Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

Minnesota Well Represented at Commodity Classic 2013

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Thousands of farmers converged on Kissimmee, Florida (near Orlando) February 28 through March 2, for the unparalleled opportunities to network, to catch up on the latest technologies and tools of the trade and to forge a united political voice–all the benefits of Commodity Classic, one of the nation’s largest agricultural conferences. In addition to the tradeshow, exhibition and learning events, Commodity Classic includes the annual meetings of National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), as well as meetings of the soybean, wheat and sorghum growers organizations.

Minnesota’s Corn Organizations were amply represented by more than two dozen grower leaders and many others along for the learning and enjoyment.

“Commodity Classic brings so many of us farmers together, so we can learn, so we can understand what issues we need to take to the public and the lawmakers and policymakers so that we can keep farming strong, and be the best, most productive farmers we can be,” said Tom Haag, a farmer in Eden Valley, Minnesota, who serves as president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

A key element of the three-day gathering is consensus-building for the direction of the 34,000-plus member NCGA. By gathering with the other farmer groups, the common bond of farmers is strengthened, and a stronger voice for farmers develops.

“Having these discussions in a respectful, public way–that’s a big part of the reason for having our annual meeting and delegate sessions,” said Greg Schwarz, past MCGA president and current chairman of the MCGA government relations committee. Schwarz farms in LeSueur, Minnesota. He said, “Our grassroots determine what we do as an organization. Our farmers express their opinions and then our staff and our lobbyists carry that out.”

The number one concern for farmers across the country remains the passage of the long-delayed Farm Bill. For Minnesota’s corn organizations and many other groups, the public support that allows broad participation in crop insurance seems to be the most fundamental, strategic element in preserving independent family farms and assuring that the collective know-how they possess continues to give America the safe, abundant, economical food supply that is the envy of the world.

“There were many informal conversations going on about the Farm Bill, and the gist of the ones I took part in, is the need for unity and finding some kind of middle ground on issues that have divided some of the farm groups,” said Schwarz. “There is a recognition that, to pass a Farm Bill under regular order in Congress, we have to be unified, or Congress members may be confused on how to vote.”

Other key issues received discussion and resolutions, including support for keeping the current Renewable Fuels Standard and developing a single label for E15 fuel to be used everywhere, in order to prevent confusion among consumers. NCGA opposed single-state rules on GMO labeling in order to prevent having 50 different sets of regulations. The resolution supports the FDA’s power to pre-empt rules on agricultural biotechnology products, passed by individual states.

Another NCGA resolution opposes tying crop insurance eligibility to conservation compliance, arguing that the current farm program already provides a robust means to ensure conservation compliance by requiring farmers obey conservation rules in order to receive any form of federal farm support.

“We put a resolution together to say that ‘We support local ownership of corn processing, livestock and grain operations,'” Schwarz reported. He said, “The local ownership part is what really gets the value back to our rural communities and provides a good consistent tax base for rural communities. We wanted to put this down in black and white, so that when the next new thing comes along that makes use of farm products… whether it’s biochemicals, or nutriceuticals or energy–we are on record that we support local ownership so that we get some of those dollars back to local communities. We have seen that value with ethanol companies and livestock facilities in Minnesota and we want to support these industries and keep them strong. This is not just about farmer ownership, but also supporting our neighbors in town owning businesses that add value to agricultural commodities, as long as it’s local–if it’s an ethanol plant in a farming community or a biochemical company in a Minnesota suburb–whenever we can have some local ownership we get so much more out of it than if some large multinational company owns it.”

A number of first-timers to Commodity Classic joined the veterans, and saw for themselves that the three-day event deserves its reputation for being an incredibly valuable experience.

