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.

 

SE Minnesota 2015 harvest results look good

I’ve got some southeast Minnesota harvest results for 2015.  Southeast Minnesota corn harvest numbers look pretty good.

Harvest was solid in SE Minnesota

The 2015 corn harvest in southeast Minnesota looked good, according to the final numbers that came in this week from the National Ag Statistics Service office. (photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

Olmsted County: 184.9 bushels per acre

  • Dodge County: 204.0 bushels per acre (one of the top counties in Minnesota!)
  • Mower: 198.7
  • Fillmore: 192
  • Houston: 185.3
  • Winona: 186.5
  • Wabasha: 188.5
  • Goodhue: 202.4 (also one of the top counties in the state!)

 

 

Here are some of the soybean numbers from southeast Minnesota.

Soybean harvesting was good in spite of disease pressure in SE Minnesota

Despite some battles with white mold, the soybean harvest numbers looked pretty good for 2015, as the final totals were released this week by the National Ag Statistics Service office. (Photo from www.thompsonslimited.com)

 

  • Olmsted County: 54.5 bushels per acre
  • Mower: 58.2
  • Fillmore: 56.3
  • Winona: 55.9
  • Goodhue: 58.1
  • Dodge: 60.6 (One of the top returns in the state!)

 

No soybean harvest results were turned in to USDA for both Wabasha and Houston counties.

This is a neat video of corn harvest in the Mankato, Minnesota area that was shot by using a drone camera.  Take a look.

John Marshall boy’s basketball season preview

Rochester John Marshall boy’s basketball teamThe Rochester John Marshall boy’s basketball team is off to a 2-0 start to the young season as they get set to head to Albert Lea on Friday night.

Rockets head coach Kirk Thompson is pleased with the unbeaten start to the season, but said they played much better basketball in the second game against Mankato East.

 

Offensive execution was much better in the second game.

“We were definitely getting better looks in the second game,” Thompson said, “especially wide open 3’s. It’s early in the season, but we need to knock those down.”

The team is missing a few veteran players from last season’s conference championship team.

“There were a couple football injuries that knocked kids out for the season,” Thompson said. “We also had one kid that played quite a bit but chose not to go out for the team this year.”

He said the roster features a good mix of experience and some talented young players too.

 

Thompson said there’s good talent in the underclassmen ranks too.

“Of course, we have 6’ 8” Matthew Hurt on the roster too,” Thompson said. “As an eighth grader, he was an all-conference player, and now he’s one of the best ninth graders in the country. Even as a freshman this year, it’s not like this is a new experience for him.”

Rochester John Marshall Rockets boy’s basketball team

Here’s the Rochester John Marshall boy’s basketball team for 2015-2016. (Photo from johnmarshallrockets.org)

 

He said the Rockets have pretty good size and we’re fairly athletic. Defense will be a big key to success this season.

“Once they learn to buy into the defensive system and realize that could win a lot of games for us,” Thompson said, “I think that will really help us as the season goes on.”

The Big 9 Conference will be a tough race again this year.

“There’s a number of good teams,” Thompson said. “We were fortunate enough to win it last year, and we hope to be in the mix again. There are 3 conference teams ranked in Class AAA, including Northfield, Red Wing, and Mankato East.”

Here’s a quick highlight from last year’s JM win over Winona, courtesy of WKBT-TV.

 

 

 

 

 

Minnesota Crop Nutrient Management Conference on February 9

Farmers and agriculture professionals can hear about the latest nutrient management research regarding fertilizer use efficiency at the sixth annual Minnesota Crop Nutrient Management Conference on Monday, February 9, 2015, at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato.

Don’t miss the nutrient and fertilizer efficiency conference coming up on February 9 in Mankato (Photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

Don’t miss the nutrient and fertilizer efficiency conference coming up on February 9 in Mankato (Photo from southeastfarmpress.com)

The conference will examine current nutrient management issues in a rapidly changing production environment. The program will focus on nitrogen and phosphorus management from commercial fertilizers and animal manures. Speakers will provide an in-depth approach to various management practices for these important nutrients. Sessions will also address fertilizer industry trends, micronutrients, and the effects of cover crops and changing weather on fertilizer management.

Speakers include fertilizer industry professionals, staff from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, and extension research specialists from Iowa State University, North Dakota State University, University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, and University of Wisconsin. The conference is organized by the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center.

There is no fee for attending the conference. However, pre-registration is requested for event planning purposes. To register, visit the conference website and follow the links online at www.mda.state.mn.us/nutrientconference.

MDA-logoYou may also register via e-mail at nutri.conf@state.mn.us or by calling the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Ryan Lemickson at 612-209-9181. When registering, please include your name, organization, address, phone number, and email address.