Farmers tell their story: National Ag Day Rally at Minnesota Capitol rotunda

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Farmers from across Minnesota stood up last Tuesday to tell their story. To celebrate National Ag Week, Minnesota Farm Bureau held a rally at the state capital and invited representatives of farm commodity groups, youth organizations, educational institutions and also lawmakers at work in these chambers whose laws and provisions have such a major impact on the livelihood of farmers.

It was a scene being played out across the nation’s farm states, in which the small minority of agricultural producers (1.5 percent of the total population) stood up to let the public know that farmers are proud of their role as producers of the food, fiber and energy the people of the world depend upon.

“We have a great story to tell,” said Tim Dritz, who farms in Lincoln County and serves as vice president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “We must tell our story whenever and wherever we can.”

One part of the story is corn production in Minnesota. Dritz noted that last year, Minnesota producers brought in 1.24 billion bushels of corn. This compares to a typical harvest of 360 million bushels in the time when his father ran the farm.

“We’ve increased our production nearly four times what it was then, but we’ve only increased our acreage by 23 percent,” said Dritz. He remarked that value-added agricultural enterprises like ethanol production have made a tremendous difference in the ability of farmers to make ends meet. “We need to make sure that an even greater percentage of our farm products have value added to them before they leave our state’s borders.”

Kevin Paap, president of Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation said that one of the main aims of the day—an ongoing mission for every farm organization—is to help the public see the human faces behind the farms that produce their necessities.

Farm Bureau handed out stickers to those at the rally that said “I met a farmer today.” The organization also handed out A Pocket Guide to Food & Farm Facts, which covers the question of why agriculture matters: for one, 98 percent of America’s farms are owned by families, individuals or family corporations—only two percent are owned by non-family corporations. The guide also covers farmer participation in conservation programs. For instance, through the Conservation Reserve Program farmers have planted 4.55 million trees since 1986. Another fact—today’s American farmer produces food and fiber for 155 people. In 1940, farmers produced the necessities for 19 people.

One of the highlights of the event was the recognition of the three people who will receive the Siehl prize for agriculture from the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS). Sander “Sandy” Ludeman, a farmer in Tracy, Minnesota, was recognized for his pioneering work to establish a national soybean checkoff fund.  Don Helgeson received the award to recognize his phenomenal work starting out with a family chicken hatchery and building it into the largest integrated chicken production company in the upper Midwest, Gold N’ Plump Chicken. And Ron Phillips, a Regents professor at the University of Minnesota who was honored for his pioneering work in plant genetics. Philips was the first scientist to generate a living corn plant from cell tissue in a laboratory.

Representatives from six different local FFA chapters as well as state leaders of Minnesota 4H spoke at the rally to share their enthusiasm for agriculture—as a scientifically grounded business, as a field of lifelong learning and endeavor and as a way of life.

There was no shortage of lawmakers in attendance, including farmer lawmakers Senator Steve Dille of Dassel and Paul Torkelson of Nelson Township in Brown County. Rep. Doug Magnus, who represents the southwest corner of the state, invited farmers to actively participate in the legislative process.

Magnus said, “Please join us in meeting the challenges and putting together plans for the future.”

Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar, chairman of the Agriculture and Veterans Affairs Finance Committee said, “We need to tell our story. We farmers aren’t bad environmentalists, we take care of our animals, the farm is our business and it is also where our families live…Ag, Timber and Mining shored up the economy of this state in ways that most people don’t understand…biofuels is a great Minnesota success story which has made our state the envy of every state in the union, and we are not going to back off of biofuels one iota. It is a $7 to $8 billion dollar business in the state of Minnesota.”


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