MN landowners have more Buffer Law help

Today, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources announced two additional resources for landowners working to come into compliance with the state’s buffer law. The law  was passed with bipartisan support in 2015 and signed into law by Governor Dayton. The buffer law requires the implementation of a buffer strip on public waters by November 1, 2017 and a buffer on public drainage ditches by November 1, 2018.

“These additional resources, both financial and found online, are designed to help landowners be successful in complying with the buffer law.” explained John Jaschke, Executive Director BWSR.  “Local SWCDs and landowners have been working together over the past 18 months and, we are making great progress with 64 counties already 60-100% compliant.”

COST-SHARE PROGRAM

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources has approved a new buffer cost-share program, allocating almost $5 million dollars to support landowners in meeting the requirements of the state buffer law.

The funds will be distributed to soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) and are to be used for cost-sharing contracts with landowners or their authorized agents to implement riparian buffers or alternative practices on public waters and public drainage ditches.

Minnesota buffer law

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources announced a couple of different aids for landowners looking to come into compliance with the Minnesota Buffer Law signed last year. The BWSR says a good number of counties are already 60-100% compliant with the new regulations. (photo from bwsr.stste.mn.us)

These Clean Water Funds, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Dayton at the end of the 2017 legislative session, provide important support to the Governor’s Buffer Initiative.

The 2017 legislation also recognizes that some landowners may have hardships (such as weather) in meeting the public waters deadline. The added language allows for an eight-month extension for implementation when a landowner or authorized agent has filed a riparian protection “compliance plan” with their local SWCD by November 1, 2017. Compliance waivers offer a buffer deadline extension until July 1, 2018.

NEW ONE-STOP WEBSITE

Minnesota landowners with questions about compliance waivers and other buffer law topics also have another option available today with the launching of a new one-stop website for information and tips to implement the buffer law. The new site, mn.gov/buffer-law, is a user-friendly and convenient resource for landowners and the public to learn about the law, find answers about alternative practices, and get information about financial and technical assistance and more.

The new buffer site, launched by the State of Minnesota is found at mn.gov/buffer-law. For more information on the buffer law, including the cost-share program, contact your local soil and water conservation district.

COMPLIANCE

Soil and Water Conservation Districts have been hard at work with landowners statewide and progress toward compliance is being made. 64 of Minnesota’s 87 counties are 60 – 100 percent in compliance with the buffer law. Statewide, preliminary compliance with the buffer law is 89%.

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Here’s a talk on the buffer law presented by Darren Mayers, District Technician Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District

BWSR is the state soil and water conservation agency, and it administers programs that prevent sediment and nutrients from entering our lakes, rivers, and streams; enhance fish and wildlife habitat; and protect wetlands. The 20-member board consists of representatives of local and state government agencies and citizens. BWSR’s mission is to improve and protect Minnesota’s water and soil resources by working in partnership with local organizations and private landowners.

Minnesota takes second trade mission to Cuba

It’s a debate that is guaranteed to incite emotions, both for and against. Increasing trade opportunities with Cuba is a hot button topic in Washington D.C., but it’s an important topic for agriculture. Minnesota is one state in the Union that recognizes the opportunities in Cuba. Several state officials and Ag groups took part in a recent June trade mission to our neighbors 90 miles to the south of Florida.

The timing felt a little ironic. Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith put the trip together months ago as a follow-up to a recent state trip to Cuba last December. The Friday before the delegation arrived in Cuba on the most trade mission, President Donald Trump decided to roll back some of the Obama-era regulatory moves that opened up opportunities for the countries to do business. That made the trip a little more important in the minds of Minnesota officials and Ag groups.

trade opportunities Cuba

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap was a member of the recent Minnesota delegation to travel to Cuba to talk about increasing trade opportunities between the state and the island nation 90 miles south of Cuba. (contributed photo)

“It (Trump’s announcement) didn’t change any of our goals going down there,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap, a member of the delegation, “but it certainly ratcheted up the importance of our being there. We were the first Ag trade team down there after the Trump announcement, so everybody down there was aware of it.”

Paap said it was a vital opportunity for Minnesota to highlight the importance for agriculture that the countries continue to work together to become better neighbors and trading partners. It was also an opportunity to do what they could politically to help change the situation.

That was vital because Minnesota and Cuba have been doing business for some time, dating back to 2002 when then-Governor Jesse Ventura hosted the first big trade mission to Cuba. That’s where things began to really take off with trade reaching a high water mark between Cuba and Minnesota, but things have been tailing off for the last few years. The potential is there for things to improve.