“I’ve heard it said how large Commodity Classic is, and how many people there are, and the number of displays, and the awesome scope of things…but seeing it for myself was still amazing,” said Chuck DeGrote, a grower leader on the MCGA board of directors, and a farmer in Clara City who raises corn, soybeans, sugar beets and cattle. He said, “The networking at the exhibition hall, talking to people from other states, people who are active in other commodity organizations, I got to hear what people are thinking about for the future, some of the projects we could be looking into. The people are what make Commodity Classic a special experience.”

DeGrote felt discussions about the Farm Bill and the Renewable Fuels Standard were interesting and gave reason for farmers to work together and to be optimistic about what can be done, even with today’s need for a fiscally constrained approach to the federal government.

High MPGs offer supercharged learning

24th annual SuperMileage Challenge gives kids chance to shine in the “green” arena

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

On May 14 and 15, ultralight gas-powered vehicles took to the 6-mile course at Brainerd International Speedway for the 24th year of the Minnesota Technical Educators Association SuperMileage Challenge. Teams made up of middle school and high school students had constructed the vehicles around Briggs and Stratton small engines, and achieved results in the hundreds of miles per gallon of fuel.

In the largest turnout ever, 105 vehicles passed the technical inspection and competed. Most vehicles made multiple runs, and the teams fielded vehicles for mileage runs 1,007 times. Of those, 697 runs were completed—one every 53 seconds of the 15 hours of competition. But it’s not a race in the strict definition of the term—the vehicles maintain their speed within a specific window and compete to see which one can achieve the highest gas efficiency.

Four liquid fuel vehicle categories include one specifically for E85. The other vehicles utilize E10 fuel. For the first time this year, teams fielded electric vehicles. Alden Conger, a long time participant in SMC, won the E85 category with 535.65 mpg. However, when you realize that only 15 percent of their fuel was gasoline, and you want to measure how far a gallon of gasoline will take you when you are using more than six times as much ethanol fuel, this vehicle traveled at an astonishing fuel efficiency rate of 3,571 miles for every gallon of gasoline required.

Here are this year’s results

1st        Willmar                                                 644.30 mpg
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     594.91
3rd       Eden Prairie                                         397.80
4th       Stillwater                                              349.92

1st        Minnetonka                                          579.51
2nd      Water Town Mayer                            512.99
3rd       Chisago Lakes                                     437.75
4th       Alden Conger                                      422.21

1st        Alden Conger                                      535.65
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     365.16
3rd      Stewartville                                          178.47                              
4th      Fergus Falls                                         156.26

1st        Alden Conger                                      489.84
2nd      Minnetonka                                          320.
3rd      Pequot Lakes                                       128.42
4th      St. Michael/Albertville                   101.48

1st        Eden Prairie                                         32.91 watt/hours
2nd      Grand Rapids                                       37.27  
3rd       Grand Rapids                                       38.08
4th       only three vehicles had 6 or more runs

Minnesota Corn Growers Association, longtime sponsors of the event, fielded volunteers and staff to help make the day a success. It was the culmination of many months of preparation and work by the student teams and their advisers.

“SuperMileage is such a great event and learning experience for everyone involved. It’s fun to see the cars these teams design and build each year and to watch them work together as a team to accomplish their goals,” said Jenna Kromann, outreach and communications specialist for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. She attended the event along with MCGA regional representatives Tim Dolan and Dottie Smith-Jacobs. “You can tell a lot of time and effort was put into each car and it’s very enjoyable to witness what these students have been working towards all year.”

Smith-Jacobs noticed that family and community are a central feature of the SuperMileage Challenge and that the pride of the students, their families and their teachers in the accomplishment of these young people makes it an intense and memorable experience, and incredibly valuable to everyone involved.

“Tim and I took a lot of students and teachers around in the MCGA ethanol-powered golf carts,” said Smith-Jacobs. “One teacher went around with us videotaping the students–they were so proud of their students. All the teachers really care about their students and what they were doing. There were a lot of grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters of the kids racing the cars. You could see the competing students smiling when they saw their parents and their grandparents.”

