MFU thanks delegation for addressing dairy concerns

Minnesota-Farmers-Union-Logo-ApprovedMinnesota Farmers Union (MFU) would like to thank Senators Franken and Klobuchar as well as Representatives Peterson, Nolan, and Walz  for joining 60 of their colleagues in signing on to a bi-partisan Congressional letter to USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.  The letter expressed concern about the troubling economic challenges facing U.S. dairy farmers and urged him to assist them as quickly as possible.

The letter, spearheaded by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and Connecticut Representative Joe Courtney, cited that farm milk prices dropping 40 percent since 2014.  Compounding the problem of low prices, the nation’s cheese stocks were recorded at their highest level since the data was first recorded in 1917. The letter also says that current expectations are that the dairy market will continue to struggle

“MFU has been in constant contact with our Congressional delegation working on assistance for Minnesota dairy farmers, and MFU appreciates the effort of these members of Congress,” said MFU President Doug Peterson.

dairy industry struggles

The Minnesota Farmers Union thanked its congressional delegation for signing onto a letter urging the USDA to take action to help the nation’s struggling dairy farmers. (Jackson Forderer for MPR News)

The members of Congress in the letter urge the USDA to use its secretarial authority and look to past precedent for ways to take action to protect all of our nation’s dairy farmers from any further crisis.  The letter also urges the USDA to aid in the expansion and maintenance of domestic markets. The letter further urges the USDA to take all actions available in order to make an immediate market injection and offer financial assistance that will support dairy farmers.  They also caution USDA to not stimulate overproduction further than it’s already gone.

MFU will continue to work on dairy policy as we begin our annual county conventions throughout the state, making help for dairy farmers a top priority.

 

Minnesota Farmers Union, standing for agriculture, fighting for farmers (www.mfu.org).

Dairy Night at Mayo Field with the Honkers

Milking cows in the middle of a baseball game?  As a farm boy and lifelong baseball fan, there was no way in the world I was going to pass that up.

Dairy night at the Ballpark in Rochester, Minnesota

Mayo Field in Rochester, Minnesota, was home to Dairy Night at the Ballpark, featuring the 22nd annual cow milking contest to help promote agriculture. (photo by Chad Smith)

The Rochester Honkers baseball team was home to the St. Cloud Rox in Northwoods League baseball on Friday night, July 8.  The night’s sponsor included the Olmsted County American Dairy Association, with help from the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation.  It was Dairy Night at the ballpark with an unusual way to promote agriculture.

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.

Dairy Night at the Ballpark In Rochester, Minnesota, sponsored by the Olmsted County ADA

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 is jumpy while getting ready for the Dairy Night at the Ballpark event in Rochester, Minnesota.

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 after Dairy Night at the Ballpark in Rochester, Minnesota.

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.

2nd Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a success

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a big hit!

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.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a big hit with children

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.”

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm included agricultural history

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 offered a chance to get up close and personal with a dairy farm.

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.

Lots of volunteer help at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm

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.

Kids activities at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organic farm transition support returns for 2015 in Minnesota

Minnesota farmers can apply for Organic Transition Cost Share funding again in 2015. The three-year-old program refunds a portion of the cost of working with an organic certifying agency. The refund can span some or all of the 36 months a transition typically takes.

“Farmers are not required to hire a certifier. However, if they want their crops MDA-logoand/or livestock certified, working with a certifier during the transition allows them to practice record keeping and on-farm inspections, so they’ll be ready when it really counts,” said Minnesota Department of Agriculture Organic Program Administrator, Meg Moynihan.

Only farmers who are new to organic may apply. The program reimburses 75 percent of the cost to hire a certifier during transition and requires an on-farm mock inspection. Applicants may also include the cost of soil testing and attending an approved organic conference in Minnesota or a neighboring state. Payments are capped at $750 per year. For costs paid during calendar year 2015, applications must be postmarked no later than February 14, 2016.

Moynihan added, “Demand for organic crops and dairy is currently outstripping supply, and organic price premiums are strong right now. This means there’s room in the market for farmers to transition and join almost 700 certified organic farms in Minnesota.”

Organic Farming

Transitioning from conventional to organic farming is expensive, but there is help available for Minnesota farmers who want to make the switch (Photo from forbes.com)

Organic Transition Cost Share Program application forms, a set of Frequently Asked Questions, and a list of approved certifying agencies offering transition verification are available at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic or by calling 651-201-6012.