“We have to understand,” Paap said, “they aren’t the biggest market, but it is an important market and a close market. It’s important to remember when dealing with perishable goods, in terms of quality and price, distance has a negative effect on all that. We should be able to beat everyone else on quality, price, and transportation.”

Despite some of the rhetoric people may hear when talking about Cuba, it’s important to note that the people of Cuba are enthusiastic about possibly trading with America.

 

The opportunities are there in Cuba for commodities like corn, soy products, black beans, dried beans, and some livestock opportunities too. He said there are things Cuba just can’t produce on their own.

“They have a lot of silt in their soils with not much in the way of organic matter,” Paap said. “They really haven’t put down a lot of nutrients into the soil in the last 50 years or so. There are some tillable acres in the country but it’s just not high quality.”

It’s not just the soils. Farmers in Cuba are working with a lack of modern equipment that American farmers are used to. A Cuban farmer used a one-bottom plow and two oxen to work one of the fields Paap saw during the trip. He says it seems like the country is locked in time decades in the past.

A trade mission like this always has two goals at the top of mind. Obviously, one goal is to do business but the other, and more important, goal is to build relationships.

“When you deal with an international trade mission, it’s always about building relationships before doing business,” Paap said. “We (Americans) probably aren’t as aware of that when you talk about dealing with other countries. You have to have a relationship. There has to be a reason for doing business besides dollars and cents.”

That’s hugely important and not just in Cuba. It’s the same if you’re talking trade with Asian countries or anyplace else in the world. The trip was a big opportunity to make sure the Cuban people understood the importance America placed on the relationship in light of the Trump announcement.

“It was a chance for us to say agriculture worked hard to make sure it wasn’t affected by the Trump announcement,” Paap stressed. “When it comes to the changes by President Trump, we weren’t as affected by those as others were and we wanted the Cubans to see that as a good sign.”

It was a chance for Minnesota to also point out they have two “champions” for trade with Cuba in Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Tom Emmer, working in a bipartisan manner on the topic for a long time.

The delegation went face-to-face with a lot of different people while they were in the country and Paap said it ran the gamut.

 

 

One of the most interesting changes in Cuba has to do with how they deal with foreigners. As recently as the mid-1990s, Cuban farmers weren’t allowed by law to even talk to people from outside the country, even those on a trade mission. Now, everyday people in Cuba told the delegation members that they’re hoping to get some help from the USA.

 

 

It’s not the biggest market but there are opportunities there. Paap and the American delegation were walking into the Ministry of Agriculture to meet with Cuban officials and a Chinese trade delegation was walking out at the same time.

“If we’re going to choose not to be there and involved in infrastructure upgrades, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” Paap said. “There’s a lot of countries putting some money into the country. Even Minnesota Ag Commissioner Dave Fredrickson (who was on the first trade mission) said it was amazing how much the country had changed, even since last December.”

There’s a lot of work to do to improve the lives of the average Cuban who earns between 20 and 24 dollars a month. Paap is a farmer in Blue Earth County and his Cuban counterparts have lots of questions for the American farmers on the trip.

“I always make sure and bring along a picture book,” Paap said, “especially when there’s a language barrier. There was a lot of interest in that. They had a lot of livestock questions about pigs and what we feed them and how heavy they are. They had a lot of questions about things like rainfall and crop yields. We had a lot of great farmer-to-farmer conversations.”

Cubans understand there are things they can’t grow in their fields. Paap wants to know why wouldn’t we want to sell Ag commodities to a country that’s only 90 miles south of America. After all, farmers understand logistics and travel better than most. Farmers realized a long time ago the value of working together, and that the people you work the best with are likely those closest to you.

The biggest obstacle for agriculture to overcome in order to improve trade with Cuba is the financing mechanism. In order for America to sell agricultural products to Cuba, the buyers have to come up with all the cash up front through a third party. That’s a big disadvantage when America’s competitors are more than happy to offer financing.

“That’s where the work of Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Emmer comes in to help try to get rid of some of those requirements,” Paap says. “That would make us a more desirable trading partner as well as the closest.”

Cattle marketing during an economic downturn

Beef prices have ridden a world-class roller coaster in recent years, making profitable cattle marketing an enormous challenge. Prices peaked in 2014, going as high as they’d been in recent memory. However, they began a downward slide in mid-2015 before tanking through most of 2016.

cattle marketing

Troy Hadrick, pictured with wife Stacy, recently began doing things different when it came to his cattle marketing efforts. Those efforts helped him and other producers get through a recent run of the worst cattle prices the industry has seen in some time. (photo courtesy of advocatesforag.com)

Troy Hadrick is a producer from Faulkton, South Dakota, who rode the highs and lows in beef cattle prices, experiencing firsthand the challenges that low prices present. While fed cattle prices had rallied from October of 2016 into early this year, the business is cyclical and low prices will come around again. Hadrick said it is possible for beef cattle producers to make it through the down times, provided they’re willing to try new things.

