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Field Notes

Now Open for Enrollment: EECO Pilot Program

Forever Green EECO Implementation Program open for eligible MN grower enrollment

For the most up-to-date version of EECO enrollment (6/2023) find the flier here or enroll here.



Eligible Minnesota growers can now enroll in the Forever Green EECO Implementation Program. This pilot program supports the early commercial success and environmental benefits of the continuous living cover crops and cropping systems being developed by the University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative, starting with Kernza® perennial grain.

The program is funded by the State of Minnesota’s Clean Water Fund (CWF), was developed in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), and will be implemented by UMN Forever Green staff along with the support of key institutional and local partners across the State.

The program prioritizes three multi-County regions in Southeast, Southwest, and Central MN that have been dubbed Economic and Environmental Clusters of Opportunity, or EECOs. This regional strategy will:

  • Site early commercial Kernza® production in areas with vulnerable groundwater, thereby maximizing water quality benefits of Kernza®
  • Achieve economic efficiencies in production, logistics, etc. that will support commercial success
  • Encourage development of related supply chains and markets in these areas
  • Foster community stewardship and leadership around these Forever Green crops
  • Drive the economic, environmental, and social benefits of these new crops to rural Minnesota communities
EECO regions (green) and current licensed MN Kernza® acres (red)


Licensed Kernza® growers in priority EECO regions. Counties in these EECO regions are shown in the map and listed below:

  • Southeast EECO: Dakota, Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona, Houston, Fillmore, Olmsted, Mower, Freeborn, Waseca, Steele, Dodge, Rice, Le Seur, and Nicollet Counties
  • Southwest EECO: Nobles, Murray, Lyon, Rock, Pipestone, Lincoln, Yellow Medicine, Lac qui Parle, and Big Stone Counties
  • Central EECO: Stearns, Todd, Wadena, Hubbard, Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Benton, Sherburne, Mille Lacs, and Isanti Counties

Growers that are eligible to enroll acres planted with MN-Clearwater variety Kernza® in 2018 or after, and can be enrolled for the first three years of the stand’s life. The first payments will be made in Spring, 2021. Payments cannot be made retroactively for previous years.



Enrolled growers are eligible for a two-part payment program that includes:

  • Environmental Benefit payments: $25-50 per acre to support the water quality and other ecosystem service benefits of Kernza®. Payment level will be set based on modeled nitrate leaching scenarios developed in the publicly-available Nutrient Tracking Tool (NTT). Environmental benefit payments will be made in the Spring so long as the planting was established and active in the preceding Fall, and will be made regardless of market performance. Drinking Water Supply Management Areas (DWSMAs) are a top priority, and acres enrolled in DWSMAs will receive a 25% premium on their environmental benefit payments.
  • Safety net payments: Growers will be eligible to receive up to $175 per acre, or roughly half the average cost of production, to cover economic losses resulting from Kernza® production or marketing challenges. Production costs will be estimated at the County-level using average County-specific land rental rates and a standard enterprise budget. Growers that see gross revenues higher than production costs will not be eligible for a safety net payment. Growers can think of this similar to a partial crop insurance program that covers total losses up to 50% of the cost of production. Safety net payments can be claimed up to one year following a harvest to allow time to market the crop.

So, for example, a field planted in Fall, 2020 is eligible for its first environmental benefit payment in Spring of 2021, its final environmental benefit payment in Spring of 2023 (third year of stand), and its last safety net payment by late summer of 2024 (up to one year after the third year’s harvest).

The pilot program projects covering up 1,000-1,500 acres total over the five-year pilot period, or until resources are depleted.



In addition to financial support, the program expands in-field and remote technical assistance (TA) for licensed Kernza® in EECO regions and more widely as able.

Examples of expanded support include a new part-time Kernza® TA Specialist and grower-to-grower TA provider, grower-led  market research, grain quality testing costs, small-scale shared materials and equipment to preserve grain quality, and regional EECO gatherings.



Eligible growers can enroll simply and smoothly at the following link: Forever Green EECO Implementation Program Enrollment. A printable program flier can be downloaded here.

UMN has worked with The Land Institute to leverage existing information on file with the Kernza® trademark program. All growers need to do is opt in and then work with UMN Forever Green to submit a signed contract and correct financial documents to be able to receive funds from UMN. Simple additional documentation may be required, such as a picture in the Spring to verify the stand is still in place.

Note that EECO Implementation Program enrollment happens after you have become a licensed Kernza® grower. If you are interested in becoming a new grower, please see the Kernza® grower vetting and licensing priorities and follow the instructions for applying to be a Kernza® grower. For a comprehensive overview of the current state of Kernza® in the Upper Midwest, please review material from this recent call series.



UMN Forever Green and pilot implementation program funders are eager for local EECO regions to leverage this policy to advance local efforts, policy innovation, market development, community support, and resource development (i.e. fundraising). UMN also welcomes community input on how you want the work in each EECO to take shape and how local leaders can play a facilitating role. The public sector can share risk and universities can provide support, but the success of new continuous living cover crops will depend on creative and sustained partnership among growers, industry, consumers, and local partners.

If involved partners can demonstrate success in this model, UMN Forever Green is hopeful a strong case can be made to expand and replicate this program model for wider adoption of Kernza® perennial grain and other rapidly advancing continuous living cover crops and cropping systems including winter camelina, pennycress, hybrid hazelnuts, perennial flax, silphium, winter barley, and more. We hope that this model of State investment, University support, local leadership, and risk-sharing can be a model for advancing environmental and economic solutions in Upper Midwestern US agriculture.


Contact Colin Cureton, UMN Forever Green Commercialization Team, at 612-750-4967 or