Seven years in the making, EWG’s Conservation Database allows Americans to see exactly where billions of dollars in conservation funding have gone. The data obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, is broken down by county.
“Used wisely and with the right incentives, farm conservation programs are making a difference in protecting our health, and improving our quality of life and the environment,” said Craig Cox, EWG Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources. “But we need to focus taxpayer dollars on getting the most effective practices in the right places to address the most urgent threats.”
The data, obtained through 28 FOIA requests over seven years, show that since 2005 farmers and landowners have received $29.8 billion in payments through four initiatives funded by Congress and administered by USDA.
The data confirm the growing recognition that voluntary programs alone are insufficient. Voluntary programs in the federal farm bill can play an important role, but they aren’t leading to clean water, clean air and a healthy environment.
“It’s more than fair to expect farmers and landowners to do more to protect the environment in return for the generous farm and insurance subsidies they receive,” Cox said. “Americans across the country are seeing the price of farm pollution firsthand. It’s time for Congress to deliver a return on their tax dollars by requiring farmers who take money from these programs to do more to protect the environment and public health.”
Doug Peterson’s life has revolved around agriculture for as long as he can remember. The soon-to-retireMinnesota Farmers Union President has been a strong advocate Minnesota agriculture for decades. Peterson received another honor from a major agriculture group in the state, winning the 2016 Distinguished Friend of Extension award winner on Tuesday, October 4.
The award was announced on Tuesday by Dean Bev Durgan, who said that Peterson’s advocacy “has strengthened the University of Minnesota’s ability to create a strong Minnesota agriculture.”
Retiring Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson was named a Distinguished Friend of Extension by the University of Minnesota Extension Service this week. (
President Peterson was lauded for his support of 4-H, including visionary contributions to the Minnesota’s pioneering 4-H Science of Agriculture program and the 4-H Purple Ribbon Auction at the State Fair.
Peterson and the Minnesota Farmers Union have played an important role helping secure legislative funding for Extension to create positive impacts across Minnesota. One of the biggest impacts is the Farmer-Lender Mediation program that helps farmers facing financial challenges.
Bev Durgan, Dean of the University of Minnesota Extension Service, presented the Distinguished Friend of Extension Award to Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson earlier this week. (Photo from extension.umn.edu)
“I’m proud to accept this award on behalf of the Minnesota Farmers Union members and in support of the hard work that the University of Minnesota and Extension does to advance family farming,” Peterson said.
Doug was always someone I looked forward to visiting with during my time as Farm Director at KLGR in Redwood Falls. He was very patient with the new guy covering agriculture and I learned an awful lot from visiting with him. Agriculture had a friend in Doug and I bet we haven’t heard the last of him on the state level. Best of luck in your retirement, Doug!
Want to see some of the things the Minnesota Farmers Union has been up to over the last year?
Minnesota Farmers Union, standing for agriculture and fighting for farmers (www.mfu.org)
Ruling in favor of biodiesel mandate paves way for boosting renewable fuels and strong soybean demand
The State of Minnesota, Minnesota soybean farmers, and biodiesel producers won a complete dismissal Thursday in the lawsuit challenging the state’s biodiesel mandate. The decision by Chief Judge John Tunheim of the U.S. District Court in Minneapolis clears the road for summer blends of B20 (20 percent biodiesel blend) in May 2018 and continues to provide numerous benefits for all Minnesotans while adding value to Minnesota soybeans.
Minnesota Soybean growers and biodiesel producers won a complete dismissal of a lawsuit challenging the Minnesota Biodiesel Mandate, clearing the way for B20 blends in the future. (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)
“We are very pleased to see the state and Minnesota Soybean’s motions were successful in dismissing the case against the state’s biodiesel mandate,” said Theresia Gillie, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association president. “Once again, Minnesota is at the forefront of energy independence and supporting renewable fuels.”
The current B10 blend equates to annually removing 128,000 passenger vehicles from Minnesota roads and is America’s only advanced biofuel. B20 will bring more value to soybeans as it has stimulated Minnesota’s agricultural economy. By increasing demand for Minnesota soybeans by 13 percent, soybean biodiesel generates an estimated $200 million in economic activity.
“The benefits serve all Minnesotans,” said Mike Youngerberg, Minnesota Soybean’s senior director of field services. “Biodiesel reduces our dependence on imported petroleum while increasing farmer profitability, creating green jobs and boosting economic growth in Minnesota.”
Boosting the soybean biodiesel blend is expected to increase demand for Minnesota soybeans by 13 percent.