There are a lot of theories as to why prices began a free-fall in 2015, falling at an unprecedented pace. Before prices got to that point, Hadrick says beef saw a perfect storm of conditions that drove prices to record highs in 2014. A large number of pigs in the U.S. had died of PED so pork production was way down. An Avian Influenza outbreak had pushed chicken and poultry production lower as well. Combine those facts with the lowest cattle numbers America had seen since the 1940s and you have the recipe for high beef prices.

“There wasn’t enough beef and protein to go around,” Hadrick said, “so our industry did what it always does. It responds and makes a bunch more of the product.”

But the number of cattle head in the herd doesn’t paint the full picture. It’s more about the pounds of product the industry produces. High prices meant producers were getting cattle as fat as possible to produce as many pounds as possible. The industry was at record carcass weight during the boom.

“We were producing carcass weights of approximately 850 pounds at that time,” he said. “Our recent carcass weights were around 814 pounds. So if we kill approximately 500,000 head a week, take that times 30 pounds a head, and look at the difference. The population stays the same as we’re killing the same number of head but the amount of product we’re producing is different.”

Needless to say, prices going from record highs to unbelievably low prices came down hard on the beef industry. There’s no doubt producers were pushed out of business as profits margins shrank to razor-thin levels. Theories ranging from oversupply to market manipulation abounded as the industry was under stress. Hadrick is very sympathetic to the plight of his fellow producers, having gone through the downturn himself. He does want to point out that if producers are willing to try new things, it’s possible to weather the downturns more efficiently.

Back in 2012, the Hadricks began changing their breeding and marketing programs for their cattle. There are different grades of beef and those grades are priced differently.

 

 

Higher quality beef demands a higher price because there’s less of it available. There’s a good demand for higher quality beef because it tastes better.

“We started shooting to produce cattle that would give us the beef that would qualify for these premium programs, such as Certified Angus Beef and USDA Prime,” he said. “If you produce cattle that fit into those categories then you get a nice premium price for your product.”

They did a couple of different things to try to speed up the process of producing premium beef. The family implemented an AI program on the ranch that covered the entire herd, using the best genetics they could find on the market to help them produce the highest quality beef. There’s a lot of data being collected on sires and they looked for the bulls that could get the job done.

So, with that as their focus, here’s where they did something different from what might be considered the ‘norm’ in beef production. Their cattle go down south to be finished but the Hadricks retain ownership.

 

 

“Those cattle are then marketed on a grid,” Troy said. “They harvest those cattle, they hang on the rail, and they’re graded by a USDA Inspector. Based off of that grade and the weight, that’s how the price we receive is calculated. We don’t know the final value of the cattle until they’re hanging on the rail as meat.”

Obviously, there’s a risk of being discounted when you market on a grid. The actual grid is just like other grids you may have seen. For example, if a particular animal graded Prime and was a Yield Grade 3, you follow those two columns and where they meet, that’s what the price was that week for that animal and that’s what we’re paid.

“We started our program with AI and then combined it with genomic testing,” Hadrick said. “We would take DNA samples from some of our cattle, get it analyzed, and that would give us an indicator as far as which cattle would perform well on the grid. We’d also keep back those females that would produce the best calves.”

Between those two technologies, Hadrick said their production went from grading 90 percent Choice, 35 percent Certified Angus Beef, and no Prime, to cattle that finished 57 percent prime, and 100 percent Choice. Hadrick said producers get really good premiums for numbers like that.

“The nice part about it is it doesn’t cost us any more money to raise those cattle,” he said. “It doesn’t cost us any more to feed them, either. Of course, we have to get them bred, but at the end of the day, they’re worth more money.”

There is an additional cost with the genomic testing, but Hadrick says it’s worth it to them because the idea is to identify the cattle that are going to make the family money and those that won’t. They sort cattle accordingly and market those cattle accordingly.

The Hadrick cattle are harvested through a cooperative called U.S. Premium Beef. It’s a rancher-owned cooperative based in Kansas that owns parts of the National Beef Packing Plants in Dodge City and Liberal, Kansas. Hadrick said some visionary people put this idea together back in the 1990s.

“They wanted to give producers the incentive to produce better beef,” Hadrick said, “and they wanted food service businesses and consumers that need beef to be able to come and know they’re getting the highest quality beef. They also wanted to reward the producers that could give them the highest quality beef consistently.”

