Mergen Acres: HASP Return on Investment
RegionStearns County, Minnesota
Timeline2021 - present
AudienceDairy and row crop farmers
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.
“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.
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.
- 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.
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.
A recent return-on-investment study of dairy operations in central Minnesota found that profitability and environmental stewardship are complimentary. The study analyzed 10 farms and found that on average the farms demonstrated improved environmental and financial outcomes compared to benchmarks.
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