The added bonus is biodiesel, since 2005, has significantly improved air quality in Minnesota, among other environmental benefits. This is a win for all Minnesotans.
In his ruling, Judge Tunheim ruled Minnesota’s mandate is not preempted by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Minnesota’s mandate actually creates demand and works in conjunction with the current RFS.
“Nearly all engine manufacturers approve B20 for their engines and now Minnesotans are ready for the move to B20,” Gillie said. “We thank the State of Minnesota for their vehement defense of the biodiesel mandate.”
MSGA is a non-profit, farmer-controlled membership organization established in 1962. Its goal is to assure profitable soybean farming by influencing favorable ag legislation, monitoring government policies and supporting research and market development.
U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp today announced that fertilizer retailers in North Dakota and across the country will not have to comply with harmful standards issued last year by the Administration. The standards – which the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must withdraw – would have applied tough, across-the-board restrictions on agricultural retailers that sell anhydrous ammonia, a common fertilizer, seriously burdening retailers and farmers.
The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that fertilizer retailers don’t have to live under new storage requirements that the Administration tried to implement without input from farmers and the agriculture industry.
In a decision issued this morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the administration should have gone through a formal rulemaking process, seeking more meaningful input from farmers and fertilizer retailers. The Administration created the new standards in a July 2015 memorandum, and they became effective immediately. However, because of language Heitkamp helped include in the end-of-the-year spending bill Congress passed last December, OSHA postponed enforcement of the guidance until October 1, 2016.
“As I said yesterday at a hearing I helped lead, the administration should have listened to farmers, retailers, and rural communities before creating these standards – and today the courts agreed,” said Heitkamp. “This is a victory for rural communities whose economies rely on farmers’ accessing inputs like anhydrous ammonia fertilizer. Complying with those standards could have cost each facility up to $50,000, according to the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. More than 30 North Dakota retailers said they would have had to stop selling the fertilizer. With those huge impacts on our farmers, it was clear all along that there should have been a formal rulemaking process rather than just agency guidance with little input from those impacted.”
Fall anhydrous applications aren’t that far away. The retailers that sell it don’t have to live under burdensome new regulations from OSHA, thanks to a decision on Friday from the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Just yesterday, Heitkamp pushed key administration officials for a solution on the standards, pointing out – as the court said in its decision today – that the proposed standards looked more like rulemaking than guidance. Heitkamp called on the administration to voluntarily delay enforcing the standards given the impact they would have on farmers and retailers. The new policy would have required facilities that store or transport 10,000 pounds or more of anhydrous ammonia to obtain Process Safety Management Standard documentation. If the facility could not obtain this documentation, it would have been forced to purchase new storage tanks, costing $70,000 or more.
OSHA did not choose the traditional notice-and-comment rulemaking process, which would have given retailers and farmers an opportunity for more meaningful consultation as the rule was developed, and instead issued interpretive guidance, which did not include substantial input from affected industries.
In July, Heitkamp and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced bipartisan legislation to stop these harmful federal standards from going into effect. It would also require the agency to abide by a formal rulemaking process when instituting a similar policy change in the future. Click here to view text of the FARM Act.
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Crop scientists at the University of Minnesota and officials at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) urge farmers to check fields for Palmer amaranth, an aggressive weed that can put corn and soybean crops at risk. A plant detected in a native seed planting plot on a Yellow Medicine County farm was confirmed today to be Palmer amaranth. This is the first confirmation of the weed in the state.
The MDA asks possible infestations to be reported by contacting the MDA’s Arrest the Pest line by phone at 1-888-545-6684 or by email at email@example.com. Landowners are encouraged to email photos of suspected infestations for identification.
“We encourage landowners to scout fields now before harvest for Palmer amaranth and report any possible infestations to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture,” said Geir Friisoe, MDA’s Director of Plant Protection. “The quicker we’re able to identify and start managing this weed, the better our chances will be to minimize the impact to our ag industry.”
Palmer Amaranth has been found in Minnesota and the Department of Agriculture wants farmers to keep an eye on their fields to help nip this in the bud before an infestation can occur. (Photo by Bruce Potter)
Palmer amaranth can grow 2 to 3 inches a day, typically reaching 6 to 8 feet, or more, in height. Left uncontrolled, a single female Palmer amaranth plant typically produces 100,000 to 500,000 seeds. It is resistant to multiple herbicides.
It has been found in 28 other states, including Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
“Palmer amaranth infestations have caused substantial yield losses and greatly increased weed management costs in cotton, soybeans, and corn in the southern states,” said Extension agronomist and crops leader Jeff Gunsolus. “This is a disconcerting, though not completely unexpected, discovery in Minnesota. We have been discussing proper identification procedures with crop consultants over the last three or more years.”