The grid system runs off what they call plant average. Hadrick said in order to get the premiums, producers have to bring in cattle that are better than what everyone else brings in. That can be a big challenge as they’re attracting a lot of cattle that are high quality right from the start.

The plant isn’t buying cattle from the Hadricks, but instead, they’re buying carcasses. Hadrick said that makes it much harder for producers to try to sneak a bad one through the plant. There’s no hiding a poor carcass once the hide comes off.

He said the new system has advantages from the traditional way of doing business in the cow/cattle industry.

 

 

“On the farming side of things, we got into ethanol, we got into crushing soybeans, in order to get our product closer to the end point,” he said. “The closer you sell your product to the final consumer of your product, the more you’re going to get for it because you’ve added some value to it.”

He said doing business this way isn’t easy. Producers have to manage risk more, they have to have a relationship with the packer, and with the feedlots they work with. Producers also have to know their cattle because they won’t get away with trying to slip a bad one through the chain.

“If you market average cattle, you’re going to get an average price,” Hadrick said. “We’re trying to do things a little differently to do things better.”

MDA seeks public input on draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule

Nitrogen Fertilizer

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is looking for public input on a proposed rule dealing with nitrogen fertilizer and possible runoff into Minnesota waters. (photo from netnebraska.org)

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) is seeking public review and comment of a draft proposal for regulating the use of nitrogen fertilizer in Minnesota.

The purpose of the proposed Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule is to minimize the potential for nitrate-nitrogen contamination from fertilizer in the state’s groundwater and drinking water. Nitrate is one of the most common contaminants in Minnesota’s groundwater and elevated levels of nitrate in drinking water can pose serious health concerns for humans.

The MDA is seeking public input and will be holding five public listening sessions throughout the state to discuss the proposed Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule at which written comments can be submitted. The draft rule can be viewed online at www.mda.state.mn.us/nfr.

All comments regarding the proposed rule must be submitted in writing. After consideration of comments received, the MDA expects to publish the final draft of the rule in the fall of 2017. The rule is expected to be adopted in the fall of 2018.

The draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule is based on the Minnesota Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) which recommends steps for minimizing impacts of nitrogen fertilizer on groundwater and emphasizes involving the local community in developing local solutions.

The NFMP went through an extensive development process with input provided by farmers, crop advisors, and others in the agricultural community.

Listening sessions on the draft rule will be held at the following locations:

Thursday, June 22, 5:00 pm
Marshall Public Library
201 C Street, Marshall, MN 56258

Wednesday, June 28, 6:00 pm
Chatfield Center for the Arts
405 Main Street, Chatfield, MN 55932

Thursday, June 29, 2:00 pm
University of Minnesota Extension Office
4100 220th Street West, Farmington, MN 55024

Thursday, July 6, 3:00 pm
Great River Regional Library
1300 West Saint Germain Street, St. Cloud, MN 56301

Tuesday, July 11, 6:00 pm
Robertson Theatre, Wadena-Deer Creek High School
600 Colfax Ave. SW, Wadena, MN 56482

Written comments on the draft Nitrogen Fertilizer Rule should be submitted by Friday August 11, 2017 via mail or email to:

Larry Gunderson
Fertilizer Technical Unit Supervisor
Minnesota Department of Agriculture

625 Robert Street North
St. Paul, MN, 55155-2538
larry.gunderson@state.mn.us

All comments should, but are not required to, include a contact name, phone number and/or email address to provide for follow-up discussion on specific comments. To stay up to date on the rule writing process, please visit: www.mda.state.mn.us/nfr.

The Freshwater Institute is working on ways to keep nitrogen from running into our water supply, but they’re doing it with an eye on keeping farmers as profitable as possible. I thought that was a refreshing change from the usual rhetoric. Here’s a video on something called a bioreactor. Is this something you’d be willing to do on your farm?

The crop insurance battle continues

Crop Insurance

Here’s a photo of winter wheat in western Kansas buried under a snowstorm last weekend. Crop insurance is an important product for farmers in times like these. (Photo from the High Plains Journal)

WHEAT GROUP TWEAKS HERITAGE OVER BLIZZARD DAMAGE: David Schemm, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, wants representatives of The Heritage Foundation and taxpayer watchdog groups that criticize the federal crop insurance program to witness the damage a spring blizzard inflicted on fields in Kansas, the country’s biggest wheat state, over the weekend. The storm, which dropped a foot to 17 inches in places, hit eastern Colorado, parts of Nebraska and the western part of Kansas, where NAWG estimates it destroyed 43 percent of the state’s winter wheat crop. The timing couldn’t be worse, as wheat farmers are already reeling from several years of extremely low prices.

