Archive for the ‘MCGA/MCR&PC’ 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.

Tim Waibel joins MCGA board of directors

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Animal agriculture is still corn’s number one customer in Minnesota, and Courtland farmer Tim Waibel brings direct experience of that to his new position on the board of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He joined the board in August, to fill out the term of grower leader Curt Watson.

Waibel, 53, raises corn and beans with his wife Mary, and sons Justin and Jonathan, and together they custom finish 25,000 head of hogs each year. Daughters Rebecca and Anna are college students studying nursing and Clarissa, a senior at New Ulm High School, plans to attend South Dakota State University to pursue a degree in ag business.

“Since Minnesota became a state, animal agriculture has been the key mainstay of farmers,” said Waibel. “It has always been a big usage of grain and it will continue to be. As the original, value added use for crops, livestock production is part of what keeps agriculture and our state economy strong.”

Waibel has farmed full time for the past 18 years and his agriculture leadership experience includes four years on the Minnesota Pork Board.

“A lot of issues interest me, and I’d have to say that number one is transportation–we’ve been dealing with the lock and dam issue for a number of years,” said Waibel. “I’d like to help advocate so we can make progress and get the locks lengthened, so the barge operators don’t have to break up their tow-barges. We need modern, efficient transportation if we want to compete in the marketplace.”

Waibel also feels that farm-based renewable fuels are at a critical stage and need as much advocacy as farm organizations can offer.

“We have to continue to get the word out that ethanol is a great solution for fuel and food–it offers a feed product that has become a real staple in animal agriculture, and another point that I think escapes many people is how much ethanol has helped clean up the air emissions. We used to have checkpoints for testing your vehicle’s emissions. After ethanol came on, those disappeared, because ethanol really cleared the air.”

In addition to his work with farm organizations, Waibel continues to be active as a member of the Nicollet County Planning and Zoning Commission. As the main mechanism for managing the county’s land use, Planning and Zoning benefits from the farmer’s perspective, Waibel feels.

“It’s important to do what we can to be fair and to facilitate land uses that keep crop and animal production strong in our county, while we assure that the environment is protected from harm,” said Waibel.

MCGA board of directors includes 18 leaders drawn from across the state. Waibel will serve 18 months to fulfill the remainder of the current term.


Policy Director Anna Bellin joins MCGA staff

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Fresh from experience at the capital in Saint Paul, Anna Bellin has joined the staff of Minnesota Corn Growers Association as its new policy director.

Bellin has spent the past ten years working at the Minnesota Legislature in a series of roles, most recently working for Majority Leader Matt Dean (R-District 52B). She began at the legislature at age 18 as a student intern while she studied political science at Bethel University in Saint Paul. After graduation in 2006, she worked for the Minnesota Republican Caucus.

“I understand government, and the legislative process,” said Bellin. “The reason I took this job is that there has never been more opportunity for agriculture than there is today and I want to help farmers make the most of that. I respect farmers, and I appreciate the importance of food production, so I’m looking forward to this role, helping our policy makers understand the challenges of farming today and the opportunities, and how government can interact with agriculture to maximize those opportunities.”

Bellin, who grew up in the suburbs notes that her grandfather was a dairy farmer.

“As time goes on, fewer Minnesotans feel directly connected to agriculture–I think that’s where the challenge comes from when it comes to developing agriculture policy, and I want to approach advocacy from that angle of reestablishing connections,” Bellin said.

The role of policy director doesn’t slow down when the Minnesota Legislature is in recess. Right away, Bellin has become involved in planning the activities of MCGA’s grower leaders during their upcoming trip to Washington, DC. In July the grower leaders attend Corn Congress, one of two annual gatherings of all the member states of National Corn Growers Association. Not only does this meeting focus on national policy direction, but taking advantage of its location in the nation’s capital, corn grower leaders meet with legislators and staffers to offer their thoughts about the Farm Bill and other proposed laws that will impact farmers.

And then in August, MCGA organizes and hosts the annual Minnesota Agricultural Leadership Conference, which draws together lawmakers, experts from agribusiness and academia and grower leaders representing producers of a spectrum of commodities.

