Wisconsin’s Governor supports nitrogen optimization, water quality bill

Governor Tony Evers in Stevens Point, WI 4-7-2022

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers says he supports a water quality bill that reached his desk this week. “Yes, I will be signing that bill.” Evers tells Brownfield he will sign Assembly Bill 727 today, Friday, April 8th.**

He says he would have liked additional water protection efforts in the bill. “Yes, I wish there was more to it. There’s lots of other issues around water quality that we should be looking at in Wisconsin, especially issues around PFAS, those forever chemicals that are in our environment. We need some help in that area, but this is a good first step.”

Assembly bill 727 creates a nitrogen optimization pilot program where farmers could receive up to 50-thousand dollars in grants to would work with the University of Wisconsin for at least two growing seasons on ways to improve nitrogen use.  The bill also provides 400-thousand dollars to provide five-dollar-per-acre cover crop insurance rebates and funds a hydrogeologist position so the state can create an accurate depth-to-bedrock map.

The legislation began after the Democratic Governor declared 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking Water and Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos started a task force on water quality.

The legislation has bipartisan support and was endorsed by fifteen Wisconsin agricultural organizations along with some environmental groups.

4/8/22 Governor Tony Evers signs AB727 into Act 233 creating the Nitrogen Optimization Grant Program

** Update: When the bill was signed, it became Wisconsin Act 223.

The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation and the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Association were two of many agricultural groups supporting the legislation. After Governor Evers signed the bill Friday, they issued the following statement.

MADISON – On April 8, a Wisconsin Farm Bureau and Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association supported bill prioritizing farmer-led conservation efforts to optimize nitrogen application on farms was signed into law by Governor Evers as Wisconsin Act 223.

“Wisconsin Farm Bureau appreciates Governor Evers support for this bill,” said WFBF President Kevin Krentz. “Wisconsin farmers appreciate the continued bipartisan support for this initiative and the opportunity this will provide for farmers to continue finding ways to utilize nitrogen efficiently on their farms.”

Authored by Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay) and Representative Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay), the bill supports farmer-led conservation efforts across the state and enables farmers to continue finding ways to enhance nitrogen efficiency on farms.

“Wisconsin farmers want to be leaders in the development of improved water quality practices on farms,” said Tamas Houlihan, Executive Director of Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association. “The new programs created in this bill support those incredibly powerful and successful farmer-led conservation efforts that we have seen develop across Wisconsin.”

Act 223 includes a commercial nitrogen optimization pilot program that will incentivize farmers to engage in new practices to better utilize nitrogen on farms and share their project findings with other farmers across the state. Also included is a cover crop insurance premium rebate program that will provide additional support to farmers that plant cover crops. The act also allows for the creation of an additional, limited-term hydrogeologist position at Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey to continue to develop reliable soil depth-to-bedrock maps to help provide accurate maps and data for Wisconsin farmers.

“These tools will further empower farmer-led conservation efforts across the state,” Krentz said. “We are excited for the opportunities this act creates while providing additional tools for farmers to address clean water solutions.”

The Dairy Business Association and environmental groups supplied the following comments.

Four environmental and agricultural groups, working as partners to bring about long-term solutions to Wisconsin’s water quality issues, cheered the signing of legislation today aimed at reducing nitrates in rural wells, a move they hope will build momentum for broader efforts. 

The bipartisan bill, signed by Gov. Tony Evers as 2021 Wisconsin Act 223, creates: 

  • A pilot program that provides grants to farmers implementing new practices to optimize the application of commercial nitrogen.
  • A crop insurance premium rebate to farmers who plant cover crops, a practice that improves soil health and reduces infiltration and runoff.  
  • A hydrogeologist position at the UW-Madison Division of Extension to develop groundwater resource information, such as soil depth-to-bedrock maps that help farmers tailor cropping practices. 

“This legislation is a positive, practical step forward, one that will spur innovation and empower more farmers to prioritize groundwater protection,” the groups — Clean Wisconsin, the Dairy Business Association, The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, and WI Land+Water — said jointly.  

“We thank Representative Joel Kitchens and Senator Rob Cowles for championing the legislation, and we credit lawmakers in both parties as well as Governor Evers for recognizing its importance and doing the bipartisan work necessary to make it a reality.” 

“We hope this action signals a long-term commitment by state leaders to significantly change how Wisconsin approaches drinking water protection and farmer support,” the groups said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature and administration on this critically important issue.” 

The new programs and position were among pieces of a comprehensive budget blueprint proposed a year ago by the groups, which formed a working partnership to be a catalyst for bold policies and investments that provide for clean water and resilient farms in Wisconsin. 

Comments about Act 223 from the organizations:

“While modest in scale and scope, Act 223 will help communities, researchers and farmers work together to combat widespread nitrate pollution problems. We look forward to working with decision-makers to implement the cover crop and nitrate pollution reduction programs in the bill and to advancing additional, bolder actions to combat Wisconsin’s most widespread groundwater pollution problem. Act 223 is one step down a long path toward delivering on Wisconsin’s clean drinking water promise.”

— Scott Laeser, water program director for Clean Wisconsin

“Our farmers understand the leadership role they can, and do, play in shaping solutions to Wisconsin’s complex water quality challenges. Farmer-led conservation programs and projects are growing in number and ingenuity around the state with the help of our environmental partners and other collaborators. This legislation will accelerate that activity. We also realize this is a piece to a much larger puzzle the state must invest in to achieve long-term success — clean drinking water and economically sustainable farms.”

— Amy Penterman, president of the Dairy Business Association

“Congratulations to the governor and Legislature for their bipartisan work on this nitrate legislation. This clearly shows the importance of agricultural and conservation communities working together for healthier soils, cleaner drinking water, and tackling climate change with powerful natural solutions like planting cover crops. We are pleased that, even in today’s trying political climate, Wisconsin’s leaders are willing and able to work across party lines for science-based solutions to environmental challenges.” 

     — Elizabeth Koehler, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin

“Not only does this legislation deliver important resources toward clean water and resilient farms in Wisconsin, but it also proves they are bipartisan issues. Let’s use it as a roadmap for doing more good and necessary legislation to make Wisconsin a great place to live, and to farm.”

— Matt Krueger, executive director of WI Land+Water


  • Nitrogen optimization pilot program at the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection through which grants of up to $50,000 will be awarded to farmers to implement strategies that optimize the application of commercial nitrogen. Farmers must collaborate with a University of Wisconsin System institution, such as the Division of Extension. 
  • Crop insurance premium rebate of $5 per acre to farmers who plant cover crops. The program will be funded with $400,000 per year starting in the second year of the biennium.
  • Full-time hydrogeologist position at the Geological and Natural History Survey at the UW-Madison Division of Extension. The position will develop groundwater resource information at the county and local levels, and work to assist local governments, industries and the public to interpret and use the information.

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