Palmer Amaranth has been found in Minnesota fields and it’s important for farmers to watch their fields in order to avoid an outbreak in farm fields across the state. (Photo by Bruce Potter)
Extension and MDA officials commend the grower and crop consultant who quickly contacted Extension after discovering a suspected Palmer amaranth plant. The weed is on MDA’s prohibited-eradicated noxious weed list, requiring all above- and below-ground parts of the plant be destroyed. Transportation, propagation or sale of the plants is prohibited.
MDA and Extension continue coordinating action steps to address the weed.
The MDA is investigating how the weed may have been introduced to the state.
Exporting soybeans overseas is one way to add value to Minnesota’s agricultural products. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has grants available for adding value to all kinds of agricultural products. (photo from archive.constantcontact.com)
Value added to agriculture sustains the long-term success of the industry and The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) wants to ensure the industry’s future. The MDA has up to $1 million in grants available through the competitive Value Added Grant Program. The grant was established to advance Minnesota’s agricultural and renewable energy industries through the Agricultural Growth, Research and Innovation (AGRI) Program.
The goal of the Value Added Grant is to increase sales of Minnesota agricultural products. Some of the ways to add value include diversifying markets, increasing market access, and increasing food safety of value-added products.
Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson notes that value added agriculture does a lot to support the state’s economy, including the off-farm sectors. (Photo from mda.state.mn.us)
“Value-added businesses benefit the state of Minnesota in lots of ways,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Dave Frederickson. “They utilize Minnesota grown agricultural products in creative ways and the extra sales revenues help support our state’s economy. It’s exciting to watch Minnesota entrepreneurs improve their businesses with funding from the Value Added Grant Program.”
New or established for-profit businesses may apply for funding to help with the development of value-added agricultural products. Some of the ways value gets added to agricultural products include added processing, marketing, or manufacturing. Grant funds reimburse up to 25 percent of the total project cost. The maximum award is $150,000 and the minimum grant is $1,000. Equipment purchases and facility improvements are also eligible ways to add value to agricultural products.
The highlight of the night was a cow milking contest that took place at the end of the first inning. And this wasn’t a new idea, either. For over 20 years, the Honkers have been hosting an annual milking contest. This year’s edition featured coaches from both teams in a one-minute, old-fashioned milking contest. There wasn’t a milking machine to be found for miles. This one was done by hand.
St Cloud Rox Assistant Baseball Coach Phil Imholte is ready for the Dairy Night at the Ballpark main event, a cow milking contest intended to help promote agriculture at Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota. (Photo by Chad Smith)
Honkers Manager Trevor Hairgrove was the Rochester entrant and Rox Assistant Coach Phil Imholte was a good sport by jumping into the contest for St. Cloud. Hairgrove was the eventual contest winner in spite of the fact that his cow was much more agitated and jumpy than Imholte’s.
“It was the 22nd annual Cow Milking Contest,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau Southeast Area Program Director Katie Brenny. “It was put on by the Olmsted County American Dairy Association and we were glad to join them and help promote agriculture.”
The cows were on loan from the Shea Dairy farm near Viola, Minnesota. June was officially Dairy Month across the country, but they wanted to continue to promote agriculture with the Rochester Honkers here in early July.
A dairy cow on loan from the Shea Dairy farm near Viola, Minnesota, isn’t excited about being in the Dairy Night at the Ballpark milking contest on Friday night, July 8, at Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota. (photo by Chad Smith)
“It’s important to do this because consumers have questions,” Brenny said. “They want to know where their food comes from and how it’s grown, and we hope they also want to know the people who are producing their food, getting up early in the morning to do the chores and drive the tractor.”
If agriculture doesn’t promote itself, she said consumers with questions typically get their information from non-factual sources . Farmers want to tell their stories, similar to the way a teacher wants to tell others what they teach or doctors want to talk about what they do.
“There’s always work to do to tell our story,” she said. “Agriculture changes almost every day, and if we’re not sharing the change, no one will know what we’re doing. For instance, 97 percent of our farms are family owned and we love to share that message with others. Farmers are more than willing to answer any questions about what they do.”
Heading home to the dairy farm after the Cow Milking Contest at Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota, on Friday night for Dairy Night at the Ballpark, sponsored by the Olmsted County American Dairy Association (Photo by Chad Smith
Katie is the Southeast Area Program Director for the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation. She spends a lot of time keeping things organized for Farm Bureau members in this part of the state.
