Mill Creek Dairy Farm: HASP Return on Investment
RegionStearns County, Minn.
Timeline2019 - present
AudienceDairy and row crop farmers
Gregory has been intrigued by wildlife ever since he was a kid exploring the creek that ran around his family’s farm. Since he started farming, he has been motivated to use conservation practices to bring biodiversity back to the land. He also knows that traditional farming practices get nitrates into the water and he aims to adopt practices that improve nutrient application and water quality. He first experimented with cover crops in 2012 at the encouragement of his son. His continued commitment to conservation practices will leave the land more productive and naturally abundant for his children and grandchildren.
- Stacking slab: Gregory built a stacking slab to prevent leeching from manure into the groundwater. The stacking slab has capacity for more manure than he needs on his farm so he can supply manure to other farmers in the area.
- Minimal till: Gregory aims to reduce tillage as much as possible, using just one pass with a chisel plow and digger. The ground is somewhat rough, but still has the necessary soil-seed contact.
- Manure application and management: Using manure as fertilizer has improved soil health and allowed Gregory to reduce the use of herbicide and insecticide. He also notices that his soils don’t dry out as quickly and crops are less affected during a dry period.
- Cover crops: Gregory uses cover crops to hold the soil in place through the winter and grow feed for the cattle in the spring. He grows oats or winter rye and plants corn directly into the cover crop after harvesting.
- Filter strips, grassed waterways, and sediment control basins decreased the annual soil erosion by 0.16 tons per acres and increased the soil carbon score by 0.04 based on modeling assessments. “We are probably spending close to the same amount of money [as before adopting conservation practices] but we are getting more bang for our buck. We are getting nutrients [from manure] that you can’t get with commercial fertilizer.”
Tom Gregory milks 600 cows and farms 450 acres growing corn, alfalfa, and cover crops. He owns and rents the land which is spread over three farms.
Stacking slab: Gregory built a stacking slab to prevent leeching from manure into the groundwater. The stacking slab has capacity for more manure than he needs on his farm so he can supply manure to other farmers in the area.
Minimal till: Gregory aims to reduce tillage as much as possible, using just one pass with a chisel plow and digger. The ground is somewhat rough, but still has the necessary soil-seed contact.
Manure Application and Management: Using manure as fertilizer has improved soil health and allowed Gregory to reduce the use of herbicide and insecticide. He also notices that his soils don’t dry out as quickly and crops are less affected during a dry period.
Moving into the Future
Gregory plans to continue using conservation practices and improving the soil health on his farm. He also predicts that precision planting that improves the accuracy of the guides we use for seeding and nutrient or pesticide application will help reduce waste and add efficiencies in the coming years.
- Gregory estimates that he spends about the same amount of money each season but gets more benefits using manure rather than conventional fertilizers.
- He recommends farmers new to conservation take a chance with 10 acres and talk to neighbors who are already testing these practices out.
What's New on the Farm?
Tom Gregory continues using rye as a cover crop – seeding 150 acres in 2022. Beginning in 2020, he hired a planter. They have expanded the no till work, which has been helped by having precise data on the corn fields. Planting rates based on precision data allows Gregory to make in-cab adjustments when putting in seed. He plans to soon install irrigation sensors and more efficient three-phase fans and lights to reduce electricity use in the milking shed.
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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