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Serving: MN

Minnesota Corn seeks proposals for Innovation Grant Program

The grant program has invested more than $700,000 in 37 on-farm and university research projects.

The 2021 Minnesota Corn Innovation Grant Program is open to research proposal submissions for on-farm and university projects that focus on conservation, sustainability and profitability on the farm.

Farmers, collaborating FFA or 4-H students active in farming and researchers are invited to submit research proposals for the 2021 growing season. The deadline for proposal submission is Jan. 15.

Launched in 2016, the Innovation Grant Program provides Minnesota farmers with funding to research a concept or best practice that could be replicated by other farmers. The program initially focused on nutrient management. Over the years, the program’s focus has broadened. For 2021, Minnesota corn is seeking proposals that pertain to:

  • New uses for corn and corn co-products
  • Improved nutrient use efficiency
  • Comparative tillage innovations
  • Economic and management innovations
  • Production practices that enhance water quality

“When we started the program, early projects focused on nitrogen efficiency,” says Bryan Biegler, Lake Wilson, a Minnesota Corn Grower member and chair of the production stewardship team. Research topics continued to broaden in succeeding years to cover crops, tillage innovation, enhanced water quality, economics on investments and new uses for corn.

Entering its sixth year, the Innovation Grant Program has invested more than $700,000 in 37 original projects, Biegler says. He also notes that Minnesota Corn is the only state organization with a program such as this. At the 2020 Commodity Classic, the National Corn Growers and the Environmental Defense Fund recognized the Minnesota Corn Innovation Grant Program for its farmer-supported effort focused on clean water, healthy soils and farm profitability.

After the Jan. 15 deadline, Biegler says the production stewardship team will meet and review the proposals. The number of research projects chosen depends on each project’s relevance and quality as well as its potential local impact. Funding up to $7,000 is available for one-year studies and up to $30,000 per year for replicated trials that include statistical design and analysis protocol in the proposal.

Up to $15,000 in funding is also available to post-secondary research faculty to test an innovative or novel scientific approach or to develop preliminary data to leverage greater funding concerning one of the previously identified priorities.

Criteria and expectations for each of the proposal levels are explained in the request for proposal document, which is available online.

The Innovation Grant Program is funded through corn farmers’ investment in the Minnesota Corn check-off.

Projects must be applied for and conducted by an active Minnesota corn farmer subject to the Minnesota corn check-off. To learn more, visit mncorn.org/research.

Trusting the data

Sam Peterson’s proposal to do a three-year research project on variable rate nitrogen programs on his family’s Northfield farm was accepted by the Minnesota Corn Innovation Grant Program.

“We had been doing a lot of VRN on our farm and paying premiums on those acres enrolled,” Peterson says. “We wanted to see if they make economic sense for farmers.”

To undertake such a detailed study on his own would have been costly as well as taking up a lot of management time. As a University of Minnesota graduate, he appreciates the science rigor and replication it takes to do solid research.

“When I was at the university, we did some research on plots there. I had a chance to learn how true research works,” he says. “A lot of farmers may think they are doing on-farm research [on their own] but to get true scientific results, you need an unbiased way to set up the study and a way to control variables.”

VRN trial

With technical assistance, Peterson compared VRN programs — Nitrate Now, Encirca and R7 — along with a flat rate N application on identical fields to see which resulted in the highest yield while producing the most profit through improved efficiency.

Along the way, he learned each VRT program has its own process to determine N levels. NitrateNow takes a 12-inch soil sample to get nitrate levels; Encirca combines soil sample data with weather history, drainage and other data; and the Field Forecasting tool uses a plant tissue sample. Program costs ranged from $5 to $10 an acre.

When the trial ended last year and data was analyzed, he learned Encirca called for the highest N application, generated the highest yield at 221.8 bushels/acre and generated the highest profit per acre.

You can read his proposal and his final report online.

“I learned that N use will vary quite a bit and that you have to trust the program. The grant helped me realize that,” he says.

This past growing season, he conducted the trial again and has yet to crunch the numbers. That might take some time yet, since as of Oct. 22, a couple thousand acres of corn are blanketed with nine inches of snow.

Peterson encourages other farmers to consider applying for an innovation grant.

“If you have research you’d like to do and can’t because of financial reasons, look at this program,” he says. “It was a very good experience for me.”

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