“From their rhetoric, they would say a lot of farmers will go bankrupt and that’s how it’s supposed to be,” Schemm said of taxpayer groups and the conservative think tank on Tuesday as he surveyed his 4,500 acres of damaged wheat in Sharon Springs, Kan. NAWG had earlier tweeted: “A late season blizzard puts 43% of Kansas’ planted wheat acres under 14 inches of snow. @Heritage how would you handle w/o #cropinsurance?”

About 7.7 million acres of wheat in Kansas – more than 90 percent – are covered by a crop insurance policy, a liability amount equal to $1.1 billion, NAWG estimates based on USDA’s 2016 data. Most of those policies protect against revenue losses, as opposed to just drops in yield, the group said, making an important distinction.

Heritage’s two cents: It’s not true that the Heritage Foundation is against all forms of crop insurance, said Daren Bakst, the group’s research fellow on agricultural policy. “On the yield side, we should be covering deep losses,” like those experienced in the recent storm, he said. “Other risks farmers should be managing on their own.” Heritage did call for eliminating crop insurance policies that guarantee revenue when it released a 65-page paper – which Bakst edited – on managing risk in agriculture last year. Pros, read the report here.

Here’s the podcast recapping the damage in Kansas as well as some better news regarding rebuilding after the wildfires that raged through the plains states:

MN FFA Foundation to livestream video during convention

The Minnesota FFA Association is reaching a larger audience with the new feature of live stream, hosted by the Minnesota FFA Foundation, during the 88th Minnesota FFA Convention, April 23-25 at the University of Minnesota (UMN) St. Paul campus. Nearly 4,000 members will attend the three-day event to compete in career development events, attend sessions and workshops and receive awards for their FFA achievements.

FFA Foundation live streaming

The Minnesota FFA Foundation will be hosting a livestream of several events at the Minnesota FFA State Convention in St. Paul April 23-25, for those who want to see what’s happening or relive some of the good-old-days from their own time in FFA. (photo from mnffafoundation.org)

Live stream will be hosted on the Minnesota FFA Foundation site:

mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming and will begin 30 minutes before the start of each session. Recordings of the sessions will be available to view after the session has occurred.

Live stream will be available for these sessions:

  • Reflections/Talent: Sunday, April 23, 2017 — 5:30 p.m.

 

  • Session 1: Monday, April 24, 2017 — 8:30 a.m.

 

  • Session 2: Monday, April 24, 2017 — 1:45 p.m.

 

  • Awards: Monday, April 24, 2017 — 6:30 p.m.

 

  • Session 3: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 — 8:45 a.m.

 

  • Session 4: Tuesday, April 25, 2017 — 12 p.m.

 

Visit mnffa.org for more details about the 88th Minnesota FFA convention. Follow along on social media and watch the general sessions at mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming

 

About Minnesota FFA

The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. More than 25,000 students in Minnesota are enrolled in agricultural education classes. Students who have taken three or more classes in career and technical education, including agricultural education have a graduation rate of 98.7 percent. Visit www.mnffa.org for more information.

 

MN Farmers Have Until May 5 to Renew CSP Contracts

Land Stewardship Project, CSP, Conservation stewardship programMinnesota farmers have until May 5 to re-enroll in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). This renewal option is specifically for farmers and ranchers who enrolled in CSP initially in 2013. Farmers are encouraged to contact their local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office for more information on renewing (www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/contact/local).

CSP is a comprehensive working lands conservation program that provides technical and financial assistance to farmers and ranchers to actively manage and maintain existing conservation systems and to implement additional conservation activities on land in production. Through CSP, participants take steps to improve soil, water, air and habitat quality, and can also address energy conservation issues.

“CSP is a wonderful program,” said Jon Jovaag, a Land Stewardship Project farmer-member from Austin, Minn. Jovaag had a CSP contract in the past and plans on reapplying in 2017. “It helps farmers implement conservation practices over their entire farming operation.”

Land Stewardship Project, Conservation Stewardship Program, CSP

The Land Stewardship Project would like to remind Minnesota farmers that the renewal deadline for the Conservation Stewardship Program is May fifth. The renewal option is specifically for farmers that enrolled in CSP back in 2013. (photo from nrcs.usda.gov)

Program contracts, which are administered by the NRCS, last for five years, at which time they are eligible for renewal. There are approximately 7,000 U.S. farmers and ranchers with program contracts that will expire this year, totaling over 9.5 million acres. In Minnesota, there are 552 contracts expiring, totaling 387,331 acres.