Kromann spent a day helping spread the word about the value of ethanol. In addition to offering informational brochures, Kromann played Plinko with many of the spectators, giving them a chance to have fun while learning from the quiz-show format questions about farming and ethanol.

Smith-Jacobs spoke at length with the teams running E85 vehicles and was impressed at the depth of their knowledge about this cleaner-burning, farm-based biofuel.

“The ethanol class–the students learn about the fuel, and see firsthand how the vehicles run on it,” said Smith-Jacobs. “The kids know a lot more about it, about how clean and cool it runs, and it’s neat to see kids being more environmentally aware and using our resources to the best that they can be used—the SuperMileage Challenge teaches all these kids about how we impact the environment. Whether they are running electric, ethanol, biodiesel or even regular gas vehicles, all these students are trying to be “greener.” With ethanol in there—even the regular gas has ten percent ethanol just like most of the gas in Minnesota—and they can see for themselves that it’s a good, high quality, high performance fuel.”


MCGA growers join the voices of farm leaders from around America calling for a farm bill this year

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Commodity Classic 2012 included the annual resolutions meeting of National Corn Growers Association where the most important and unified message was a call to congress to produce a new farm bill this year and not just an extension of the current farm bill. Record attendance at the farm convention and trade show, held this year in Nashville, was well over 5,000 people.

Minnesota brought the third largest state delegation to the NCGA resolutions meeting, with 15 representatives and four alternates. State organizations are allotted delegate seats according to a calculation based on total number of corn acres in the state, the number of members in the state organization, and the state’s dollar contribution to NCGA.

“We would like to see the Farm Bill get done before the elections this year,” said John Mages, a farmer in Belgrade, Minnesota, who serves as president of MCGA. Mages was a delegate at the NCGA resolutions meeting. He said, “There’s a better chance of getting a good farm bill that provides an adequate safety net if we get it done now, rather than waiting.”

Garry Niemeyer, an Illinois corn producer, and president of National Corn Growers Association, joined leaders of national wheat, soybeans and sorghum groups and released a joint statement representing the views of tens of thousands of American farmers regarding the Farm Bill:

“Commodity Classic provides our organizations an opportunity to come together to discuss important policy issues facing our industry.  As Congress continues work on the next farm bill, our organizations agree that an affordable crop insurance program is our No. 1 priority.  We also stand ready to work with House and Senate Ag Committee leaders to create farm programs that provide risk-management tools to growers when they are facing a loss beyond their control.” 

The four national farm commodity groups–corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum– represent 70 percent of the farm acreage in the United States. The groups acknowledged the current efforts to reduce the federal budget and pledged to work with Congress to develop a very cost effective program:

The joint statement continued, “We urge Congress to pass a new farm bill this year to provide the level of certainty in America that a short-term extension cannot. The nation is currently facing record high federal deficits and this requires difficult decisions.  We stand ready to do our part to develop more efficient farm policy that will be responsive to taxpayers and effective in helping farms remain viable and productive.”

The NCGA resolutions meeting is a chance for the grassroots membership from across the country to help shape the policy directives for the coming year. Minnesota contributed a resolution regarding water management.

“We brought a resolution in supporting water management through irrigation and tiling,” said Mages. “We want to let the government and elected officials now that these management tools are key to the farmer’s protection of resources, and efficient use of nutrients.”

Minnesota also presented a resolution in favor of expediting the necessary investigations that would lay the groundwork for adoption of higher ethanol blends as accepted, EPA regulated fuels.

“We believe that down the road, as CAFE standards rise and require higher mileage efficiency, auto engineers will find that ethanol can be part of the solution for providing higher octane and higher mileage.”

Minnesota growers headed south for Commodity Classic

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

A full delegation of Minnesota corn grower leaders headed south to Nashville this week for the 2012 Commodity Classic–the annual convention and trade show of National Corn Growers Association and a number of other farm groups.

