cover in fields, but much more needs to be done to protect the state’s soil and groundwater from contamination by nitrogen fertilizer.
That’s the upshot of a new report on vegetative cover in Minnesota released by the state Department of Agriculture. It comes as the state fights a nitrate contamination crisis linked to commercial fertilizers and overuse of manure on traditional row crops of corn and soybeans.
“Increasing vegetative ground cover is an important strategy to help protect water and soil resources,” the authors said.
An appendix of the report includes links to more than a dozen grant and loan programs farmers can tap for help exploring new practices.
Researchers surveyed farmers and industry professionals in three parts of the state where the groundwater is highly vulnerable to nitrate contamination: the southeast, southwest and central sands area. Drinking water with elevated levels of nitrate has been linked to potentially serious health problems, particularly for infants younger than 6 months.
In an effort to improve water quality, the state agency is urging farmers to try to replace traditional row crops of corn and soybeans with perennials that don’t require tilling, for example, or to grow different plants offseason so they keep vegetation on the ground. Bare soil is vulnerable not only to erosion, but also to farm chemicals leaching into groundwater and drinking-water wells.