“Taking all the good things agriculture is doing with conservation, water quality, air quality–and recognizing the role agriculture plays in a strong economy–as policy director I want to help the grower leaders communicate about this proactive approach their taking, so that lawmakers and policy makers can work together cooperatively and help farmers succeed. Ag is not a partisan issue. I have never seen it become partisan in my years at the capital, and the fact that it is not partisan makes for a good opportunity to build those bridges and help everyone understand how they are connected to agriculture.”

Grower leaders talk issues with lawmakers during 2012 Day on the Hill

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Biofuels and water quality rules. These are two issues dealing the highest impact to farmers and rural communities in Minnesota and so farmers went to the Minnesota State Legislature to attend hearings and speak with lawmakers and ask their support for the farmers’ positions on several key pieces of legislation in these areas.

An MCGA delegation headed up by MCGA President John Mages of Belgrade (Stearns County) attended a hearing on biofuels legislation to support the Ethanol Requirement Extension (HF2741), which extends Minnesota’s ethanol 20% ethanol requirement by 3 years.  Without this change, the requirement will expire, perhaps before federal approval can be gained for E20 as a standard gasoline blend. Rep. Paul Anderson, author of the bill, spoke at the hearing and Mages also offered testimony. Representatives from the biobutanol industry were seeking a change in Anderson’s bill to include the new biofuel, also produced from corn. Mages offered the MCGA position that it would be better to hold off-session hearings with all the stakeholders rather than changing the language of the extension bill right now.

“It was helpful that we had 15 people in the room,” said Elizabeth Tanner, director of advocacy and strategic partnerships for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. If you do have good representation at a hearing it does help your cause.”

The delegation included several staff, three student ‘agvocates’ and a dozen MCGA grower leaders.

“MCGA Day on the Hill went really well,” said Tanner. “It’s about making connections and those connections lead to more connections–this is the way you let your representatives know that you know what’s happening and that you follow what they are doing. Senator (Julie) Rosen bumped into us, and said she really liked seeing our group up there at the capital. She chatted with us, gave us a quick update, and listened to our concerns, and then she went back to the session. She let another senator on the floor know that one of our grower leaders, a constituent of his, was waiting out in the hall, so that senator came right out and talked to us.”

Another important element of Day on the Hill is educating grower leaders about the legislative process and about the work that political advocates are carrying forward on behalf of MCGA.

“We employ full time lobbyists and it’s important for the grower leaders to see how that investment is paying off for the group’s 6,000 farmer members across the state,” said Tanner.

The group also spoke to their home legislators in support of two bills having to do with wetlands, introduced by Senator Gary Dahms: a Wetlands Bill (SF2072) to increase the size of land eligible for the de minimis exemptions for class 1, 2, 6, and 7 wetlands and another bill to exempt farmers from the Wetlands Conservation Act if they are complying with the federal wetlands protection laws known as Swampbuster. (SF2042, Sponsor: Dahms).

Another highlight of the day was an hour long briefing with State Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson. The Minnesota Corn organizations’ board and council had met with Frederickson the day before, but this session proved to be a valuable follow up. The commissioner and the leaders held a lengthy discussion about the Memo of Understanding between the state of Minnesota and the Federal EPA and USDA to launch a pilot conservation program geared to water quality outcomes where Frederickson assured them that “we don’t want to cause economic pain with this program–if there is pain here we want to get rid of it. At the end of the day everybody’s got to earn a living. We just want to identify best management practices” in order to reward those through this program.

Former MCGA president Doug Albin said, “This is a good time for farmers to look at conservation practices. We have money to spend and we are willing to spend it.”

Former NCGA and MCGA President Gerald Tumbleson said, “America was built on one word. Innovation… We are just concerned that whatever program is put in place, we are allowed the room to change and grow. We don’t know what tomorrow’s best management practices will be, and trying new things is the only way to find out.”

Growers remember Curt Watson

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Curt Watson, 63, passed away Sunday morning at his winter home in Arizona. Watson, who farmed with his wife Janel in Renville, Minnesota, is a past president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He was widely known as a passionate advocate for agriculture. His friends knew him as a man of faith and family, who had courage in his convictions and whose good humor and sense of fun leavened the experience of leadership that he offered. He and Janel had five children and many grandchildren.

