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20 Minnesota SWCDs selected for precision irrigation

The five-year regional project in northwest Minnesota will allow growers to boost their irrigation knowledge while improving water quality management.

Paula Mohr

May 21, 2021

3 Min Read
irrigation in rural farm land
ENHANCED PRACTICES: A $3.5 million NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program grant will support a five-year project for 20 soil and water conservation districts in northwest Minnesota to help irrigators with protecting groundwater resources and learning more about precision irrigation. Paula Mohr

Twenty soil and water conservation districts have been selected to work with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture on a regional irrigation project. The project will provide financial and technical support to farmers who adopt precision irrigation and nitrogen management practices to help address groundwater quality and quantity issues.

The SWCDS are Becker, Benton, Cass, Dakota, Douglas, East Otter Tail, Grant, Hubbard, Kandiyohi, Meeker, Morrison, Pope, Sherburne, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Todd, Wadena, Washington and West Otter Tail.

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REGIONAL PARTNERSHIP: Agricultural producers using irrigation in 20 Minnesota SWCDs will have the option to work with conservation partners on a five-year project that will highlight precision irrigation practices to improve and protect groundwater quality and quantity. The 20 SWCDs are Becker, Benton, Cass, Dakota, Douglas, East Otter Tail, Grant, Hubbard, Kandiyohi, Meeker, Morrison, Pope, Sherburne, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Todd, Wadena, Washington and West Otter Tail. (Courtesy of MDA)

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded MDA and project partners a $3.5 million Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant to implement the project over five years. Other partners are Central Lakes College Ag and Energy Center, AgCentric, Northern Center of Agricultural Excellence, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, Irrigators Association of Minnesota, Central Minnesota Irrigators, Todd-Wadena Electric Co-op, Reinke Manufacturing, R.D. Offutt Farms, RESPEC Consulting, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) and the Minnesota Department of Health.

The SWCDs participating in this program will work with producers using funds to implement irrigation best practices. Darren Newville, East Otter Tail SWCD district manager and lead SWCD contact for the project, says they are still in the early stages of getting agreements in place with partners.

“We are shooting for having funds available in 2022,” he says.

East Otter Tail SWCD will plan field days and other outreach events to share findings from the project with area farmers. Sign-up and meeting dates have yet to be determined.

Behind-the-scenes planning

The idea for a regional irrigation project came about after East Otter Tail SWCD and the St. Paul, Minn.-based Freshwater Society hosted several workshops attended by more than 90 farmers, the irrigation industry and others in the region to discuss interest in sustainable farming practices and how to protect groundwater resources.

Irrigated areas of the state often have coarse-textured soils, where the groundwater is susceptible to nitrate contamination and some areas do have elevated nitrate levels. The rural public is concerned for two reasons. First, most of their drinking water comes from these groundwater sources. Second, groundwater withdrawals for ag irrigation may impact groundwater-surface water hydrology.

Information gleaned from the workshops was provided to MDA for the grant application, Newville says.

Some of the regional project is similar to irrigation programming at East Otter Tail SWCD — yet at the next level, with the newer technology available.

“We currently have a smaller Clean Water Fund Grant from BWSR to do similar work in the East Otter Tail [SWCD}, and Wadena SWCD [has one] that is just starting this year,” Newville adds. “It is our mini RCPP on a local level.”

As explained in its overview, the project will provide financial and technical support to irrigators willing to adopt and integrate proven precision irrigation and nitrogen management practices and technologies to help address groundwater quality and quantity issues.

The project will focus on conservation irrigation practices using a flexible, tiered approach, where irrigators can participate at the level that fits their operation and attitude towards technology adoption and risk.

The first tier includes installing advanced soil moisture sensors in irrigated fields to enhance water management through irrigation scheduling. The second tier will include installing precision irrigation packages, with updates to panel, nozzles and VFD (variable-frequency-drive) pumps. The third tier will include an advanced irrigation package, along with the newest technology for irrigation water and nutrient management. This includes remote operation technology, crop status sensors and variable-rate fertigation systems.

About the Author(s)

Paula Mohr

Editor, The Farmer

Paula Mohr has been editor of The Farmer since 2004. She enjoys covering a wide range of topics that are of interest to Minnesota producers.

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