Olmsted County SWCD unveils $3 million groundwater protection and soil health initiative

Producers in Olmsted County can use the cost-share programs to introduce or integrate more conservation practices into their operations.

Klessig cover crops
Lance Klessig kneels in cover crops in Lewiston, Minn. on July 9, 2021.
Noah Fish / Agweek

ROCHESTER, Minn. — A $3 million groundwater protection and soil health initiative has been rolled out to Olmsted County farm operators through the Olmsted County Soil and Water Conservation District.

With support from the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners, Olmsted SWCD created the program for groundwater protection and soil health with $3 million allotted through American Rescue Plan Act funds.

"We're really excited to be able to work with a large amount of producers that we can reach with that kind of funding source, and hopefully make a real difference in producer adoption of these types of practices," said Angela White, a technician with Olmsted County SWCD.

Producers in Olmsted County can use the cost-share programs to introduce or integrate more conservation practices into their operations.

“This initiative empowers farm operators to play a part in helping reduce nitrate leaching, increasing nitrogen retention, limiting soil erosion, while protecting Olmsted County's water resources,” said Olmsted SWCD Soil Conservation Manager Skip Langer. “Groundwater is the community's drinking water and sustains the agricultural community and other industries.”


The initiative aims to promote small grains, forages and other alternative crops along with grazing lands, and the integration of cover crops into conventional farming systems.

White said that Olmsted County is known for its "highly productive" soil, and extreme weather in recent years are a cause of concern.

"Our typical farming practices are prone to erosion, and the row cropping system doesn't have full coverage throughout the entire growing season," said White. "And so this is just one step to make the soils that we have here even more productive, but also protect them so that they can stay sustainable and as highly productive as they are."

High interest

Olmsted SWCD tested the groundwater protection and soil health initiative with a pilot program last September, when 52 producers enrolled more than 6,500 acres in cover crops across the county.

White said the application period for the pilot program was only open for about a week before it received over 50 applications.

"We were super happy with how excited producers were to participate," said White of the pilot. "Producers that we've worked with historically in the past, but then we also got a good number of producers who we had never worked with, who were new to cover crops."

The application period for the new initiative opened on Feb. 13, and White said after just one day, there are already some producers that have applied.

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Contributed / Olmsted County SWCD

The new initiative features two additional enrollment options for farm operators. Enrollment options include cost-share for small grain and alternative crops, increasing haying and grazing acres and continuation of the cover crop program.


White said that producers won't receive funds until they meet the certification requirements that each program has, which are noted in the application.

"Once the producers go through an online certification process, and once we receive that, then we will start to make payments to the producers," she said. "The money is allocated to this program, and so it's there, and we're just waiting for the criteria to be reached by the producers, and whatever option they enrolled in."

Funding has been allocated to continue the groundwater protection and soil health initiative through 2025. Olmsted County SWCD will be having informational meetings on the initiative in March, White said, but producers looking for more information can give the office a call at 507-328-7070.

"We don't have a minimum acre requirement," said White. "If somebody wanted to just try cover crops, or growing oats or a small grains on 5, 10 or 15 acres — they are open and eligible for the program."

Other SWCD's in the state have received funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, but White said Olmsted County is the first that she knows of to create a soil health program with the funding.

"We're excited to see how this will progress in the next few years, and we're confident that it's going to be a success, and hopefully it will be a good platform that maybe can be utilized in other districts or even as a statewide program," she said. "If there is more momentum for soil health, and a sustainability push continues at the Legislature, then it might be something that could be replicated throughout state."

Program information and applications can be found at .

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast. He covers a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout Minnesota and surrounding states. He can be reached at

He reports out of Rochester, MN, where he lives with his wife, Kara, and their polite cat, Zena. He grew up in La Crosse, WI, and enjoys the talent from his home state like the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers and Grammy award-winning musicians Justin Vernon and Al Jarreau.
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