Belgrade, MN farmer John Mages leads a delegation of a score of farmers who will participate in the annual NCGA resolutions meeting.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the leaders from other states and exchanging views about Farm Bill and the other issues at the top of the agenda,” said Mages. “But Commodity Classic is also a great farm show, and our families are coming down.”

The three-day convention officially opened Thursday, but growers headed down Tuesday to get to pre-convention meetings.

“This will be my fifth year going to Commodity Classic,” said Mages. “We go through the national resolutions, and we bring forward our resolutions from the grassroots membership here in Minnesota. We’ll have things on water quality, on the farm bill, child labor–things that impact our farmers.”

Proposed changes in child labor laws may make it difficult or impossible for children to fulfill traditional roles on the farm.

“We think having children helping out on the farm has always been beneficial,” said Mages. “This has been the way to teach kids not only about how to farm, but also to help them develop the right priorities and a good work ethic.”

The resolutions around the farm bill will likely encourage congress to pass a farm bill this year or as soon as possible. Though the commodity farm program was alone among federal budget areas in producing a savings — $18 billion over the past five years–it’s likely that the farm program will be asked to give up more. A Farm Bill presented to the “Super Committee” last fall offers $23 billion in savings over the next ten years and yet maintains the necessary safety net, Mages said. The “Super Committee” was a bipartisan congressional task force mandated to find more than a trillion dollars in cuts to the federal budget.

A number of recently elected board members will take part in Commodity Classic, according to Mages.

“It’s a good opportunity for Minnesota leaders, especially those new to the board, to see how the resolutions process works and to meet the candidates for the national board,” said Mages. “These are the folks we then vote on at Corn Congress–the national meeting in Washington in July.”


Legislative reception draws a non-partisan crowd to talk turkey with farmers

Senator Keith Langseth, the oldest, and longest serving member of the Minnesota Legislature stood up at the Crowne Plaze Saint Paul last Wednesday night and thanked Minnesota Corn Growers Association for hosting its legislative reception, so that he and fellow state lawmakers could get to know their farmer constituents better and keep abreast of the latest issues impacting farmers.

Langseth didn’t waste time, but launched right into a question impacting farmers across the state—property taxes. He noted that his own property taxes on his farm land rose 18 percent this year and he explained that last year’s budget fix involved a shift. The state ended its homestead tax credit but, in order to limit the impact on homeowners they made a blanket reduction in the tax valuation of residential properties, and this meant that farm and commercial properties then shouldered more of the burden for local levies.

“That’s an issue we are going to revisit this year,” Langseth promised.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, chairman of the Agriculture and Rural Development Policy and Finance committee told the room of farmers and legislators, “We all have an open door policy…stop in and see us whenever you are here in St. Paul, or if you have a burning issue, please call us and let us know,”

The evening, held at the Kellogg meeting room and offering a buffet and refreshments in exchange for a donation to cover the expense, was a great success.

MCGA President John Mages, a farmer in Belgrade, felt that all the lawmakers were receptive to conversations about farm issues and hearing the farmer viewpoint.

The event did get off to a slow start, because the House of Representatives remained in session into the evening, debating bills related to tort reform. Toward 8 o’clock, the session adjourned and a score of representatives appeared, to join the dozen or more senators already present and enjoying conversations with grower leaders from every part of Minnesota.

“This is an informal setting, which is a great way to meet these lawmakers and spend some time getting to know them and telling them about our issues,” said Jean Knakmuhs, a director for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. In addition to farming near Walnut Grove, she is a loan officer with Rabo AgriFinance.  She said, “Unlike an appointment at their office at the capital, here, there are no time constraints and the next person on the schedule is not waiting outside the door.”

Senator John Howe opined “We need more people with a farm background at the Legislature.”

Today’s demographic realities make that unlikely, so the MCGA legislative reception, the annual “Day On The Hill” event and informal visits throughout the session, have to make up the lack of direct connection of many lawmakers to farming.