“I work with all 11 counties down here in the southeast,” Brenny said, “doing anything from working with our elected officials on Ag policy to consumer events such as tonight, partnering with Ag commodity groups, county fairs, Ag in the Classroom, and more. We were just at the Rochester Farmer’s Market last weekend and doing all kinds of events to promote the voice of agriculture.”
Brenny and some volunteers spent some time Thursday at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester. Some of the pictures can be found here.
In addition to the dairy contest, there was some pretty good baseball too as you’ll see in a few highlights I’ve put together here.
The second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm was a big success at the Jary and Celene Holst dairy farm near Kellogg. (Photo by Chad Smith)
The second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm took place on the Jary and Celene Holst dairy farm near Kellogg last Friday night. A warm summer evening saw a great turnout and a wide variety of activities for people of all ages to take part in.
The goal was a simple one: to introduce the non-farm public to the people behind the food they eat and to show them what goes into producing that food. Displays of old and new farm equipment lined the farmyard, as well as history displays, a petting zoo, a lunch stand, kids activities, and much more that made for a busy family night on the farm.
People of all ages had a chance to get up close and personal at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm at the Jary and Celene Holst farm near Kellogg on a beautiful Friday evening. (photo by Chad Smith)
“This is the second year of doing this event,” said Katie Brown, a member of the group putting on the event. “Last year, many of us put together the first event last year at Klein’s Cow Palace near Lake City. This year, the Holst family graciously offered to host the event out here, so it’s a new event for our county but we’re hoping to make it a tradition.”
Brown described the turnout on Friday night as “amazing.” Events like this just don’t happen without a large number of people who are passionate about agriculture and want to tell its story to people who don’t have much of a connection to the farm.
“We want to make sure we tell the next generation about what farmers do every day and how hard they work,” said Brown, who lives in Millville, “and not just in the dairy industry but every segment of farming, including corn and soybean farmers, and hog producers. We just want to make sure we share that story with everyone.”
Ag history was on display with antique farm equipment at the second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm near Kellogg. The non-farm public had a chance to learn more about ag history and see some of the newest available equipment on display too. (Photo by Chad Smith)
The list of activities was a long one on Friday night. The displays included the history of agriculture, with actual working equipment from back in the day as well as some of the newest equipment, a chance to watch the dairy farm at work, and plenty for the kids to do as well.
“We have a little bit of history,” Brown said as she took a break from helping at the lunch counter, “not just about the farm but how agriculture has changed. We have a cream separator, which a lot of people may not know how it works, so it’ll be interesting to watch that. We have a large sand pile for kids with hidden baseballs to find for a chance to win Twins tickets. We have old and new tractors, a pedal tractor, calf feeding, and much more.”
She said it’s incredibly important to do more activities like this because of that growing disconnect between urban folks and people on the farm. She sees that disconnect every day in her job as a Calf and Heifer Specialist with Land O’ Lakes.
Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm included a chance for the non-farm public to watch cow being milked in a working dairy on the Jary and Celene Holst farm near Kellogg. (photo by Chad Smith)
“I’ve been involved in the American Dairy Association and the dairy industry all my life,” Brown said. “I’ve become very good friends with a couple from New York, and when I explain what I do when working with dairy farmers on the nutrition side making diets for cows and calves, they said ‘you do what?’ It’s interesting to talk to people that have no experience on a farm and tell them about what farmers do on a daily basis.
“When they ask ‘how do you milk a cow,’ they see you sitting on a stool between cows,” she said. “We send them pictures showing that there’s a new way of milking cows in parlors which is more safe for humans and more efficient to operate. It’s interesting to hear their take on it.”
As Brown was watching people walk by, she did see a lot of people from the surrounding community but did notice a large number of people who came from far away to enjoy a night on the farm with their family. The other noticeable thing about the crowds was an incredible number of oranges shirts that signified volunteers who were helping the event run smoothly.
Family Night on the Farm organizer Katie Brown said there’s no way she could put an event like that together without lots of volunteer help, who were seen wearing bright orange shirts like this one all over the farm. (Photo by Chad Smith)
“I definitely couldn’t do it myself,” she said with a smile, “the Holst family has been great about bringing in family members and neighbors to help out. The tractor club helps out, and so does the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, and people sometimes just come in to help without being asked. They show up and say ‘give me a shirt and tell me what to do.’ That’s when you know you’re truly in an agricultural community when people step forward to help. They step forward to help even when sign-up sheets at local banks are filled up.”