Lifelong friend Gerald Mulder recalled Curt’s zest for life.

“If you say one thing about Curt he really enjoyed life,” said Mulder, who went to grade school and Sunday school with Watson and graduated Renville High School with him in 1966. “He always said, ‘Let’s go out and have fun!’ That was ever since I’ve known him, he was always that way. Make it fun for everybody. That’s something Curt really lived by. He was a very Christian man. Curt and I went to the same church and we did talk about the Lord’s love and that when we would die, we knew we were going to be with Him.”

Mulder recalled first noticing the Curt had changed from a quiet kid to a man with leadership qualities when they played together on the Renville High School football team.

“Senior year is the year I remember most,” Mulder said. “We had a very good football team, we were 7-1-1. Curt started on the offensive line. Curt was center, I was tackle. That maybe was his first leadership role. He would get the offensive line together–using codes, he’d call out who was blocking who. That’s when he started to come out and be more of a leader. We grew up a lot that year.”

Then the two went into military service. Mulder went into the U.S. Air Force and a little later Watson joined the U.S. Marine Corps–ever after it was a point they teased each other about–who joined the better armed service.

One of Watson’s key leadership skills was recruiting new leaders and empowering them in order to strengthen the organization.

“Mentor is the word I think of when I think of Curt,” said DeVonna Zeug, a Walnut Grover farmer who became an MCGA leader through Watson’s encouragement, and subsequently served as president. Zeug said, “As I was coming up, Curt always made sure he included me because he knew I was coming up. He stayed in contact. He thought mentoring and communication were keys to developing new leadership and running a successful organization. The very first board meeting I went to I sat next to Curt and we became friends, right from the get-go.”

Like many who knew him, Zeug’s chief impressions of Watson were his sense of humor and his commitment to his pro-farmer agenda.

“He was very funny, he had a great sense of humor,” said Zeug. “Yet, he was focused and he knew his stuff. He was definitely an advocate for farm policy. He took the PAC very seriously. He was very passionate about its importance, and he was always trying to come up with different ideas for fundraising. It was great to get to work with him on that.”

Jerry Demmer, a farmer in Clark’s Grove, became friends with Watson when the two filled the top positions in Minnesota’s corn organizations.

“When Curt was president (of MCGA) and I was chairman (of Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council), the agreement was to keep each other out of trouble. ‘If either of us get to rattling on too much, just give me an elbow,’ was what we agreed. We had that bond at that time, and talked quite a bit. Curt was a loving father, husband and grandfather–he loved his grandkids. He was a great advocate for corn growers, and their mission. He was opinionated, maybe more so than the average person. He didn’t hold back on asking tough questions that sometimes people didn’t want to hear the answer. If he didn’t get the answer he would go and seek the answers out.”

Demmer noted that when the board and council decided to seek approval from Minnesota’s corn farmers to increase the amount of the checkoff rate, Watson took it upon himself to make calls to farmers to get out the vote for the issue at the MN Ag EXPO that year. Rolling his sleeves up and making personal contact was part of Watson’s effectiveness as a leader.

“Sometimes, instead of asking why, he’d say why not? Why can’t we do this? Board and Council is a team effort, but he wasn’t afraid to be doing the prodding when he felt it was an important issue,” Demmer said.

“Driven is a word that describes Curt,” said Chad Willis, a farmer in Willmar and current chairman of Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council. “He was driven to be a leader. Just a couple weeks ago at Commodity Classic, after Corn Congress, Curt was talking to me about a few of the issues, talking over how we presented things and how we could have presented them better. He was always thinking about the best way to do things. He really enjoyed the policy end of the work. And he was very into the stewardship issues. Water quality and different practices–he got to all the meetings and was on top of all the information.”

Willis and John Mages, a farmer in Belgrade who currently serves as MCGA president, are among the many who feel that Watson personally encouraged them in their leadership paths.

