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L-R: Sheila Boldt (CW SWCD), Steve Wentworth Sr. Steve Wentworth Jr, Jim Lahn (MAWQCP) & Brian Steffen (NRCS) - photo submitted

Merrifield Father – Son Farmers Recognized for Water Quality Efforts

Web posted October 8, 2019
The Wentworth farm is nestled between two lakes near Merrifield, and both father and son want to do their best to protect the water quality of those lakes - and have productive crop fields.

Steve Wentworth, Sr., and his son, Steve Wentworth, Jr., have a lengthy history on their farm. Protecting natural resources is important to this family, including protection of the nearby lakes. Conservation practices enable them to reach this goal, while still maintaining good productivity of the corn and soybeans crops on their land.

Because of their good stewardship decisions, the Wentworth farming operation has earned the status of Minnesota Water Quality Certified Farm and is one of the early Crow Wing County participants in this program. The Wentworth operation joins over 780 farming operations that are Water Quality Certified in Minnesota’s 5-year old program that recognizes farmers’ efforts to protect the state’s water quality.

Located a few miles northeast of the town of Merrifield, the Wentworth farm is adjoined by Bass Lake on the west and by Fawn Lake just to the east, a lake that members of the family enjoy. Steve Wentworth, Sr., grew up on farm in Iowa and then began working this farm near Merrifield in 1973 when he was also an instructor at Brainerd Community College. Steve Wentworth, Jr., grew up on this family farm from 1973 to 1982. Now, while continuing his many years of work with Weyerhaeuser (a Seattle, Washington based Forest Products company), Steve Jr. has joined his Dad for the last 4 years in caring for the Wentworth farm.

Steve Jr. explains, “More than 25 years working with Weyerhaeuser taught me the importance of appreciation for taking care of our natural resources and having positive (rather than negative) impact on our environment.” He adds, “Both Dad and I have engineering and technical backgrounds. Farming and the science behind it align well with our interests.”

Steve and his father occasionally join family relaxing on the lake just to the east of their farm, and Steve Jr. comments that, “We look forward to enjoying more time on Fawn lake, so it’s important to do our part to take care of it. My sister Rene and brother-in-law Judd own lake shore property on the south end of the lake.”

As with all producers whose farming operations achieve the status of ‘Water Quality Certified Farm’, the Wentworths understand that a system of several conservation practices is needed to protect soil and water. This father and son team has implemented the following conservation practices, including those that reduce soil erosion and slow down runoff water on their fields:

Conservation Tillage and No-Till Farming
The Wentworths prepare their corn and soybean fields for planting by using spring conservation tillage techniques. They are also in the process of making a transition to no-till farming and are completing the needed modifications to their planter. These farming methods leave significant levels of crop residue (stalks and stubble) on the soil surface for much of the year, which prevent soil erosion that can be caused by rain or wind. Along with soil erosion being controlled, water runoff rates are greatly reduced and very little soil sediment leaves the farm.

Cover Crops
Steve Jr. is learning about the many benefits of cover crops, and he is working with the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) on establishing cover crops after the row crop harvest. He explains, "Examples of our cover crop species are: Oats, radishes, turnips, rye and clover”. Cover crops provide growing vegetation and roots in the soil for a longer period of the growing season; this reduces soil erosion, slows runoff water, minimizes leaching loss of nutrients in the soil, and increases soil organic matter.

Steve Jr. comments that, “Reduced-till/no-till and use of cover crops make good business sense. We are preserving nutrients and keeping our soil in place. We’re “all in” on this revolutionary process going forward.” He adds, “We want to put more focus on crop rotation (corn, soybeans and looking at other small grains, including cover crops) to improve overall soil health. “

Best Management Practices for Fertilizer Applications
Nutrients needed for crop production are applied on the Wentworth farm in a way that prevents loss of nitrogen and phosphorus to groundwater and to nearby lakes. The Wentworths apply nitrogen using ‘split applications’, which better provides this nutrient when the corn crop needs it and also prevents nitrogen loss. All of their crop nutrients are applied according to University of Minnesota recommendation, and they follow University guidelines for soil sampling. Steve explains, “This is more about making good business sense- only putting fertilizer on when the crop needs and can use it…and only in the quantity needed.”

Controlling runoff water
The Wentworths established grass in a drainageway where concentrated water flow occurs after rain events. This grass prevents gully erosion and slows down runoff water. Steve Jr. has also had initial engineering discussions about their fields regarding runoff and drainage issues as well as opportunities for both farm production and water quality.

The Wentworths’ conservation efforts will continue as they seek better ways to practice good land and water stewardship as well as increase their farm’s productivity. Steve says, “I started partnering with Dad in  farming about 4 years ago. We transitioned to no-till and cover crops this year. We expect there will be challenges the first few years and are committed to making this a success.” They also will rely on partners in this effort, as they participate in the NRCS’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and appreciate the assistance provided by both the NRCS staff and the Crow Wing Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD).

Farm operators and owners throughout Minnesota are eligible to be involved in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program. “This program is excellent way for farmers to tell the story of the good things they are doing to protect water quality, as well as explore use of new Conservation Practices”, said Jim Lahn, the program’s Area Certification Specialist, who works with the program in 11 counties in north central Minnesota. Producers interested in learning more can contact their local Soil & Water Conservation District office or Jim Lahn on his cell phone at (218) 457-0250.

Article and photo submitted

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