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MN Farmers to Test New Conservation Tool

Conservation-minded farmers will be testing new software this month to help weigh the benefits of switching to cover crops. (iStockphoto)
Conservation-minded farmers will be testing new software this month to help weigh the benefits of switching to cover crops. (iStockphoto)
January 4, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Farmers who are interested in helping with land conservation could soon have a new tool – and it isn't a new piece of hardware.

The tool is individually tailored software, designed to help farmers add up the costs and possible financial benefits of converting from traditional crops, including corn and soybeans, to perennial grasses or cover crops, such as oats and turnips.

Robin Moore, coordinator of the Land Stewardship Project's Chippewa 10 Percent Project, says her group will be testing the software with several Minnesota farmers starting this month.

"It just really helps them line up the financial differences between corn and soybean, and a different practice on that land,” she explains. “I would say 80 percent of the time, that more complex system is very clearly showing to be much more profitable than simply a corn-and-beans rotation."

This comes as parts of the Chippewa River watershed in western Minnesota face serious challenges from farmland pollution.

Moore says targeting just 10 percent of one of these trouble spots can help reverse damage to the water system.

Some farmers are concerned that switching from traditional crops could hurt their profits and risk losing some federal subsidies for growing corn and soybeans.

Moore says those concerns are valid, but argues that if farmers start with small changes now, they could see multiple benefits down the line.

"If you can get a three-to-four-year rotation in a farm versus just a two-year rotation, meaning corn and beans, that really increases the soil health and the water quality in that area," she stresses.

Moore adds growing perennial grasses for rotational livestock grazing can help farmers save money because they won't have to mechanically harvest and store feed.

Once it is done testing the new cost-projection tool, Moore says the Land Stewardship Project hopes to have the software publicly available by March. For now, she says her group is focused on helping farmers understand the long-term plans for curbing farmland pollution.

"Water is kind of the canary in the coal mine,” she states. “The problems with water indicate problems with soil health – and if our soil is being depleted, then not only are we going to have dirty water, but we're also going to have crop failures."

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - MN