ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Merlyn Entz isn’t one to look at the negative aspects of farming, such as high fuel costs, low commodity prices and finicky weather conditions.
Instead, Entz prefers to look on the bright side of his chosen profession-enjoying life rather than dwelling on possible pitfalls.
“I had a guy tell me most people only enjoy 45 percent of their work, but I think farmers enjoy much more than that,” Entz said. “Most days I feel fortunate to be farming, because it’s a lot of fun and I enjoy my job more than most people I know.”
Because of his youthful exuberance and dedication to implementing effective conservation practices, Entz has been named the recipient of the 2005 Young Conservation Farmers Award by the Marion County Conservation District and sponsored by United Missouri Bankshare of Abilene.
In a day when the average age of a Kansas farmer is approaching 63 years, 37-year-old Entz is a rising star in the farming world.
Growing up on the family farm south of Peabody, Entz realized at an early age the importance of sound conservation practices.
“One reason I’ve been actively practicing conservation is because we farm fields that have been farmed for 50 to 100 years, and I can really tell where conservation practices have been in place,” Entz said. “I can tell whether those practices were begun in the ’30s, ’50s or if they were just recently completed.
“You really notice the difference in the yields.”
Entz said fields that have only recently received conservation attention are poor on topsoil and rich on ditches.
“Every farmer should go on a tour of areas that are no longer being farmed because of a lack of practices,” Entz said. “There are some appalling cases out there.
“It’s really very easy to tell which farmers have taken care of their land and those who didn’t.”
Entz has every intention to keep preserving the land he’s been entrusted with.
Toward that end, Entz has turned to using more site-specific conservation methods.
“We’re actually marking off the spots that weren’t managed effectively in the earlier years and trying to determine how we’ll address those problems,” Entz said.
How and why Entz became a conservation proponent is as clear as he hopes the water will be for future generations.
“Originally, I notice problem areas and I could really see which hadn’t been terraced because of erosion,” he said. “I can also relate to the long-term question of what’s happening to land if you don’t have terraces.”
Entz said the local conservation district has been vital in his campaign to preserve the soil.
“There have been some great cost share and technical assistance programs through the USDA that have made it a much easier decision for the owners as to whether or not they should implement conservation practices,” Entz said.
“I really feel I’m received more favorably by potential landlords because of my willingness to apply those conservation procedures.
“As a tenant, you don’t get paid for that work, but you receive a long-term benefit and not a short-term benefit,” he added. “But you both benefit because the stabilization of that soil pays off in yields down the road.”
Entz is being recognized for completing 2.1 acres of waterways and 10,260 feet of terraces on land he owns.
“I do my own terrace maintenance and I’ve built some terraces, but I’ve done an awful lot of maintenance on terraces that were built in the ’50s,” he said. “The main long-term benefit of terracing is that you keep the soil where it’s at.”
To accomplish his conservation goals, Entz uses a dozer blade, dirt mover, dirt scraper and a plow. But perhaps his most important conservation tool, according to Entz, is his Yamaha 225 motorcycle.
“I’m able to identify what is working and what isn’t working because I’m able to get to the middle of the fields and even down row crops,” Entz said. “I can make sure all terraces are draining, there’s no flat spots and no terraces are holding water when it rains.
“I carry flags, and if I identify any problems, I’m able to mark them and come back when I have the proper equipment and make the necessary repairs,” he added. “Agronomically speaking, I’m looking for pests and insects and I can do it all at the same time.”
Entz hopes to use the latest technology available-global positioning satellites-to achieve his desired objectives, both in crop production and in identifying conservation needs.
“My big thing is to reduce chemical dependence and reduce spraying ,so one thing I do quite often is to spot-spray in my fields,” he said. “I’d guess I’m using at least less than one half as much of the herbicides as most farmers in the county.
“That’s also important with water quality in the area-and that’s both with pesticides and chemicals.”
Entz hopes the GPS system will also allow him to identify troubled conservation spots that need attention.
Other conservation practices Entz uses include the Conservation Reserve Program, which reverts marginal farming ground to native grass.
“I have land in three different CRP signups and a little over half of my ground is in the Conservation Security Program,” Entz said. “This basically means they’re very satisfied with where we’re at with the implementation of all of their recommendations.”
Entz is also experimenting with intensive crop rotations in an effort to determine which combination works best.
“I feel I’m in that camp that wants to try some different things,” he said. “I want to know what works and what doesn’t.”
Looking ahead, Entz said he hopes his actions today pay benefits tomorrow.
“I assume in the next 30 years, we’ll lose very little top soil compared with what was lost in the past 50 years,” he said. “Ten years of poor practices will affect many more years in the future.”
Entz, in his continuing effort to shape his own future, will be married to Melissa Waltner March 4.
Entz said this award came as a complete surprise.
“I guess I was curious I won because I don’t really notice what I’m doing right,” he said. “I’m not doing anything that much different than the past generations of farmers in my family. I’m just trying to improve upon them.”