written by Jonathan Eisenthal
The Mehrkens family, who farm just outside Thief River Falls, were honored for their conservation work by the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) in late December.
As part of recognizing their commitment to conservation, Goldy Gopher took Kaleb Mehrkens, 9, on a Zamboni ride around the rink at Mariucci Arena during the December 30 men’s hockey game. Kaleb is the family’s resident hockey fanatic – even his figure-skating older sisters, Maryssa, 15, and Kaylin, 13, and his sister Kendra, 11, whose interests lie in volleyball—all admit that Minnesota is the State of Hockey.
The University and MCGA are honoring four families this hockey season, spotlighting the importance of using best management practices that help preserve Minnesota’s rich natural resources.
Kyle and Misty Mehrkens have been married 18 years and during that time have continually worked to improve their stewardship and conservation practices, which, as Kyle points out, is an approach typical of many farmers.
“Each growing season is a chance to do your best, to improve on what you’ve done,” says Kyle.
Taking care of the soil is at the top of the list. The Mehrkens do this by reducing tillage to the minimum necessary, and leaving residue on the fields that can hold onto the soil over the winter.
“For nutrients, when we do put fall nitrogen down, we’ll use a nitrogen inhibitor like N-serve if we run into wet conditions in the spring, to make sure we don’t lose the nitrogen into the water. We have tile on some of our ground, to help reduce runoff and to make the ground more productive. We put our first tile in about three years ago. We definitely can see benefit from that, but we are mindful of nutrient runoff. You have to know your soil types and what the nutrient-holding capacity is, in each field, which is why we will use nitrogen inhibitors in some fields.”
They have moved to variable rate fertilizing, to assure that they maximize its usefulness and prevent losses into the environment.
“Variable rate fertilizing is not a one-size fits all,” says Kyle. “You tailor it to certain fields. We manage each acre, the best we can, not just for profitability, but also for sustainability. We want what’s best for the environment, just like everyone else.”
Henry Mehrkens, Kyle’s great-grandfather, moved from North Dakota to the current family farm in 1924. Kyle’s grandfather and his parents both lived and worked on the farm as well and, now, Kyle is the fourth generation to farm this land.
Growing up on the farm has been a special experience for the Mehrkens family. All of the kids have, at one time or another expressed some interest in farming. The future will tell. Stewardship, says Mehrkens, is essential to the farm’s success today, and will continue to be when the fifth generation takes it on in the years to come.