Senator Doug Magnus said that now that the state had sorted out its finances and gotten past the $5 billion dollar deficit that loomed last year, the Legislature can concentrate on “the three E’s that are vital to agriculture: Energy, Exports and the Environment.”

Exports will play a key role in farm prosperity in the coming decades because Minnesota’s farmers have the know-how and the productive land, and the world will need more food every day.

“In the next 40 years, the earth has to produce more food than we have produced in the past 10,000 years—supporting what you (farmers do) and supporting exports” will be critical to ensuring that this happens, Magnus said.

The environment is truly a hot-button issue in agriculture, Magnus acknowledged and he asserted that the farmers’ story of all the good work they are already doing in conservation is an important story that needs to reach the wider public so that public policy regarding farmers remains balanced.

“Our biggest issue right now is water quality,” said MCGA President Mages. “We (the farmers) are working on it. We are conservationists and we do want to preserve the quality of the environment. We will continue to do more and improve, but we will also fight to keep conservation on a voluntary basis. Every farmer wants to be involved, but not every farm is the same and treating every farm the same will not help us achieve our environmental goals as a state.”

Republican State Rep. Paul Torkelson and Democratic State Senator Terry Morrow both weighed in on the recent controversy regarding a Memo of Understanding between the federal government and the state of Minnesota, to launch a pilot program to help direct investments in farm conservation that will improve water quality. Both lawmakers told the grower leaders that it is important for them to participate in the process and have a voice in the program that is shaped by the technical advisory committee now being drawn together, in order to have a say in the design of the new conservation program.

In addition to legislators, a host of state government officials, including Paul Aasen (director, MPCA), and Matt Wohlman (Assistant Commissioner, MDA) as well as staff members from US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken attended the evening, among them former House Ag chairman Al Juhnke, who is currently Senator Franken’s ag and energy field representative.

Leaders of other farmer groups and agribusinesses rounded out the group, with appearances by Perry Aasness, executive director of Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, and Sarah Thorn, government affairs manager for DuPont/Pioneer.


MCGA reaches out at Great Minnesota Get Together

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Friday, August 26 was “A-maize-ing Corn Day” at the Minnesota State Fair, but volunteers and staff from the 6,000-member grassroots Minnesota Corn Growers Association are reaching out to the public all 12 days at Minnesota’s most popular outdoor event.

MCGA Agvocates Leah Joy Johnson and Greg Tusa joined MCGA Outreach and Communications Specialist Jenna Kromann at the Christensen Brothers Stage, right by the Miracle of Birth Center and the FFA State Fair headquarters, to offer games and quizzes throughout the day to educate the public about farming and its products.

“What color is corn?” Johnson asked a young girl who was taking part in the corn plinko game, to win a prize.

“Yellow and green!” the girl replied.

“That’s right! The kernels are yellow and white, and the leaves and stalks are green–go ahead and pick out a prize!” Johnson told the girl, directing her to a table with MCGA water bottles, hacky-sacks, frisbees and other prizes. Another very popular item was a green bead necklace with a toy ear of corn hanging from the end.

Another girl won a prize when she answered a question, true or false, blending ethanol made from corn into gasoline reduces air pollution. She guessed ‘true’ and proceeded to the prize table.

Johnson and Tusa will spend the coming year representing agriculture and informing the public about how farmers work hard to bring a safe, nutritious and abundant supply of food to consumers every day. In exchange, they receive a college scholarship and take part in leadership development and skills building opportunities. MCGA’s third 2011 Agvocate, Kelsey Gunderson, could not take part because she was showing a pig in competitions at the Fair.

Growers from across the state volunteered Saturday at the Moo Booth, one of the most popular attractions at the Fair. The revamped attraction includes a dairy milking parlor, product tastings and giveaways and a series of informative displays. Growers talk about the various parts of a dairy cow’s ration that keep her healthy and producing milk. Farmers talk about the corn, soybeans, hay and other elements of the cow’s diet.

