Olmsted County offers groundwater protection, soil health cost-share program to farmers

(ABC 6 News) – A new program for groundwater protection and soil health is rolling out to Olmsted County farm operators through the Olmsted County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

Olmsted SWCD, with support from the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners, created the groundwater protection and soil health initiative with $3 million allotted through American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Farm operators in Olmsted County can use cost-share through this program to integrate small grains or alternative crops into their traditional cropping systems, expand haying and grazing acres, and plant cover crops.

“This initiative empowers farm operators to play a part in helping reduce nitrate leaching, increasing nitrogen retention, limiting soil erosion, while protecting Olmsted County’s water resources,” said Olmsted SWCD Soil Conservation Manager Skip Langer.

The program aims to promote the growing of beneficial crops such as small grains, forages, other alternative crops, and grazing lands. The program also promotes integration of cover crops into conventional farming systems. The diverse crop rotations and cover crop integration practices target the reduction of excess crop nutrients leaching into groundwater. These practices also reduce soil erosion. The practices will promote improved soil health, farm sustainability, and operator profitability.

“Groundwater is the community’s drinking water and sustains the agricultural community and other industries,” Langer said. “Through research and connections across southeastern Minnesota, Olmsted SWCD and the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners believe incorporating soil health principles on the landscape could make a positive difference.”

Olmsted SWCD tested the groundwater protection and soil health initiative with a pilot program in September 2022. Fifty-two producers enrolled more than 6,500 acres in cover crops across Olmsted County.

In 2023, the program features two additional enrollment options for farm operators that include cost-share for small grain and alternative crops, increasing haying and grazing acres, and continuation of the cover crop program. Applications will be accepted starting Feb. 13 and can be found, HERE.

Funding has been allocated to continue the groundwater protection and soil health initiative through 2025.