Farmers struggle to find immigrant labor supply

“Imagine going to bed at night and not knowing if you’re going to have enough people to help pick your crops.” That’s how Bernie Thiel, a farmer from Lubbock, Texas, describes the challenge farmers face in finding enough labor to run their operations.

Farmers in the south typically use a lot of immigrant labor, but it’s become harder to find the help they need. This is why agriculture across the country is watching the nation’s immigration debate, and wondering if workers will be available in the future.

Bernie Thiel, Jr.

Bernie Thiel, Jr., farms near Lubbock, TX, and is having a hard time finding enough labor to complete his harvests every year (photo from oklahomafarmreport.com)

“Being in the business as long as I have, I’ve got people who’ve worked for me for 25 to 35 years,” said Thiel. “These are laborers who come from Mexico every year, and they’ve shown up for a long time. The problem is my labor force has gotten older and harder to come by now.”

Said Thiel; “There’s no new generation of laborers since the Reagan years, when we got amnesty in 1986. That’s where a lot of the hands I’m using now came from. I do get a few of my hired hands that have families and will come over and help.”

“As far as finding help locally, it’s virtually impossible,” said Thiel. “I do advertise on the radio. I had it on two Mexican-American stations all summer long, from the start of the season to the end. When the season ended up, I didn’t have one hand from those advertisements, and never kept a hand that did show up for more than two weeks.”

Other industries have begun to compete for immigrant labor, and it’s affecting farmers all over the country.

“In the last few years, we’ve had a demand for more laborers because of the oil industry,” said Bernie. “That has pulled some of my labor. Not a great deal of it, but my gosh, they start their workers at 18 to 20 dollars per hour.”

“Reading through some of the different periodicals, it’s not just me,” said Thiel. “This is happening nationwide. I read an article about a strawberry farmer in

Strawberry farming is an expensive proposition, and a California farmer spent 25,000 dollars an acre to plant a crop, and then plowed it under because of no labor available labor help (photo from mommasgottabake.com)

Strawberry farming is an expensive proposition, and a California farmer spent 25,000 dollars an acre to plant a crop, and then plowed it under because of no labor available labor help (photo from mommasgottabake.com)

California that plowed up 20 percent of his acreage. Keep in mind, it can cost up to 25,000 dollars an acre to grow strawberries.”

Thiel said he knows the sickening feeling that the farmer from California experienced.

“I’ve had to plow up squash for the last three years because I can’t find help,” said Bernie. “Of my normal plantings, I’ve had to plow up quite a bit because I couldn’t get it picked. This was marketable product that I already had a home for, but couldn’t get it harvested.”

Produce farmers aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch of a labor shortage. It’s hitting the dairy industry hard too.

John Rosenow is a dairy farmer from Cochran, Wisconsin, and he said the downturn for labor has gone on for several years.

“About 10 to 15 years ago, the local labor force dried up,” said Rosenow. As a result, the Wisconsin dairy industry became stagnant. People were afraid to grow their operation because they couldn’t find any help.”

John Rosenow is a dairy farmer in Wisconsin who’s having a hard time finding enough labor to help on the farm.  He’d like the nation’s immigration policy changed in order to assure a reliable supply of help for years to come (Photo from wisconsinwatch.com)

John Rosenow is a dairy farmer in Wisconsin who’s having a hard time finding enough labor to help on the farm. He’d like the nation’s immigration policy changed in order to assure a reliable supply of help for years to come (Photo from wisconsinwatch.com)

He said, “At that point, we discovered that Mexican immigrant labor was fantastic. They do an incredible job, work really hard, and they’re reliable. At that point, many operations began to hire Mexican labor, and the industry began to grow again.”

“Things improved, people started expanding, and the dairy industry improved in Wisconsin,” said Rosenow.

As the nation’s immigration debate continues, the labor force is once again shrinking in Wisconsin, and dairy farmers are feeling the pinch.

“Generally, everyone is short one or two people,” said Rosenow. “It’s because the inflow of Mexican labor from the south has dried up quite a bit.”

John said, “A large part of the downturn stems from border security. It’s a lot harder for people to cross the southern border. The fact that it’s gotten so much harder gives people less hope that they can come be part of this economy and industry.”

The need for reliable farm labor is growing again. “As far as people to milk the cows day in and day out, feed the calves, clean the barns, and other chores like that, I have not found anyone worth hiring, other than immigrant laborers, over the last 10 to 15 years.”

“If society wants to have an abundant supply of safe, wholesome food, produced here in the United States, which helps keep America secure, we have to have labor to do it,” said Rosenow. “That labor is going to have to come as immigrants.”