The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is awarding the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and project partners $3.5 million to implement conservation measures on irrigated lands.

The money is being awarded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) and will fund a 5-year project that is focused on 20 counties across the state of Minnesota, according to a Minnesota Department of Agriculture news release.

“We are grateful for this funding from NRCS,” said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen. “Irrigation is critical for many of our farmers, and this money will allow us to work with producers and our partners to enhance conservation measures on the land that will ultimately benefit our water resources.”

Through the RCPP, conservation partners like the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) work in collaboration with NRCS and Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners throughout the nation to implement systems that conserve water and soil resources, improve the health of wildlife habitats, and increase climate resilience.

The MDA project, “Implementing Innovative Irrigation Practices to Protect Groundwater Quality and Quantity,” will work directly with agricultural producers using irrigation to implement conservation practices that protect groundwater and promote expanded precision irrigation practices. The MDA has partnered with SWCDs, educational institutions like Central Lakes College and the University of Minnesota, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, irrigation associations, and other public and private organizations to implement the project.

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The 20 Soil and Water Conservation Districts in the project area are: Becker, Benton, Cass, Dakota, Douglas, Grant, Hubbard, Kandiyohi, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Otter Tail, Pope, Sherburne, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Todd, Wadena, and Washington.

The irrigation project is one of 85 locally driven, public-private partnerships receiving more than $330 million as part of the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

Project Summary

The Irrigation Partnerships to Protect Groundwater partnership, consisting of over 30 entities and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, will improve irrigation water management and reduce energy use and nitrate leaching on approximately 120 irrigation systems in Central Minnesota. The partnership intends to tailor incentives to producers based on the sophistication of irrigation system adoption, and also plans to model conservation outcomes and analyze economic outcomes based on farmers enrolled in a Farm Business Management program.