Reduced Tillage BMP CHALLENGE


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          Find out how you can reduce nutrient and tillage costs - risk free!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)



What is a BMP?


BMP stands for Best Management Practice meaning agricultural practices that are considered to be the most economical for producers.  BMPs are created by universities studying local conditions and the effects of various nutrient or tillage levels on crop yields.  Many nutrient BMPs are assessed by examining the relationship between the nutrient application and yield prices.  Due to the variations in soil types, climatic and environmental ranges, and even crop prices (see Corn for Silage), BMP CHALLENGE asks producers to work with their crop advisors to implement BMPs for their area, from local universities.  

What is the BMP CHALLENGE?

 The BMP CHALLENGE programs work to give farmers an opportunity to test reduced nutrient and tillage rates on their fields, without worrying about loss to their income.  The program uses a side-by-side comparison method of the BMP against the producer’s traditional method.  If the producer’s net income declines the CHALLENGE provides compensation, providing a risk-free opportunity for producers to learn and experiment with new techniques.   

Who is eligible for the BMP CHALLENGE?  


Corn producers producing corn for grain or silage in Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont or Wisconsin can participate in BMP CHALLENGE. Additional states can be added if there is interest.  


Producers must also be NRCS EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) eligible, which includes not exceeding their $450,000 Payment Limitation, not exceeding the Adjusted Gross Income provision, and complying with the Highly Erodible Land (HEL) and Wetlands Conservation provisions.

Does the BMP CHALLENGE cost producers money?


No, the BMP CHALLENGE does not have any fees associated with the program for participation. However, if a producer receives a positive net return at the end of the growing season from the enrolled field, the farmer is asked to contribute 1/3 of the gain (up to $6/acre.) This payment helps ensure that the BMP CHALLENGE will continue to be available to farmers across the corn belt. 

What happens if the BMP yield is less than the conventional yield?

If yield in the BMP field balance is less than the check strip, and the net returns is negative, the BMP CHALLENGE will compensate any loss.  Loss is based off the difference of the BMP and conventional yields, minus any fertilizer or tillage savings. 

What are farmer contributions and how are they calculated?


Farmer contributions are payments by producers who experienced a positive net return on their BMP CHALLENGE field. They are calculated by comparing the BMP and conventional yields, then adding any fertilizer or tillage savings (see below). We ask that producers give back 1/3 of their positive net return, up to $6/acre, to help sustain the project.


Farmer Contribution = ((BMP yield – Conventional yield) x $5.68/bu) + Savings) x 0.33    


When is the deadline to apply for the BMP CHALLENGE?


Applications must be received before the fertilizer application or tillage operations for the current growing season. Please see fall nutrient application question below for more information. Early application to the BMP CHALLENGE is encouraged, as applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis.

Can manure be used with the Nutrient BMP CHALLENGE® program?


Yes, manure may be used with the Nutrient BMP CHALLENGE® program. We ask that farmers have their manure tested, use previous years’ testing data, or use university book rates for the particular manure type. Recommendations for utilizing manure may vary based on your state or location, so please follow the recommendations appropriate for your area. Any additional commercial fertilizer applications should not exceed BMP rates when added with any manure credits. For optimum use of manure nutrients, manure management should be discussed with a crop advisor.

If nutrients were applied in the fall, can the field still be enrolled?


Fields receiving commercial fertilizer applications in the fall are generally not eligible for the BMP CHALLENGE. Exceptions may be made where fall application is considered a Best Management Practice by Extension, and where other conditions are met (ex: when the application is made after soil temperatures are below the recommended temperatures and/or a nitrification inhibitor is used). Please contact us regarding eligibility of fall-fertilized fields.


How can watershed and conservation districts use BMP CHALLENGE?

BMP CHALLENGE can be used to support your conservation work. The farmer income guarantee provided by the BMP CHALLENGE gives you a powerful tool to reach those farmers who have not yet adopted nutrient management or reduced tillage. For more information, please contact our office at (608) 232-1425.

What is the role of the crop advisor?

Crop advisors are key to the BMP CHALLENGE in several ways. First, they can help identify farmers who could benefit by reducing tillage and/or nutrient application rates.  They also act as knowledgeable guides for producers, helping them to understand BMPs and local conservation issues, recommending appropriate nutrient application rates and tillage systems, and helping to ensure that these are implemented properly. Finally, crop advisors provide third-party verification of BMP implementation and yield harvesting, overseeing yield and net income determinations.  

 Are there crop advisors available through the BMP CHALLENGE?


We can help connect you with local crop advisors if needed. Watershed programs,  conservation districts and University/Extension staff may also be able to fill the crop advisor role.

Are there incentives for the crop advisors?


Yes, crop advisors can receive incentives for each producer they work with to implement the BMP CHALLENGE.  Contact us for more information.  


In your brochure it talks about managing both sides exactly the same. If a grower tills his conventional strip and uses burn down in the no-till area, the no-till uses the burn down as a replacement to the conventional area. How precise is the management of the system required to be? 


On the herbicide application, the tillage pass would serve as the weed control prior to planting for the conventional strip as the burn down kills weeds for the reduced tillage area. Therefore, there would be no need for the burn down application in the tilled area. If the farmer is applying a residual with the burn down, I think it would be desirable to apply the residual to both the tilled and reduced tillage area. 


 I also assume that based on this if you use starter on one you use it on both the tilled and no-till.


We would also like the grower to apply starter to both areas if they plan to use some type of starter fertilizer.  


 How and when is the price per bushel or ton set? 


The price per bushel or ton is set based on the USDA for APH crop insurance policies. The price is set after the USDA Risk Management Agency results of the price elections for corn are posted on the RMA website. Current prices are listed below.


Grain ($/bushel) Silage ($/ton)

Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin



Nebraska, Ohio, Missouri



Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Vermont, New York



North Carolina



California and Idaho





 Can a producer do the Nutrient BMP CHALLENGE by changing application levels of more than one of the three main nutrients (N, P & K)?


A producer can only change the application levels of one of the nutrients. Most past participants varied the application of nitrogen while keeping phosphorus and potassium constant. 


 If a grower did variable rate strip till fertilizing, with no other tillage, could the grower participate in the Reduced Tillage BMP CHALLENGE®?


Our criteria for Reduced Tillage is simply greater than 30% surface residue after planting. Strip till, ridge till, no till or any reduced tillage system included in university recommendations for the state will work, as long as it meets the residue requirement. We would also consider other advanced or experimental Reduced Tillage systems that may not be in university recommendations if they meet that residue threshold. 


Does the BMP CHALLENGE allow a farmer to utilize the Nutrient Management from EQIP and also from the BMP CHALLENGE?


Yes, producers can participate in the BMP CHALLENGE and other NRCS incentives. To participate in the BMP CHALLENGE, producers must be EQIP eligible, e.g., not have exceeded their maximum payment limit for EQIP. 


Is the BMP CHALLENGE part of EQIP or something that will be part of an EQIP contract?


Although the BMP CHALLENGE is funded through the Conservation Innovation Grant Program, a part of EQIP, participation by growers is entirely separate from and would not affect their EQIP contract. Growers could have many more acres in their EQIP contract, but sign up for a smaller amount of acres for the BMP CHALLENGE (up to the 100 acre limit).