“I first met him six years ago when I joined the corn growers board,” Mages said of Watson. “He was the one who encouraged me to be an officer. He was always very knowledgable about the subjects, never afraid to speak up. He also injected humor into the meetings, so there were some lighter moments. He was always fun to be around. He was always thinking about ways to do things better. He was big on getting everyone involved. That included spouses, too–he was never shy about recognizing the support that spouses give that’s so important to leaders being able to fulfill their roles. When we traveled together, Curt felt it was important to get to know everybody, and to get to know spouses as well.”

Steve Kramer, who farmed about 30 miles down the road from Curt, on the opposite end of Renville County, is another talented leader recruited to MCGA by Watson. The two shared a passion for the politics of farming.

“He was an instigator,” said Kramer with a chuckle and more than a hint of admiration. “He was always looking for ways to make things happen. Always thinking of ways to make things better and he wasn’t afraid to push really hard to get them done. He went down alleys and paths other people never would have thought of, to pursue a goal.”

Kramer said two important ingredients in Watson’s leadership were his ceaseless curiosity, which worked well with his willingness to brave public opinion in the face of controversy.

“He never took the safe road. Not all the things he pushed for panned out, but he was always trying stuff, he was always interested in learning things and he was fascinating to talk to,” said Kramer. “I’ve known Curt for 30 years. He is the one who talked me into going on the state board–it took him a long time–he’s persistent, too. He was so interested in politics. He knew he wasn’t always the one to get things done. He knew some people saw him as abrasive. He liked people. He wasn’t afraid to promote ideas, to talk about them and sell them. Usually he had a very thoughtful approach. I got to travel with him a lot and I always enjoyed that. You never sat in silence. There was always a topic to talk about.”

His yen for problem solving suited him perfectly for the farming life, and for the politics he loved, said Mulder.

“Farming…he loved all the challenges. He loved fixing things, not so much with his hands, but with his mind. I talked with him about the fact that he was old enough he should retire, but he said he never would. He loved the business of farming. He was a shrewd business man, but I also think he never intentionally hurt anyone. When I think of what Curt loved about farming, I think he loved those headaches, he loved those very complicated situations. That’s why he liked to be on the corn board because he loved to solve problems.”

Mulder summed up his thoughts in a way echoed by all of these people who knew Watson so well.

“He is a friend that will be truly missed.”

Visitation will be held for Curt Watson at Emden Christian Reform Church in Renville from 5-8 p.m. Friday, and a funeral service takes place there on Saturday, at 10:30 a.m.

MCR&PC supported research: Breeding corn that can succeed in the north

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Central and northwest Minnesota used to be dominated by wheat, but northern farmers have watched the success of corn in southern Minnesota and noted the strength of the market, thanks to the successes of groups like Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council in its work supporting the growth of ethanol and other value-added uses of corn.

These northern farmers are saying we want that, too. Even though a few companies have stations in central ND and MN, the number of acres is not high enough to justify their investment to these areas but will be soon. An NDSU breeding program will make sure this happens by providing short-season cold tolerant products to them.

And thanks to MCR&PC supported research into hybrids designed with the special needs of northern and central Minnesota in mind, they will see more and more success with the golden crop.

Prof. Marcelo Carena of North Dakota State University in Fargo, continues to be a leading figure in the development of short-season cold tolerant corn for corn production in central and northern Minnesota.

One of the factors limiting the profitability of corn production in these regions is that most hybrids are bred elsewhere and don’t often succeed in terms of producing a fully mature, high test-weight grain that is low enough in moisture at harvest time, Carena said. He was interviewed during MN Ag EXPO, where he was one of dozens of MCR&PC supported researchers who presented posters about their research projects to those attending the gathering.

Carena’s work in 2011 took 3,157 different corn inbreds and screened them by growing them under controlled cold-stress conditions to evaluate their potential for northern U.S. environments. The professor can produce three crops per season, thanks to access to a nursery in southern Argentina, where their growing season is in the winter months and harvest takes place in the northern hemisphere’s spring. The process to create a new hybrid thus takes four years instead of 12.