It is optional to renew an expiring contract, and participants who do not re-enroll can always re-apply and compete for funding in future annual program signups. However, there is significant benefit to renewing now: the process for renewing is non-competitive and much simpler than re-applying through the competitive process later, and participants will avoid any gaps in their CSP payments that would otherwise occur.

NRCS has already mailed letters to all participants with contracts that are set to expire this year. Local NRCS offices will then follow up with producers to discuss renewal criteria and new conservation options. Participants will need to meet additional renewal criteria. Under the terms of the 2014 Farm Bill, program contract holders can renew their contracts provided they have met the terms of their initial contract, agree to adopt and continue to integrate conservation activities across the entire operation, and agree to either meet the stewardship threshold of at least two additional priority resource concerns or exceed the stewardship threshold of at least two existing priority resource concerns by the end of the renewed contract period.

Here’s a bit of a refresher course on the CSP if you’re thinking about doing it for the first time:

Minnesota FFA Convention April 23-25th

Next week, the University of Minnesota (UMN) St. Paul campus will be flooded with a sea of blue jackets, as nearly 4,000 student members gather for the 88th Minnesota FFA Convention, April 23-25.

Minnesota FFA

The blue jackets are about to descend on the University of Minnesota for the State FFA Convention April23-25 at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Sciences on the St. Paul Campus. (photo from Rachel Marthaler Photography.)

During the convention, Minnesota FFA members compete in career development contests, attend sessions and workshops and receive awards for their FFA achievements. At this three-day event, high school FFA members also are introduced to the UMN community.

FFA is a national organization founded in 1928 that recognizes and supports the interests of food, fiber and natural resource industries and encompasses science, business and technology as it is applied to production agriculture. There are 30 different career development events (CDE) that students will compete in at the Minnesota FFA convention. The events include everything from forestry to agricultural sales. The FFA CDEs are just as diverse as the UMN’s College of Food,Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) majors.

At the convention, FFA members meet UMN students, faculty and professors who are helping with competitions, workshops and other convention activities.

“The first time I came to the University of Minnesota was with my FFA chapter for convention,”said Wendy Bauman, FFA member from Kerkhoven Murdock Sunburg (KMS) Chapter. “Now I’m a freshman in CFANS studying agricultural education. FFA is what introduced me to the University of Minnesota and is the reason why I chose this school and major.”

Many University of Minnesota CFANS students share a similar story. Many past Minnesota FFA members have found a home on the St. Paul campus. The partnership between CFANS and Minnesota FFA has strengthened both organizations as they work toward a similar mission of preparing future leaders for their careers.

“Minnesota FFA plays a key role in youth development and leadership across the state,” said CFANS Dean Brian Buhr. “We are fortunate to have a strong relationship that benefits our programs and departments.”

Visit mnffa.org for more details about the 88th Minnesota FFA convention. Follow along on social media or watch the general sessions mnffafoundation.org/livestreaming.

Wondering just what kind of impact Minnesota FFA can make on students?

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About University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences

The University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS), is one of the world’s leading research, education and outreach institutions in the natural resources, food and agricultural sciences. Its faculty, staff and students are dedicated to the enhancement and preservation of the world’s food supplies and natural resources. CFANS provides students the opportunity to enter career fields with some of the best job outlooks in the country, including 13 undergraduate majors and over 25 minors ranging from agricultural education and marketing communications to conservation biology and forest and natural resource management, to health and nutrition, and the future of food and agriculture management with a focus in business and technology. As part of this launch, the University will offer enhanced scholarships to Minnesota students, add additional recruitment events in Greater Minnesota and expand outreach to high school counselors and career centers across Minnesota.

About Minnesota FFA

 The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. More than 25,000 students in Minnesota are enrolled in agricultural education classes. Students who have taken three or more classes in career and technical education, including agricultural education have a graduation rate of 98.7 percent. Visit www.mnffa.org for more information.

 

 

Meet the Oggun farm tractor

Oggun Farm Tractor

Southeast Minnesota residents got their first peek at the Oggun farm tractor at a viewing at Featherstone Farms of Rushford earlier this month. (Photo by Chad Smith)

It’s called the Oggun (Oh-goon), and it’s a different take on the farm tractor than many folks in agriculture may be used to. Southeast Minnesota residents got their first look at the new tractor during a showcase event at Featherstone Farms of Rushford on Wednesday, April 5.

 

The tractor was specifically designed for smaller farms, but that’s not what makes it unique. It’s unique in its design, it’s price, and the way it’s adaptable to newer technologies. The tractor has many unique characteristics, especially because it’s built with an open-source manufacturing design and parts you could find at a local tractor supply company. The idea for the tractor first began a short time ago.

