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.

Because of their good stewardship decisions, the Wentworth farming operation 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 more than 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.

Steve Wentworth Sr. and his son, Steve Wentworth Jr., have a lengthy history on their farm. The family said protecting natural resources is important to them, 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.

Located a few miles northeast of Merrifield, the Wentworth farm is adjoined by Bass Lake on the west and by Fawn Lake just to the east, a lake members of the family enjoy. Wentworth Sr. grew up on a farm in Iowa and then began working this farm near Merrifield in 1973, when he was also an instructor at Brainerd Community College.

Wentworth Jr. grew up on this family farm from 1973-82. Now, while continuing his many years of work with Weyerhaeuser (a Seattle-based forest products company), Wentworth Jr. joined his dad for the last four years in caring for the Wentworth farm.

“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," Wentworth Jr. said in a news release. "Both Dad and I have engineering and technical backgrounds. Farming and the science behind it align well with our interests.”

Wentworth Jr. and his father occasionally join family relaxing on the lake just to the east of their farm.

“We look forward to enjoying more time on Fawn Lake, so it’s important to do our part to take care of it," he said. "My sister, Rene, and brother-in-law, Judd, own lakeshore 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. Wentworth Jr. is learning about the many benefits of cover crops, and he is working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to establish cover crops after the row crop harvest. 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.

“Reduced-till/no-till and use of cover crops make good business sense," Wentworth Jr. said. "We are preserving nutrients and keeping our soil in place. We’re all in on this revolutionary process going forward. 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.

“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," Wentworth Jr. said.

  • 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. Wentworth 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.

“I started partnering with Dad in farming about four 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," Wentworth Jr. said.

They also will rely on partners in this effort, as they participate in the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and receive assistance provided by both the NRCS staff and the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District.

Farm operators and owners throughout Minnesota are eligible to be involved in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program.

“This program is an 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," Jim Lahn, the program’s area certification specialist who works with the program in 11 counties in north central Minnesota, said in the news release.

Producers interested in learning more can contact their local soil and water conservation district office or Lahn at 218-457-0250.