Targeted Fertilizer Application Reduction Project

Agricultural runoff is a significant source of polluting nutrients to waters of the CRWD. This project seeks to lessen this source of pollution by assisting farmers with changing the fertilizer application rates for their fields.


Many farmers apply fertilizers to their fields at standard rates, even though field fertilizer requirements vary significantly. By testing the soil throughout a given field to determine fertilizer requirements, the farmer can apply the fertilizer at variable rates throughout a field. This optimization of fertilizer application results in improve yields and operational cost controls for the farmer, and lowers the potential for nutrient runoff from fields to District waters. This practice is known as precision soil testing and GPS-aided fertilizer application.


After a successful pilot phase (known as the Fertilizer Field Trial), this project received a grant in the amount of $300,000 from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency through a grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Fund for the enrollment of 16,000 acres into this systematic soil testing program. The project was completed early fall 2016.


Results of Project

  1. Assisted in developing a market for Precision Soil Nutrient Testing and GPS-Aided fertilizer application
    Pre-project, use of this management practice was limited do to a lack of proven market for the service. This project provided local farmer cooperatives with a stable market base to invest in and ramp-up efforts to offer this service/ practice to area farmers.
  2. Demonstrate value of practice to farmers' operations
    Surveys taken of enrolled farmers at project end indicated that producers realized the expected value of the practice and plan to continue its use as part of their operations.
  3. Higher than typical uptake of incentivized agricultural BMP at low administrative cost
    This program was unique in that it leveraged existing relationships between the local farmer cooperatives and farmers to promote the project, which reduced administrative burden and resulted in 61% uptake of the practice in fields within the targeted area, representing 17,728 unique acres and 23,310 total acres of corn and soy).
  4. Impacts beyond the service area
    The local farmer cooperatives that partnered in the program continue to offer the practice as a service within their entire service areas. The District has also shared the results of the project at several events and with multiple entities in order to promote the practice as a water quality improvement method that meshes well with modern agriculture.
  5. Contributes to Phosphorus Reduction Goals Downstream
    Within the targeted area, sensitive areas (i.e. areas adjacent to water bodies) with high soil phosphorus concentrations saw major reductions in recommended fertilizer application relative to typical recommended application rates. Comparing the standard application rates in sensitive areas to the application rates based on gridded soil testing, there was a reduction in phosphorus application (not DAP, but phosphorus) annually of between 900 and 7,600 lbs. Direct reductions cannot be measured, but downstream water quality showed an improvement over the project lifecycle. This wasn't the only project at the time, so 100% of the improvements cannot be attributed to this program. In terms of targeted load reductions, this program may provide 10-30% of the the 4,100 lb. reduction to Lake Betsy from its contributing watershed, assuming only a small percentage of the not-applied phosphorus would have migrated downstream.


Press Releases

"Trickle down water benefits" - Annandale Advocate February 1st, 2017 article
September 26th, 2016 - Targeted Fertilizer Project Successful- Water Quality Protected, Farmers' Yield Optimized
December 15th, 2014 - Farmers and Water Quality Win: Clearwater River Watershed District Receives Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts' Program of the Year Award
June 5th, 2014 - A Rare Win for Lake, Streams and Farmers: Clearwater River Watershed District Honored at Environmental Initiative Award Ceremony for Targeted Fertilizer Project

Project Documents

Targeted Fertilizer Application Reduction Project Final Report
2015 Presentation to Minnesota Division of the Izaak Walton League of America- "Targeted Fertilizer Application Reduction Program: A Unique Partnership Benefitting Water Quality & Agricultural Production"
October 2012 Targeted Fertilizer Brochure - Program Enrollment
April 2011 Brochure - Fertilizer Field Trial Results
View Watkins Area Stormwater Treatment Project