Environmentalists would like Minnesota farmers to plant more cover crops that enrich the soil as alternatives to corn and soy beans. Farmers want to run profitable operations. State funding is being proposed for the University of Minnesota to make those two aims compatible rather than mutually exclusive.
The House Agriculture Policy Committee on Thursday approved the bill and referred it to the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee.
For most of the year, Minnesota’s 27 million acres of farmland lacks plants with active roots in the soil, except during the summer growing season, according to slides presented to the committee by Donald Wyse, a University of Minnesota agriculture professor. Water quality is affected because nitrogen runs off into surface water without enough plants to absorb it, Wyse said. On the economic side, farmers incur large expense applying nitrogen to their fields.
“How do we reduce that [runoff of nitrogen]?” Wyse said. “And how do we reduce that in a way that contributes to the efficiency of agriculture and increases the profitability?”
The Forever Green Initiative is working on several types of perennials and winter-annuals like field pennycress and winter barley that could be commercially successful for farmers.
Wyse said the projects at the institute are “designed to develop new enterprises. Those ecosystem services, water quality enhancement with an economic pull so farmers have a reason to plant them on the landscape.”
A companion, SF2304, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Dahle (DFL-Northfield), has been laid over for possible inclusion in an omnibus bill by the Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Division.