By: Brandelyn Twellman
Having spent many years working as both a full-time engineer and a row-crop farmer, Denny Mertz, of Chesterfield, truly knows what it means to burn the midnight oil.
“I do everything myself,” Mertz said. “I don’t have any help on my farm, so there were many years I farmed solely in the evenings because of my engineering job.”
A deeply rooted passion for agriculture, instilled by an important role model in his life, fueled Mertz’s dedication to these long hours on the farm.
“I kind of learned the farmer traits from my grandfather,” Mertz said. “I would go over and help him on the farm all the time after school and during the summers growing up.”
Mertz learned about more than the row crops he farms today during this time.
“During the mid-1950s, most farms had a handful of pigs and chickens and cows,” he said. “You had fruit trees and strawberries, and you planted potatoes and sweet corn. My grandfather also had a farmer’s truck route in Clayton and Ladue where he would take his produce and his eggs. I would help him with that.”
Those experiences, along with the half-acre plot his grandfather let him call his own, fuel Mertz’s passion for the industry.
After high school, he attended the University of Missouri – Rolla and obtained both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering. Mertz worked full time as anengineering supervisor for Alco Controls – Division of Emerson Electric for 26 years and was awarded 5 patents, while farming part time on the side. In 2003, he decided to leave his engineering career to pursue his true passion: his farm. Today, he owns and operates Mertz Farms in Elsberry.
“My operation is basically a first- generation farm because my father didn’t farm, and I acquired all my own land and everything else from scratch,” Mertz said. “I farm in Elsberry, which is about an hour drive from where I live in Chesterfield, so I commute to my farm.”
When Mertz decided to pursue farming full time, he also began working for another farmer in Chesterfield.
“At the time I quit my engineering career, Warren Stemme and I were serving on the St. Louis County Farm Bureau board together,” Mertz said. “At that same time, Warren was hunting for some help on his farm. He knew I had experience and would have some time, so he asked if I would consider helping him.”
Mertz worked for Stemme until 2018 when Stemme’s son was able to come back to the farm. It was during this period Mertz discovered his passion for both advocacy and outreach.
“During those 15 years Warren and I worked together on his farm, we established a really good partnership working on outreach for urban audiences in the St. Louis area,” he said. “We became a really good team working on advocacy for agriculture in St. Louis.”
Mertz’s advocacy and outreach pair well with his heavy involvement in the agricultural industry.
Participation in the Agricultural Leadership of Tomorrow (ALOT) program encouraged Mertz to pursue his passion for farming full time and share his story with others. Today, he serves on the ALOT Board of Directors as the past president. He is involved with the St. Louis AgriBusiness Club. Mertz is also an active member of Missouri Farm Bureau, previously serving on the state board and currently acting as the St. Louis County Farm Bureau board president.
Mertz is no stranger to the soybean family. He was named the 2006 American Soybean Association DuPont Young Leader for Missouri and serves on the board of directors for Paseo Biofuels, LLC. Most recently, he was elected to represent District 6 growers on the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council Board.
His tie to urban communities drives his industry involvement.
“I think being from an urban area and also in the ag industry, I see the importance of communicating about agriculture,” Mertz said. “Farmers,
in general, in times past have been happy to just stay on the farm and produce crops. But, the ever-increasing influence from the outside world on how farmers should farm made me see the importance and need to become involved, as I was able, and to speak up.”
It is important to show up in those conversations, he added.
“If you aren’t at the table, you’re going to be on the menu,” Mertz said. “So, it’s important to show up at meetings, to participate, to listen and to provide input.”
Mertz is looking forward to showing up in the soybean industry through his role on the MSMC board.
“I see this role as an opportunity to learn more about where the checkoff funds are being directed in order to help provide, for the Missouri soybean farmers, an opportunity to invest in items that would bring returns to our checkoff money,” he said. “I enjoy getting in the details of things and researching them, so I look forward to working with the other members of the board to make the best decisions to benefit the soybean growers of Missouri.”
He believes his engineering background will help him analyze issues and ask the right questions while serving on the board. While Mertz is excited to dive into the soybean industry as a whole, there are several topics he is most looking forward to.
“I’m really interested in the breeding program,” he said. “There are so
many things happening in genetics and breeding right now, which are absolutely amazing. I also think it’s important to work on products for
new uses of soybeans to produce new markets. We’ve seen things like biofuels, insulation, construction materials and more designed from soybeans. I think we’ll always need to pursue those new end-use products our soybeans are able to go into.”
Market development, as seen in the livestock and aquaculture industries, is also an important focus, he added. Mertz feels that being involved in the soybean industry during this time is a privilege.
“I feel honored to have the opportunity to serve Missouri soybean farmers in this role,” he said. “I will do my best to find as many opportunities as I can to promote markets and uses for soybeans grown in our state.”
Photo courtesy of Valerie Mertz. Find the entire June issue of Missouri Soybean Farmer here.