Another key to Carena’s innovative work is the inclusion of exotic and tropical corn strains. Carena notes that the genes for cold tolerance could come from plants found anywhere—it’s a matter of subjecting them to cold stress and seeing which inbreds succeed in terms of grain-filling, moisture content and early maturity. Carena noted that his program represents the northernmost corn breeding program in North America (Canadian programs are actually located at lower latitudes than Fargo).

Carena has conducted northern corn breeding for 13 years and has produced 18 corn lines, eight populations and five hybrids out of hundreds of thousands of original lines since he began his corn-breeding program at NDSU. Minnesota Corn is contributing to the effort now, in addition to funding from North Dakota Corn Utilization Council —the boost in resources will speed the process of finding successful short-maturity hybrids that can work in central and northern Minnesota, according to Carena.

“It’s been my goal for Minnesota’s corn organizations to reach out and serve members and potential members in central and northern Minnesota,” said John Mages, president of MCGA and a farmer in Belgrade, Minnesota, in Stearns County. He said, “These regions will be a key growth area for us in the near future as corn becomes a more popular farm product farther north. Supporting this breeding program is a way to help corn producers in these regions share in the success that corn growers have enjoyed in the southern tier for decades now.”

Sediment forum draws 250 to learn about improving water quality

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

The Near-Channel Sediment Source Management Forum on January 4 in North Mankato brought together about 250 people who share a common concern for the future of the Minnesota River and water quality across the state.

About forty of those in attendance were farmers. Farmer-supported research shows that stream-bank erosion, or “near-channel” sources produce the majority of sediment that clouds Minnesota’s rivers.

“People used to think that 70 to 80 percent of sediment came off crop land—but Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council research on stream banks shows the farm land number is closer to 25 percent, and most of the rest comes from stream banks,” said Bruce Peterson, a farmer in Northfield who attended the forum. Peterson serves as secretary for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. Peterson said, “As farmers, we know it’s still important to learn how to reduce that 25 percent. The critical question becomes how can we reduce the amount water that leaves the farm. By the time it makes it to the river, we found out how that can have an impact—gully formation and so forth.

Farmers and landowners of every sort have developed ways to send excess water away from their land—whether it is tile drainage on farms or sump systems for basements of homes and commercial properties. Developing means of increasing water storage on the land, before the water enters streams and rivers, may be a method to reduce stream bank erosion, several of the day’s presenters said.

“Farmers tend to get a bad rap for tile drainage, but the reason farmers do it is that they know well-drained soils produce healthier crops,” Peterson observed. “This in turn produces more crop residue, which counters the impact, somewhat, of water leaving ag land—the residue slows the water down and allows sediment to drop out.”

Research on water storage and engineered treatments for banks show promise for reducing loss of soil into watercourses. Rain gardens, holding ponds and other methods of water retention are gaining wider spread use.

“Developers in the urban and suburban areas, farmers, non-farmers in rural areas—we all need to work together to reduce the impacts on the land,” said Peterson. “One single corrective action won’t change our sediment problems overnight, but lots of us making small changes could have an impact.”

Riley Maanum, Research & Project Manager at MCGA, said one important outcome of a meeting like this was how it brings together farmers with the government officials who can work most closely with them on solutions.

“The fixes that can go on at the farm are going to happen through the local Soil and Water Conservation district offices and the Natural Resource Conservation Service,” said Maanum. A lot of folks from these agencies were at the forum—we want to communicate to them that farmers are willing to work with them. Farmers want to do the right thing. We are moving forward and we have been moving forward since agriculture started. We don’t farm the same as we did last year, because we are always learning new things.”

The series of speakers represented divergent viewpoints, and was important for these scientists and researchers to interact, Peterson felt. Sorting out the options may still point to tough choices, but ones that could be made with full, scientific research to back them up. One of the speakers talked about different management options for some of the steep ravines and banks along the river. One of his conclusions, Peterson noted, was that, instead of trying to stabilize banks, it would be cheaper to move the channel of the river. This though, could involve loss of valuable land to individual property owners, or the need to move homes or buildings to make way for a better water channel placement.

“Our voice was heard loud and clear at the forum,” Maanum said. “It’s not that we wanted to argue about anything. We want to be at the table.”