Minnesota Agri-Growth brings everyone into same room

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

For first-time attendee Greg Schwarz, the most striking thing about the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council annual meeting was seeing the full spectrum of agriculture represented in one room.

Schwarz, a corn, soybeans and turkey producer in Le Sueur, Minnesota and president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association noted that there were independent farmers, commodity groups, University academics, government officials, representatives of the major input suppliers farmers like Syngenta and Monsanto, and the giants of value-added agriculture and food processing including Cargill and Hormel–all gathered to listen to a distinguished line-up of guest speakers and panelists. And to listen to each other.

Other MCGA and MCR&PC grower leaders in attendance included Jerry Larson, David Ward, John Mages, Dale Tolifson; as well as corn organization staff members Riley Maanum (research and project manager), Elizabeth Tanner (director of advocacy and strategic partnerships), Mark Hamerlinck (communications director) and Executive Director Tim Gerlach, who serves on the MAGC board of directors.

The Minnesota Agri-Growth Council describes itself as an organization that “represents members from all areas of Minnesota’s food and agriculture sectors, working together as one to promote the good of all directly and indirectly involved in Minnesota’s agriculture business. Since its founding in 1968, our non-profit non-partisan organization has sought to define common goals among the agribusiness industry and organizations, family farmers, and the service sectors that support them.”

Schwarz, who has been involved in ethanol production through a leadership role at Heartland Corn Products for nearly two decades, welcomed the opportunity to discuss how important farmer-owned energy is to producers like himself, and the ability to carry that message to groups who have made no secret of their opposition to various aspects of Minnesota and US ethanol programs.

“We’re hopeful that we can find common ground and everyone can benefit from open discussions like this,” said Schwarz.

Tuesday’s elections, with its sweeping changes and numerous surprises, provided a central topic of conversation at the daylong gathering on Thursday. Senator Amy Klobuchar brought the room to its feet by expressing thoughts current with many of these food and agricultural leaders.

“She told us that what is going to be important is not standing at the podium pounding, but standing together with people from the other party when it really counts, and doing what’s right for everyone,” Schwarz recalled from the Senator’s speech.

It may surprise some that MAGC is not an organization that ducks challenges and tough issues. Featured speaker Scott Kilman is a reporter for Wall Street Journal. He has written a book called “Enough – Why the World’s Poorest Starve in a World of Plenty.”

The research for Kilman’s book included extensive visits with Normal Borlaug, the Nobel Laureate whose work with wheat hybrids in the 1970s saved millions of people from starvation, and Howard Buffett, son of Billionaire Warren Buffett, who is spearheading efforts to advance agriculture and food self-sufficiency in Africa.

“We have to deal with the fact that we can make more than enough food here in America, but there is a large segment of the world’s population that can’t afford our product, so the question remains, what can be done?” said Schwarz. The overall impression created by Kilman is that there is no magic bullet. Biotechnology can help, but trying to export US Midwestern farming techniques to Africa, Latin America and South Asia is a non-starter because they face different conditions that favor different crops. Many believe that what’s required is vast research into creating agricultural systems that work specifically for the various regions of the developing world. 

Recognition is another goal of the MACG annual gathering, and Schwarz was happy to see Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson receive a distinguished service award.

“It’s a well deserved award,” said Schwarz. “Hugoson has been a great leader for Minnesota agriculture over the years, providing a positive direction during three governor administrations. He is the longest serving agriculture commissioner Minnesota has seen. He has done a lot of good things and he continues to contribute to a strong agricultural business sector in Minnesota.”

For a full recap of Minnesota Agri-Growth Council’s 2010 Annual Meeting, including video and audio segments, go to
http://www.agrigrowth.org/Annual_meeting.html

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