Research is Developing Crops that Help Farmers Profitably Clean up Water
SAINT PAUL, Minn. — Bills have been introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate that would fully fund the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative, a program employing cutting-edge research focused on developing cover cropping and perennial plant systems that keep the land covered 365-days-a-year.
“It’s critical that our state publicly invests in the long-term, complex research that’s needed for farmers to clean our water and improve our soil health in a financially viable way,” said Loretta Jaus, a Land Stewardship Project (LSP) board member and dairy farmer from Gibbon, Minn.
“The Forever Green Initiative represents public research at the University of Minnesota that is both agricultural and economic; but we cannot also forget that these new crops will most likely provide a significant soil conservation benefit,” said Rep. Brand. “For these reasons, I’m asking the Minnesota Legislature to continue funding this public research program.”
During the past few years, the Forever Green Initiative has shown the exciting potential of utilizing “continuous living cover” to build soil health profitably. For example, pennycress, an annual crop that overwinters, can be seeded after corn or soybeans are harvested in the fall. It provides protection for soil during the fall, winter and spring and produces high-value oil and protein meal from unused fertilizer and water that would otherwise be wasted. It also naturally suppresses weeds and supports honeybees and other pollinators. Forever Green has also done key work on Kernza, a perennial grain and forage plant that has root systems which extend several feet into the soil, where they can help build organic carbon and store water.
“This important work has been decades in the making,” said Rep. Ginny Klevorn (DFL-Plymouth), who is a co-author of HF 962. “It delivers new economic opportunities for farmers, protects their important wellheads, and slows nitrate runoff. Forever Green is a win-win for our cities, greater Minnesota, agriculture and food. It allows a viable economic crop to be right there under the snow and prevent runoff in spring. I’m proud to support this important legislation.”
Ongoing support for Forever Green is a priority for the Land Stewardship Project, which has successfully obtained funding for the initiative in past legislative sessions. Also prioritizing funding for Forever Green during this legislative session are Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Friends of the Mississippi River, the U of M’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and Green Lands Blue Waters.
The newly introduced legislation seeks $5 million per year for the program. Fully funded, the Forever Green Initiative has the potential to make Minnesota a leader in developing farming systems that provide year-round protection for the state’s soil while producing profitable marketing options for farmers and transforming the rural landscape, according to LSP member and Gaylord, Minn., crop and livestock farmer Darrel Mosel.
“In this farm economy and climate, now more than ever, our state must lead the way in developing crops that are good for the land and good for our farmers,” said Mosel.