For immediate release: Report trends show financial and environmental success for dairy farmers

Three Stearns County dairy farmers enroll in a project to measure the financial cost or benefit of conservation practices

(Stearns County, Minn.) — Three Stearns County dairy farmers have experienced improved environmental impacts and lower financial costs while implementing conservation practices on their farms. Steve Schlangen, Tim Kerfeld, and Tom Gregory grow crops and milk cows on their farms in Central Minnesota and a recent report showcases their data. All three farmers are part of a Return-on-Investment study led by the Headwaters Agriculture Sustainability Partnership to explore the connections between conservation practices and profitability. Each farmer has been analyzing different costs and revenue for their farms with instructors through the Farm Business Management program. They also worked with Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District to track the environmental benefits of the practices they use.

All three farmers are motivated to improve water quality and ensure that their land is healthy when they pass it on to their children. They are all optimistic that conservation practices are a sound approach to maintain their livelihood which is dependent on rich, fertile soils.

“I think conservation is important because we want our land to be here for the next generation,” shares Steve Schlangen. “We raise our family on this farm, and we want to make sure the water is safe to drink and that the water going downstream is as clean as possible. We try to do practices that improve all that.”

Each farmer continues to explore new practices—such as buffer strips, cover crops, and manure stacking slabs—using data in their decision-making about what to try.

“If you’re not changing with the times, you’re sitting still,” says Tim Kerfeld. “And nowadays, you have to keep moving.”

On average, the three farmers in this study had greater environmental and financial performance compared to regional benchmarks. The recently released report analyzed financial and environmental data from the 2019 and 2020 growing seasons. Averaged across crop enterprises, farmers had a 21 percent higher gross return as well as 23 percent higher crop yield, with 12 percent lower production costs. Farmers built soil carbon and had 79 percent less soil erosion compared to regional benchmarks.

The farmers suggest testing new practices on a small piece of land and talking with neighbors already employing these practices to learn more. Finding a trusted specialist or farmer is the best way to learn about new practices and determine what might work for your operation.

“I don’t see different types of conservation practices coming to an end,” says Steve Schlangen. “I think there are always ways that we can improve, and I think that as farmers we need to keep improving, not just to protect the environment but to protect our bottom line and stay in business.”

This project continues this summer and is scalable depending on availability of future funding. The Headwaters Agriculture Sustainability Partnership looks forward to expanding the study to provide clearer data and trends between conservation and whole farm finances.

The Headwaters Agriculture Sustainability Partnership is a cross-sector partnership, where no ideas are far-fetched. The partners are focused on agricultural conservation practices that can improve both a farmer’s profitability and natural resource stewardship. Created in 2018, this partnership is a unique collaboration of public, private, and non-profit partners currently deploying solutions in Central Minnesota to benefit the environment, economic viability of farmers, and vitality of rural communities.

Funding for the Return-on-Investment project comes from Compeer Financial, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Midwest Dairy, Minnesota Department of Agriculture AGRI Grant, Minnesota Department of Agriculture Dairy Business Planning Grant, and McKnight Foundation.