The idea

Former IBM engineers and long-time business partners Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal (a Cuban-American) came together to form Alabama-based Cleber LLC. One day, Berenthal told Clemmons he wanted to do business back in his native country. The two talked over a lot of options, including software, but decided to go in a different direction.

“They started looking at things going on in the country,” said Locky Catron, a partner in Cleber, during opening remarks to the people in attendance, “and saw that the government had given land back to about 300,000 farmers, but there were only 60,000 tractors on the island.”

The tractors were all roughly 30 years old and of Russian design. Horace decided in June of 2015 that he and Saul were going to build tractors for Cuba. They needed to build something simple and easily fixed, because Cuban farmers were used to fixing everything themselves. They also needed to build something that was affordable. Mass production of tractors began in November of 2016.

The model

“That’s why they went to the open-source manufacturing model,” Catron said, “using all off-the-shelf parts. They designed the tractor based on the design of the Allis-Chalmers G. After doing all the work to put it together, the company realized business probably wasn’t going to happen in Cuba until the embargo is lifted.”

Once American farmers got wind of what Cleber was doing, they showed a lot of interest in the product as well. The business then set up shop in Paint Rock, Alabama, and began showing it to interested American farmers.

“I learned a valuable lesson from the Cuban farmers,” Clemmons said, “because they helped us understand how we can better serve farmers across the globe. $10,000 is still a lot of money to small farmers across the globe, so we have to create a business model where the price goes down every year.”

Cleber, LLC., told customers around the globe, including in Ethiopia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Australia, that they would give them the design of the tractor, which most companies don’t do. They agreed to ship parts that their customers couldn’t make in their countries with the idea that eventually the countries would take over the entire manufacturing process.

“We have offered a business proposition to our customers that says, ‘put me out of business,’” Clemmons said. “That’s about the only way we’re going to get 40-50 percent of the world’s smallest farmers equipped to do their work.”

People ask him how they expect to make money. His answer was a simple one.

“It’s called trust,” he said. “It’s called value-added. How hard would it be to use this technology and turn it into a skid steer? It’s got the engine, it’s got the hydraulics, so I’d take the tires off and put tracks on, and put a bucket on the front.”

He said they designed components to put together and they want to let people be creative in how they use those components.

The advantages

“Equipment (like tractors) is built using proprietary systems,” Catron said. “It’s unique components for a unique piece of equipment. We’re building the Oggun tractor that’s open-source, we’re building it using architectures, and we’re building it in the same way that technology is currently built today.”

Clemmons said the Oggun technology is simple, unique, practical, and it’s what small farmers need. Using off-the-shelf parts to build their tractors improves the local economies of their customers as well. The replacement parts can be found at local businesses like ag supply stores or auto parts stores.

“The parts don’t come painted certain colors, with patents on them, but instead they come out of the local economy,” Clemmons said. “All of that lowers the price over time because of the larger volume we get by using readily available components. Those components lower the price for everyone over time.”

Some of the specific tractor specs include a 19-horsepower Honda gas engine. The tractor length is just over 10 feet long and the weight is 1700 pounds. The brakes and the steering are hydraulic, with independent hydraulic drive. There’s also a unique zero-turn capability that comes with this tractor. It also has a 3-point hitch for implements. There’s also an optional PTO capability as well.

“It’s more than a tractor, the Oggun is a different way of thinking,” Clemmons added. More information is available at www.thinkoggun.com.

Minnesota Farmers Union tours state to hear farmer concerns

Gary Wertish Minnesota Farmers Union

New Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish, a Renville County farmer, recently embarked on a listening tour around the state to hear the concerns of Minnesota Farmers. (Photo from twitter.com)

One of the first things on the to-do list of new Minnesota Farmers Union President Gary Wertish was a series of visits around the state with farmers from across Minnesota. The idea was to get a sense of the concerns facing the state’s farmers as they get set for another growing season in Minnesota.

Wertish said the list of concerns farmers talked about with Farmers Union officials was a lengthy one. Concerns ranged from buffers to health insurance to property taxes to broadband. He says there seems to be a lot on the minds of Minnesota farmers as the turnout at almost every stop was good.

“We had a very good turnout at 15 stops around the state,” Wertish said. “We tried to cover all corners of the state. The smallest attendance was still 30-35 people but we also had a couple meetings that were 60-65 people. In total, roughly 450 people attended, so it made for some good discussion.”

In addition to farmers, a broad section of people turned out for the meetings, ranging from county commissioners, human services employees, people from local food shelves, and even had a couple school administrators. In addition to the usual topics like buffers, health insurance, and property taxes, Wertish said broadband access was brought up at virtually every meeting.

