Dennis Muellner has farmed his whole life so far; he grew up on a farm and worked for his grandparents’ and their neighbor’s farms. He has farmed for himself since the fall of 1983, growing crops on his land near Sauk Centre.

One of Muellner’s fields is located near the Sauk Centre Municipal Airport, and it has an interesting twist to it: Not only is the field land he is renting from the city, but it is also land where the Sauk Centre Public Utilities Commission applies sludge from the local wastewater treatment plant. However, this is a better deal than it sounds at face value.

“It does have a pretty good push of nitrogen,” Muellner said. “It’s up and down like any fertilizer; some years, it’s better than others. It sustains the crop pretty well, and I don’t have to add much commercial (fertilizer) ever.”

Custom applicators put the sludge directly into the ground, and application is normally done in the spring and fall; in the over 30 years Muellner has farmed the land, there have been only two or three instances where the applicator has needed to drive over crops. Muellner uses the land to raise oats, rye and hay, sometimes rotating in soybeans so he can control the weeds better. These crops can take up a lot of the soil’s organic content, so Muellner usually adds potash and other soil supplements.

For Muellner, it is a good thing to have land which already gets most of its fertilizer automatically. He has been watching fertilizer costs rise, and he predicts they will likely remain high next year.

“We covered a few more acres with our pit manure this fall than we normally would’ve, went to a lighter application on more acres, hoping to save some commercial fertilizer that way,” Muellner said. “Otherwise, my planting schedule and rotation is going to stay the same.”

With farmland both north and south of Sauk Centre, Muellner has all kinds of soil to manage, from sand and gravel to clay and muck. He also grows corn and alfalfa with the rest of his crops. Like many other area farmers, Muellner has had to contend with the difficult summer.

“Everybody struggles the same on a drought,” Muellner said. “Guys with irrigation, it all sounds great, but you ask any of them, it isn’t cheap. They still hold their yields, but they still pour a lot of expense into their irrigation.”

Muellner harvested from late September through mid-November; while his corn did well, some of his other crops suffered due to the drought and late-summer storms.

“The oats at the airport, we lost that. There wasn’t even anything to cut and bale; it was a complete loss,” Muellner said. “The beans did alright, but they got hail, so I’m surprised I got anything. We averaged eight or nine bushels an acre of rye at the airport. I feel like I did alright.”

Even though commodity prices are up, Muellner’s biggest farming challenge he has had this year has been how much prices have gone up on everything else as well.

“You can’t find labor, and new equipment’s ridiculously priced, plus you wait for it,” Muellner said. “We’ve been waiting for a barn cleaner chain for over six months already; the life of a barn cleaner chain is 10 years, and I’ve had (the old chain) in for over 15-16 years, so it’s really tired and it tears off every so often.”