“Nitrogren Fertilizer Rule” signed, goes into effect in 2020

Six months after a court ruling delayed the implementation of the Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule (N Rule) through the 2019 legislative session, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) announced the regulation went into law effective June 24, and becomes enforceable in 2020. Part 1 of the Rule, formally known as the Groundwater Protection Rule, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

“Implementation of the Groundwater Protection Rule is a major milestone in protecting the state’s groundwater and ensuring all Minnesotans have safe drinking water,” Gov. Tim Walz said. “I want to commend the Minnesota Department of Agriculture for their commitment to making Minnesota a leader in addressing nitrate contamination and for their collaborative approach with farmers in doing so.”

MDA will oversee implementation of the Rule. Beginning in 2020, use of nitrogen fertilizer in the fall and on frozen soils will be restricted in areas of the state with vulnerable groundwater, such as areas with coarse textured soil, shallow bedrock, or karst geology, and in public wellhead areas – known as Drinking Water Supply Management Areas (DWSMAs) – with elevated nitrate levels.

The N Rule outlines a multi-level approach involving local farmers and agronomists working to mitigate nitrate losses in DWSMAs with high nitrate in groundwater. Farmers in a DWSMA would be subject to four levels of mitigation which move from voluntary to regulatory. A local advisory team, consisting primarily of producers and agriculture professionals, will advise the MDA regarding appropriate response activities for the area and support implementation of these activities.

The Groundwater Protection Rule is part of the state’s overall Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) which was developed with broad stakeholder input over a five year period and implemented in 2015. More information on the rule and the NFMP is available here. 

Although nitrogen fertilizer isn’t used on soybeans, soybeans are a legume and have the ability to fix nitrogen from the air into ammonia, where it can be used to build proteins. Soybean production doesn’t require nitrogen application, and can prevent the need to apply nitrogen when used in crop rotation.

Throughout the 2018 legislative session, the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) was active in pushing back against the N Rule, which led to a court-ordered delay in December 2018. During the 2018 session, then-MSGA President Michael Petefish and current Executive Director Joe Smentek testified before the Minnesota House Agriculture Policy Committee on the proposed N Fertilizer Rule.

“MSGA has made no bones about our initial issues with the N Rule. We still feel there’s significant issues with the N Rule and the underlying Groundwater Protection Rule,” says current MSGA President Jamie Beyer. “We are going to continue to work to make sure farmers are represented in St. Paul, and not subjected to unnecessary regulations.”

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