Threats to groudwater

Farmers Prepare for Possible Nitrogen Fertilizer Regulation

Farmers may soon face new fertilizer regulations if a Groundwater Protection Rule moves forward.
The Department of Agriculture has opened another public comment period through July.
The rule would limit nitrogen fertilizer use in the fall, and on frozen soil, in areas where nitrates can move easily through the soil, as well as areas where public drinking water systems show high nitrate levels.
“The concern is, does it delay planting and delayed planting typically leads to lower yields,” said Bruce Peterson, a farmer in Northfield.
His family has operated a farm there for generations, primarily growing corn and soybeans.
According to Peterson, most farmers are moving away from fall fertilizing and are using more precise techniques. They use technology to collect soil and weather data, which helps determine which areas need more nitrogen than others.
“We can vary the rate in the field in season, so getting very fine tuned and trying to be as efficient as possible,” Peterson said. “Once it’s in that rapid growth stage, that’s when you want to make sure the nitrogen is not limited to the crop.”
He said however, the proposed rule could put a burden on the industry because it could force more farmers to fertilize in the spring, which would increase the demand on suppliers.
“This spring is a good example where we had a very late start,” he said. “We had snow on the ground just a few weeks ago and now we have farmers rushing to plant and they rely on a lot of their suppliers to fertilize ahead of planting.”
Last year Peterson was one of hundreds of people to weigh in during a public comment period.
Since then, MDA has made changes to how it will determine areas at risk for contamination. The state will now use soil maps and geology, and will look at the land in quarter sections instead of full sections. Counties that are at low risk will also be exempt.
Peterson said the changes have answered his concerns. He also points out the diversity in farming land.
“This area is not restricted, it’s all pretty good heavy soils,” he said. “You don’t have to go far around me and then there are some areas where the soils get lighter and those areas are restricted.”
Nitrates in drinking water can cause serious health problems, including a disorder where it becomes more difficult for blood to carry oxygen. In infants, it can cause blue baby syndrome. 
Some state lawmakers argue without the regulation, local municipalities will have to pick up the cost of cleaning up contaminants. 
Others are pushing for more oversight. A bill has passed in the House and is now being considered in the Senate to give the legislature the final say on the regulation.

MDA is accepting public comment until July 26

collector :