The Minnesota Department of Agriculture recently announced that the Nutrient Management Initiative (NMI) program will be expanded to 49 Minnesota counties in 2009. The expansion includes the southern half of Minnesota including MN USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) areas: 4, 5, 6, & 7 and any cropland located within a designated vulnerable Source Water Protection Areas in Minnesota.

The NMI program provides a framework for farmers to evaluate their own nutrient management practices compared with nutrient rate guidance promoted by the USDA-NRCS. Results will assist the USDA-NRCS in assessing their nutrient management guidance on a regional scale.

Farmers receive $1,200 for providing data and completing the program requirements. Participants are required to work with a certified crop adviser. The certified crop adviser assists with site design, and validates cropping information and yield results. The farmer’s normal application rate and a rate promoted by the USDA-NRCS are each replicated three times allowing for comparisons of crop yield and economic outcomes. Nitrogen rates must maintain at least a 30-lb. rate difference between comparisons. Results from the program are presented to the farmer in an economic analysis report based on their actual nutrient costs and crop yields.

Funding for the program is through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and administered by the Minnesota USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The Minnesota Department of Agriculture assists through promotion, data collection, and compilation of data for the program.

Participant’s identity is kept confidential. Cropping information, yield results, and economic analysis are for educational purposes. By evaluating data from multiple growers in south-central Minnesota under varying weather conditions, the impact of these demonstrations becomes more valuable and therefore, more effective. Farmers working with certified crop advisers will provide valuable data over a large geographical area to evaluate current NRCS nutrient guidance.

Farmers enrolling in the program must sign up through their county USDA-NRCS Office. Farmers must sign an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) contract along with a signed Producer Agreement. The Producer Agreement includes an Anticipated Nutrient Application form that is reviewed to insure the site is established properly.