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Minnesota farmers balance environment and budgets

Wisconsin State Farmer
Scott Haase, a farmer in Blue Earth, Minn., looks out at a field where he planted cover crops between rows of corn on July 5, 2017.  Miles from the farmers markets, craft breweries and farm-to-table restaurants of the Twin Cities, more traditional farmers are thriving in the Midwest. Corn and soybean farmers face heightened expectations for environmental stewardship and want to build healthy soils that can withstand heat, drought and heavy rain.

ST. PAUL, MN - Farmers in Minnesota are working to balance heightened expectations for environmental stewardship and the day-to-day challenges of operating a farm.

Three-quarters of the state's cropland grows corn and soybeans, Minnesota Public Radio reported. Those crops come with greenhouse gas emissions, water quality degradation and soil erosion.

Farmers want to build healthy soils that can withstand heat, drought and heavy rain but struggle to justify the extra cost.

Owner Tracy Singleton sits next to a Kernza Carmelita bar at the Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis on July 21, 2017. Singleton makes sure her chefs source most of the cafe's ingredients from local farms. She sees Kernza, a perennial wheat grass, as an alternative to row crops that rely heavily on fertilizers and pesticides.

Scott Haase, who farms in Blue Earth, planted cover crops this year that cost an extra $30 an acre. He said his field is looking healthier than a neighbor's field, but it's unclear how that will benefit the farm financially.

"I'm pretty confident that after this year, the nutrient density of the crop is going to be higher," Haase said. Healthier soil will store more carbon, retain more water, require less commercial fertilizer and reduce pollution runoff, he said.

Scott's father Ken Haase said it's difficult to make changes after spending more than four decades farming.

"You've still got to make a living out here," Ken Hasse said. "Sure, it'd be great to grow a bunch of small grains and different things, but if you've got to pay a big rent bill or you have some big land costs, you don't have a lot of choices."