 

Broadband access

 

He said one of the stops was a dairy farm in Goodrich, where the family had just put in a robotic milking system. The couple told people at the meeting they were lucky to have access to high-speed internet, without which they couldn’t have made the switch. A lot of farmers around the rest of the state aren’t as lucky.

“You still have some areas around the state that are using dial-up internet,” Wertish said. “We hear stories of farmers out on tractors using GPS technology that lose their signal when they go down in a ravine. We also heard stories about farmers having to go into the McDonald’s in town to use their Wi-Fi.”

A farmer from Roseau has a son that works in the Twin Cities. His son came for a visit and was trying to do some work online while at the farm. His son spent half a day on work that would normally take him an hour in the Cities because of better broadband access. The son wants to take over the farm but keep his job in the Cities but he can’t do it without better broadband access in rural areas.

 

Health insurance

 

At a meeting in Mankato, a 59-year old farmer stood up to talk about healthcare. He and his wife farmed about 1,500 acres, and they’d been farming all their life. He and his wife could take care of all the work themselves so there was no need for hired help. But, neither one of them could work a job off the farm to provide healthcare.

“He buys insurance through the individual marketplace and his premium bill is $29,000,” Wertish said. “On top that that, the premium comes with a $13,000 deductible. That’s $42,000 combined. Lucky for him, he and his wife have never met their deductible.”

As he worked on cash flows and operating loans in meeting with lenders, they’d tell the farmer to cut expenses. As he looks at the worksheets, the only thing he can cut that’s not returning a chance at a profit is healthcare.

“While not quite that dramatic, we heard similar stories from around the state,” said Wertish. “Farmers are looking at out of control premiums. But to really fix health care, we need to take the politics out of it and we haven’t been able to do that yet.”

One potential solution broached at the state level would be to let people buy into the Minnesota Care program. One reason it’s being discussed is there are over 1 million people enrolled, so the state can use its buying power to control costs somewhat. The additional benefit is more than one health care provider as well, so there is competition for business. Some Minnesota counties often have only one provider.

 

Buffers

 

The state requirement for farmers to have either 16-foot or 50-foot buffers between their farmland and bodies of water has been a contentious issue for months. Due in part to political pressure, the state recently came out with some alternative solutions to the buffer requirements.

“The initial reaction we (Minnesota Farmers Union) have is that it does look like it’ll help,” he said. “The biggest thing that came out of it is the state is giving some flexibility to local Soil and Water officials on how they do things. The state’s comment was ‘if the local Soil and Water officials can come up with a particular solution and defend it, they’ll acknowledge that local plan.’”

Wertish did say the new alternatives aren’t getting rid of the buffers 100 percent, there still may be some areas in the state where they get by with less than what the law requires, depending on the plan. He said it’s very encouraging that some of the control is being put back into local offices.

The biggest complaint farmers had didn’t involve the buffers themselves, but more the way it was handled. The decision came from the top down, so farmers felt left out of the discussions and here came more government regulations without having any farmer input.

 

Mowing ditches

 

Minnesota farmers have been mowing and bailing ditches for a long time. In addition to the obvious benefit of forage for livestock, there’s also the benefit of additional weed control close to their fields. There is a law on the books that says MN-DOT can require a permit to work in the ditches but enforcement has been lax up until recently.

“A few years ago,” Wertish said, “a certain state legislator expressed concerns during a meeting that ‘farmers were getting all this free hay’ when they mowed ditches. He felt farmers were taking advantage of the state by getting all this hay for free.”

Wertish says that’s where the discussion was first brought forward and why it’s going on today. There’s a law on the books that says MN-DOT should require permits to do that, but the Minnesota Farmers Union President said the legislator wanted to charge a fee for the bales.

“Since then, you have the pollinator issue that’s entered it,” he said. “I think all farmers realize we need our pollinators and we have to do what we can. So, it’s a combination of things that’s really brought it forward.”

Farmers are saving MN-DOT a lot of money by not having to mow in certain parts of the state. He says not every ditch in Minnesota is getting mowed. In some areas, it might be tough to get equipment into certain ditches. Wertish said one idea is to make it easier for pollinators to live in ditches like that. It’s important for MN-DOT to bring together all stakeholders and put a plan together.

 

Other topics

 

Transportation funding was a big topic of conversation. Minnesota has aging infrastructure that needs to be repaired and several people at the various meetings said it’s time to put more money into the state’s roads.

Farm bill development was another consistent topic of conversation. Wertish said most farmers told him they didn’t want any more checks from the government. They just wanted to make sure the farm safety net was solid in case of emergencies.

Here the new Minnesota Farmers Union president visiting Joe Gill, KASM radio in Albany, MN.