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Award recognizes farm families that stay strong in the area

Submitted photo The Mertens Family Dairy Farm of rural Staples, honored by the University of Minnesota in its list of 2012 Farm Families of the Year, has four generations active in farming. Back row, from left: Lois Mertens, Creig Mertens, Roxy Mertens and Nicholas Mertens. Back row: Landon Mertens and Axel Mertens.

The Wadena and Todd County Farm Families of the Year were named by the University of Minnesota July 17.

The Mertens extended family of rural Staples was chosen for Wadena County. Their dairy farm has been in the family since 1950, and four generations are active in the agricultural life.

The Lunemann Family of rural Eagle Bend was chosen for Todd County for Twin Eagle Dairy, which has been in the family since the 1930s.

Penny Nelsen, University of Minnesota Extension chair for Wadena County, said the U of M tries to find families who have a vested interest in farming and who are committed to that lifestyle.

"It is a huge commitment," she said.

Nelsen met the Mertens family and said they fit the criteria for the award, which recognizes farming commitment and success.

The Mertens Family Dairy Farm is north of the Staples Airport and Central Lakes College - West Campus. The "home farm" is 160 acres, and the family also operates an additional 80 acres called the "west farm."

Ione Mertens said she is honored to receive the award, and her farm family has followed a 30-year cycle.

Her father-in-law and mother-in-law, Ray and Louis Mertens, purchased their farm in 1950.

In 1980, Ione and her husband, Creig Mertens, took over the family farm after living in Moorhead.

Another 30 years later, their son and daughter-in-law, Nicholas and Darcy Mertens, moved out to the farm and took it over.

Nicholas and Darcy have three children living with them on the beef and dairy farm.

"Nicholas has a very good rolling herd average. He is in the Minnesota National Holstein Association," she said. "He is a very successful young man. He is a very overworked young man, as all farmers are."

Nicholas also grows corn and his own feed.

Creig and Ione live two miles away from the farm now, but they - along with other members of the extended family - are active in helping out with the cattle operation.

Nicholas's brothers, Luke and Ben, are two of the helpers.

"Luke's wife Molly was born and raised on a farm also," Ione said. "She's very, very comfortable driving tractor."

Ione said farming is a challenging lifestyle, and they have to deal with issues such as fluctuating prices and the current drought, which is devastating states more toward the south.

Ione said Nicholas describes the Mertens Family Farm as a tradition of commitment to God and family. They all attend Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Staples.

A family effort is also part of what has made Twin Eagle Dairy successful, owner Patrick Lunemann said.

He said throughout the years, everyone in the family has helped.

"They all have put in many hours growing up," he said.

The Lunemanns have six children, some adults now and some still in school.

The two youngest help with some field work and calves.

"We have robotic calf feeders, but there's still work to do," Lunemann said. "You have to be technology-savvy to understand the system."

Lunemann is a third generation farmer. His father, two brothers and grandparents arrived from Germany in 1926 and started at the current farm in the early 1930s.

His wife's family and mother's family also have a history of farming.

Now, Twin Eagle Dairy has just more than 600 dairy cows and close to 1,000 acres.

Lunemann said his family is glad to receive the award, since he knows other people who have been chosen for Farm Family of the Year and it is an honor to be in the same company as them.

Farm Families of the Year from 76 participating counties were invited to participate in an honorary ceremony Aug. 9 at the annual Farmfest, near Redwood Falls, Minn.