Wilkin Co. motivates farmers to address soil health

Corn fields are great for introducing inter-seeding when the plants are still low.

Through a federally and privately funded project, Wilkin County Soil & Water Conservation District will be incentivizing farmers to instate soil health practices, District Manager Don Bajumpaa said.

The Red River Basin Soil Health Initiative project is a multifaceted approach to educating, instating and analyzing soil health practices in the area.

Last year, Bajumpaa applied for a $5.6 million Greater Soil Health federal grant through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, Daily News previously reported. Only one grant application is accepted per state to move on to the federal level. In Minnesota, Wilkin County’s grant was the one, Bajumpaa said.

“It’s a very competitive process, and we made the state cut, so our RCPP grant application was forwarded to Washington D.C., where it will compete with all the other grant applications from across the country,” he said.

If they receive the grant, it will put them over $7 million in federal and private funding for the program, Bajumpaa said.

In 2020, the district also secured private funding from General Mills, Cargill and the Greater Minneapolis St. Paul Rural Economic Development Authority (MBOLD) by cold-calling the companies and forging connections within the corporate agricultural world, Daily News previously reported.

“We really want this to be a program that expands throughout the greater Red River Valley,” Bajumpaa said. “We are the incubating-type entity that is getting this program up and running, and from there, we’re really hoping it can be implemented basin-wide too.”

There is a suite of soil health practices: inter-seeded cover crops, nutrient management, strip tillage and crop rotation. The county’s private partnerships are in full support of the soil health initiatives, Bajumpaa said.

“Investing in soil health principles is how agriculture can help enhance farmer livelihoods while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving water quality and increasing drought resilience,” said Ryan Sirolli, Global Row Crop Sustainability director for Cargill.

A major portion of the program will be assessing the environmental, social and economic benefits of soil health. To do this, they must first ensure the soil is healthy.

Bajumpaa said they will be working closely with the University of Minnesota Water Resource Center and Office of Soil Health, as well as North Dakota State University. Experts from the universities will help test and analyze the soil in tandem with farmers and the Soil & Water Conservation District, he said.

The district also plans to hold field days on a 60-acre parcel of land north of St. Francis Medical Center, county Soil Conservationist Jon Quast said. The first field day will take place in summer 2021. They plan to have a soil pit dug in the field for a hands-on educational demonstration of the process of collecting soil samples, Quast said. Experts representing the different partners will be on hand to answer questions.

“This is going to be a down in the dirt — pardon the pun — field day where we’re encouraging people to really ask in-depth questions,” Quast said. “We’re going to have a run at what the future is of soil health in the southern Red River Valley, and how we can work on implementing this in our area.”

The Wilkin County Board unanimously approved the purchase of a new inter-seeder provided by Klosterman AG Equipment on Tuesday, Feb. 16. The inter-seeder will be used to seed cover crops in between existing 22-inch rows, which the majority of farmers in Wilkin County have, Bajumpaa said. The program has gained ample attention from interested area farmers.

Kim Melton, district technician, has championed the cover crop incentive program in the county. Farmers can dabble in cover crops with as little as five acres or as many as 50 acres of their land, Quast said. To seed a single species, farmers would be paid $34.61 per acre, and to seed multiple species, farmers would be paid $42.29 per acre.

“They can see, black and white, right in front of them, what the cover crop is doing for them,” Quast said. “It’s hard to put a dollar amount on the benefit that they’re getting.”

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