Mergen Acres: HASP Return on Investment


Stearns County, Minnesota


2021 - present


Dairy and row crop farmers

Conservation Story

Mergen started planting cover crops on some of his acres about five years ago using financial and technical support from the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program. He decided to participate after hearing about how well cover crops have worked for other farmers. Mergen started small and has been expanding, with cover crops now planted on about two-thirds of his acres.

In spring 2022 he used a strip-till system, allowing him to target the planting zone while not disturbing the rest of the topsoil.

Mergen has found that adopting conservation practices can be profitable and has utilized numerous programs that provide technical and financial support, including a pilot program to measure how much carbon is captured in the soil after implementing soil health practices like cover crops.

Practice Impacts

“Start small and find someone to talk to. If it’s not the NRCS or the Soil and Water Conservation District, there’s someone in your area that’s probably doing it. Start small for a couple years and work into it,” said Mergen.

Conservation practices

Cover crops

Strip-till system

photo of a male farmer standing in a green field with a blue sky in the background

I’m trying to be all about profitability and conservation, and luckily, the two work hand in hand if everything goes together.

soybean plants in a field surrounded by old cover crops

Moving into the Future

Mergen mostly plants a cereal rye cover crop, but he hopes to experiment and try new cover crops in the future. With the new strip-till system, Mergen can till the strips in one pass, reducing how much labor is required to prepare the soil for planting.

Main Takeaways

  • Mergen successfully plants corn and soybean into the cover crop rotation and then terminates the cover crop with a chemical application.
  • Mergen is an early adopter of strip tilling in the region. With heavy rains this spring, the strips in one of Mergen’s fields washed out. But he found success in strip-tilling his other fields and is hopeful the practice will reduce erosion and improve soil health over time.

Farm Description

Ben Mergen is a dairy farmer who milks 50 Holsteins and farms about 500 acres.

What's New on the Farm?

Featured in the 2021 report, Ben Mergen continues to experience success with strip tilling at his farm. At the end of the 2023 growing season, he will test strip tilling in the fall rather than spring. He planted winter camelina, winter rye, and field peas in his fields during winter 2023. The following cold and wet spring presented challenges for growing these crops, but Mergen still plans to incorporate them into his rotation for the next growing season by experimenting with earlier planting.

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