Despite Dakota County's large population, about half of its land area is farmland — much of it highly productive. Corn and soybeans are the dominant crops, but farming here is diverse. In the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture , the county was first in Minnesota for nursery production (sod, trees, shrubs, and other plants grown for resale) and third for vegetable production.
Dakota County farmers face special environmental conditions because the geology and coarse-textured soils make the eastern portion of the county very susceptible to groundwater contamination. Farming here uses a lot of groundwater for crop irrigation. We are the state's second-largest user of crop irrigation water. Of the county's roughly 200,000 acres of farmland, 60,000 acres are irrigated.
Maximizing crops while minimizing risks to water quality
The challenge is to maintain crop production and economic viability while minimizing risks to water quality. Areas of focus include:
- Crop nutrient management
- Conservation crop rotations (adding alfalfa, grass, oats, barley, or wheat to a corn and soybean crop rotation)
- Reduced tillage
- Cover crops
- Irrigation management
- Integrated pest management
Farmers must comply with the State of Minnesota's Buffer Law and Groundwater Protection Rule. In addition, many farmers use voluntary practices like those described above to help protect soil and water resources.
Agricultural Chemical Reduction Effort
The Dakota County Board of Commissioners adopted its Agricultural Chemical Reduction Effort (ACRE) Plan in October 2022, as called for in the 2020-2030 Groundwater Plan. ACRE intends to use voluntary initiatives to reduce nitrate, agricultural herbicides and chloride in groundwater to levels that no longer pose threats to human or environmental health. ACRE will partner with farmers; the SWCD; state, regional, and local agencies; townships and cities; and other local organizations to reduce contamination.
Soil and Water Conservation District can help
Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation (SWCD) staff are available to provide technical assistance and financial incentives for improving soil health and water quality. They can assist farmers with:
- Establishing cover crops
- Identifying buffer areas
- Managing excess water
- Controlling nutrient loss
- Designing waterways
- Installing water and sediment control basins
SWCD staff can be reached at 651-480-7777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.