Also new this year at the fair, a second simulator helps kids of all ages–members of the video game generation–to imagine what it’s like working on a farm in the big machinery. MCGA members supported the construction of a tractor simulator, which was installed right inside the Miracle of Birth Center. The simulator was staffed by FFAers who could talk novices through the experience and answer any questions they had about farming. This exhibit joins a combine simulator, that MCGA contributed support for, at the Farm Bureau Building.

One of the most popular attractions in the Horticulture Building was the Farmers Feed Us campaign, where people could sign up to win a year’s supply of groceries (a gift card worth $5,000). Minnesota Department of Agriculture organized and staffed the display. The program is supported by a host of farmer groups, including Minnesota Corn Growers Association. Larger-than-life photo posters of farmers ringed the walls of the Farms Feed Us exhibit, including a picture of MCGA President Greg Schwarz, with his wife Joan, and their children. They farm in Le Sueur, raising corn, soybeans and turkeys.

MCGA also helped reach out and teach the very youngest fair goers about where their food comes from, by supplying corn for chicken feed at the Little Farm Hands at the Fair. This attraction creates a kid-sized, very hands-on, version of a farm, with animals and small plots of crops to help the youngsters realize that food is cultivated, not simply found on a grocery shelf.

“MCGA participation at Minnesota State Fair is a natural, and it’s a win for everyone,” said Schwarz. “People are there with their families and friends, having fun, and we can present them with information, in an entertaining way, that will have a long term affect on their view of agriculture. We reach literally tens of thousands of people at the Fair.”

Governor Dayton opens Farmfest forums with remarks on renewable energy, trade and regulatory streamlining

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Governor Mark Dayton appeared at Farmfest, the largest outdoor agriculture trade show in the upper Midwest, on Tuesday, August 1 and made remarks that opened the annual series of forum discussions conducted over the three day event. Over the noon hour, Dayton served as a guest announcer along with Lynn Kettleson, on the Linder Farm Network radio broadcast.

Dayton sketched out his rural roots–his family started its noted retail empire in Worthington, Minnesota–and talked about how important agriculture is to the state of Minnesota: “Agriculture and food processing represents 367,000 jobs in Minnesota–that’s more than any other sector except manufacturing. It’s one out of every five jobs in the state.”

The governor acknowledged the depth of the financial crisis at the state government and said the budget bill passed for this biennium merely “kicked the can down the road.” Permanent solutions to an imbalance of spending and revenue would have to be sought, and he intends to continue to pursue a plan to increase taxes on the state’s top earners so that programs he considers vital do not get cut.

Dayton announced that he will lead a trade delegation to Korea in September and that plans for a trade mission to China are coming together, perhaps in October. In conversation with US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Dayton was told that Korea and Vietnam represent great opportunities to expand US agricultural markets. Agricultural products are a huge export for the state.

Tom Schiefelbein, Kimmel, Minnesota, president of Minnesota Cattlemens’ Association, asked the governor what he intends to do about Minnesota’s regulatory environment. Sheifelbein called state and federal regulations on farming “painful” and noted that they represent a true impediment to farmers who want to grow their businesses enough to be able to bring their adult children in as partners. Instead, regulations enforce a kind of stasis, he said.

Dayton noted that he and the Minnesota Legislature agreed on the goal of streamlining regulation and that the heads of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources had embraced that goal as well. He concluded by offering the audience his home telephone number and promised that he would personally bring any regulatory difficulty on behalf of a farmer to the appropriate officials for review and resolution.

The governor, who spent six years as a US Senator for Minnesota, described the efforts of the huge oil lobby to try to defeat farm based energy, but that ethanol and biodiesel came out on top. He noted that Big Oil is at it again, but he is hopeful about the future of renewables and he plans to push for the expansion, especially of biomass-based renewable fuels. Feedstocks like switchgrass, Dayton said, would not directly compete with the animal feed market.