Front-line research for corn farmers

In 2016 the Minnesota Corn Growers Association launched its goal of making corn farmers in the state "the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the United States."...

Ears of corn in a field near Reynolds, N.D. thrive in the bright sunshine and hot temperatures on Monday, August 1, 2016. (Nick Nelson/Agweek)

In 2016 the Minnesota Corn Growers Association launched its goal of making corn farmers in the state "the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the United States."

Now, the group has announced 12 farmer-led research projects - on topics ranging from cover crop systems to intercrop seeding - to help reach that goal.

"Good ideas start often with the people who do it for a living," says Paul Meints, the senior research director for the MCGA.

The projects funded by the group's 2018 Innovation Grant Program focus on nitrogen fertilizer management and protecting water quality.

Nitrogen is considered the most important nutrient. Plants absorb more of it than any other element, and it's essential to healthy plant development. But nitrogen runoff into water can lead to adverse health and environmental consequences - which the research projects seek to mitigate.


"They're farmers' ideas, they're practical in terms of techniques," Meints says of the projects.

One example: Les Anderson of Cannon Falls, Minn., is evaluating variable rate nitrogen programs on a 68-acre field to learn if they can reduce the amount of nitrogen used per bushel of corn produced, and if there is enough economic return to pay for the program.

The use of cover crops, relatively rare in mainstream agriculture even a few years ago, is drawing more attention in Minnesota and elsewhere. Minnesota's growing season is too short for farmers to plant cover crops after the corn crop is harvested, Meints notes.

So, Keith Hartmann of Gibbon, Minn., is researching on 110 acres the practice of interseeding cover crops into corn fields while applying fertilizer during the growing season.

"We've moved the planting window (for cover crops) from harvest, which in Minnesota is almost impossible, back into the cropping system," Meints says. "The system is adapting itself to Minnesota, and we're finding ways to make it work" in part through the Innovation Grant program.

Many in agriculture advocate adding a third crop to the traditional corn-soybean rotation, which is common in much of Minnesota. Reflecting that, a research project this year by Brock Olson, a Stillwater, Minn., corn farmer, is investigating the possibility and profitability of adding a third crop rotation.

The corn growers' group realize that what works in one part of Minnesota may not work elsewhere, Meints says.

"We're trying to find opportunities to identify things that will help their farming system, but not one-size-fits-all solutions. That's not the way farming works," he says.


Application for 2019 Innovation Grant funding opens in early august and continues until Dec. 15. Meints says all Minnesota farmers who raise corn are encouraged to submit proposals for research proposals on their farm. For more information, go to

Paul Meints, senior research director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. (Submitted photo)

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