Brown and many of the other people running the event have roots that run deep in agriculture. Katie grew up on a dairy farm and is very proud of what her family does. Although she and her husband don’t dairy farm, their kids still get the experience of being on a farm regularly when they want to. Not everyone is so fortunate to have farming in their immediate, or even extended, family.
A big goal of Family Night on the Farm is to educate the next generation of future adults about how agriculture works and introduce them to the people behind the food they eat. (photo by Chad Smith)
“I do worry about the next generation getting further and further away from understanding what is going on in farming,” Brown said. “It’s not generally even the grandparents that farmed any more, it’s getting further away in the family. It’s vital that we share our story with the next generation about where their food comes from, otherwise, they won’t appreciate it as much as they should.”
Last year, she was hoping for approximately 200 people to show up and they had an actual turnout closer to 600 people. This year, the goal was 900 people.
“It feels good to see the turnout and it’s a beautiful evening,” Brown said. “It’s exciting to see so many people show up.”
Here’s the complete interview with Katie Brown shortly after I pulled her out from behind the lunch counter for a quick chat. I think you can hear just how busy the place was in the background.
I had some serious flashbacks to the teen years when I got an assignment to take some pictures at a Tractor Safety Class in Rushford the other day. Watching some wide-eyed 12-15-year-old kids drive a tractor through an obstacle course and have to hook up the hydraulics of a commercial mower to the back of a different tractor looked like fun and a challenge all at the same time.
As a middle-aged man, the first thing you’re tempted to do is compare what the equipment of today is like to what you grew up on years ago. Of course, the biggest difference is electronics and buttons to push instead of hydraulic levers to yank every time you wanted to do something.
The other big difference is an enclosed cab versus an open air seat. I remember a lot of 90-100 degree days where air conditioning would have been nice, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
I also didn’t know that the hydraulic hoses are now color-coded to make it easier to hook up to a tractor, which is a nice change from the old days.
The kids that took the course had to sit in a classroom for a couple of days before they got to go outside on one of the most beautiful days of the year to take the practical tests. Did you ever have to back up farm equipment before and the implements appeared to do the exact opposite of what you wanted it to? You turn it the OPPOSITE way of the direction you wanted it to go? How aggravating could that be when you first were learning the business?
The Bobcat skid steer loader was always my favorite equipment to operate, but it wasn’t always an easy gig when you’re first learning how to operate it! (photo from bobcatrental.ca)
One of the more embarrassing flashbacks was learning to drive a skid steer. That was always my favorite thing to operate, but the first time I tried to load it up onto the trailer, I forgot you need to take it up backward. You can imagine what came next, right? It winds up on its backside, but all I needed to do was push the levers forward and it was back on all four wheels. It’s probably not hard to believe that it took awhile for me to stop hearing about that one!
I didn’t know this course was federally mandated. You obviously will need the certification to work on farms, but it’s also necessary to work on the big commercial-scale lawnmowers as well, so keep that in mind.
On this next edition of the ChadSmithMedia podcast, I had a unique opportunity to visit with a woman named Sandra Levering, a cattle producer from Comanche County in Kansas. If that rings any kind of bells, it’s because they were part of a large area on the Kansas and Oklahoma border affected by the biggest wildfire they’d seen in that area’s history. It burned roughly 400.000 acres. Thankfully, there was no loss of human life, but livestock was badly affected as was a lot of pasture and grazing areas.
A shot of the grass fires that roared through the Kansas and Oklahoma border areas in late March. It totaled nearly 400,000 acres of land before it was put out. (photo from KFDI.com
The amazing part of the story is this: With apologies to the movie Pay It Forward, that’s just what the situation turned into. Levering was one of the folks who took it upon themselves to coordinate aid to those farmers who needed it. They brought in loads and loads of hay to help feed cattle that literally had nothing. Loads of people came down from the north to help with repairs, including a whole lot of fencing to put up.
The one thing I want you to remember is this: If you hear a so-called “expert” tell you that farmers don’t care for their animals, listen to the emotion in Sandra’s voice when she spoke about the animals that were badly injured in the fire. You’ll either change your mind or have to check your pulse to make sure you’re still alive.
Harvey County, Kansas lands that were burned by a 400,000-acre wildfire in late March. Recovery efforts are well underway, and reports of green grass growing in the affected areas are starting to come in. (photo from ksn.com)
She is out in wide open spaces, so her cell phone dips a little, but I think you’ll get the gist of what’s happening and how that area has slowly begun to bounce back from a horrible tragedy. After all, as she puts it, “In agriculture, we don’t wait for the government to come help us, we do it ourselves.”