“Nothing gets done without politics.” Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from a 4th generation farmer, but it’s a philosophy that Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson has lived by his entire life. He’s using that philosophy on a relentless campaign to improve the lives of farmers in Minnesota, and across the country.
Doug Peterson at a recent FarmFest near Redwood Falls, promoting agriculture at the Farmers Union booth (photo by: Mn Farmers Union)
Growing up on the farm:
Doug grew up on his father’s 300-acre farm south of Madison, Minnesota. After his birth in 1948, he attended a one-room schoolhouse. He spent a lot of his early childhood years at Farmers Union county meetings, where his father was the county President. Some of his earliest memories at those meetings include “sitting in mom’s lap and riding on dad’s shoulders.”
A family of his own:
Doug is married to Elly Peterson, his high school sweetheart, who he began dating in ninth grade. They have two sons, Aaron, who’s a lobbyist, and Ryan, a virologist who conducts stem cell research at Cornell University.
After graduating from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he played college football for four years, the family settled in to life at Glencoe, Minnesota, where Doug worked as an art teacher and football coach for ten years.
Back to the Farm:
Doug returned to the family’s 300-acre farm soon after his father passed away from cancer in 1978. He planted his first crops on the farm in 1981, and farmed actively until 2000. He also worked full time as a teacher in the Canby and Montevideo school districts. It was during this stretch that he began his foray into politics.
Off to the state Capitol:
Doug was elected to the Minnesota State Legislature in 1990. It was there that he gained “very valuable legislative experience,” according to Minnesota Farmers Union Vice President Gary Wertish. Doug accomplished a lot during his time in state government. One of his biggest accomplishments was authoring a bill mandating the use of 10 percent ethanol in every gallon of gas dispensed in Minnesota, a law that is still in effect today.
The Farmers Union comes calling:
After serving in the Minnesota Legislature for 12 years, Doug was elected President of the Minnesota Farmers Union, a job he’s held since then. Doug describes Farmers Union’s main purposes as Legislative and Educational.
His knowledge of how to play the political game is very valuable, as Farmers Union spends a lot of time at the Minnesota State Capitol, as well as Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., advocating for policies that aid farmers in doing their jobs as efficiently as possible. Farmers Union Vice President Wertish said Doug’s political experience and personal connections have proven invaluable as they make the rounds in state and national government offices.
Doug Peterson speaking with a reporter during a Farmers Union Fly-In campaign to promote agriculture in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Mn Farmers Union)
They’re having some success at the process. According to the North Carolina College of Ag and Life Sciences website, farmers, as a mere 2 percent of the population, produce food so efficiently that they feed the nation, and still export close to 100 billion dollars worth of their products too.
Peterson said Farmers Union is on a mission to educate the non-farming public on just what it is farmers do to produce the food on their dining room table. He said “98 percent of our population is getting further and further removed from having direct access to any kind of farm or farming practices.” That results in a lot of misconceptions about farming.
Clearing up the confusion on farming:
He said the biggest misconception the non-farm public has, is just how much money it takes to farm.
“If it cost you 400 dollars an acre to plant a crop, and you farm 1,000 acres, you’re looking at 400,000 dollars to plant a crop in a single year. Most people I know don’t have that kind of money sitting in the bank somewhere as liquid assets.”
File photo of a family farmer at work (photo by Mn Farmers Union)
Government farm safety net payments have long raised the ire of non-farmers when it comes to agricultural practices, and Peterson said, “show me other major public investments that don’t have some kind of subsidy. Things like roads, bridges, airlines, schools, and hospitals always have some kind of governmental help. New businesses rarely build a new road to their place on their own.”
Farming has changed a great deal in the last few decades. Most of the off-farm public have no idea that computers are now driving tractors. The Farm Bill now creates roughly 16 million jobs around the country. The average dollar spent in the farm sector turns over in the economy 7 times, according to Peterson. In other sectors of the economy, the dollar turns over a mere two times.
Agriculture brings a lot to the table in the nation’s economy. Peterson said they can’t ever quit bringing that fact to the attention of state and national legislators, and just as importantly, to the American public as well.
Minnesota Farmers Union 2012 Year in review: