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.

MN farmers See For Yourself in Vietnam

Minnesota farmers See For Yourself

Doug Pohlman (right) of Lakefield, Minn., thanks a Vietnamese poultry farmer for hosting the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council’s See For Yourself delegation. Thirteen Minnesota farmers toured parts of Vietnam to assess soybean checkoff investments in the country. (Contributed photo)

The Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (MSR&PC) went to the Far East for it’s most recent See For Yourself trip. A delegation of farmers took a tour of Vietnam to see firsthand how the MSR&PC investments in the country are paying off for American soybean farmers.

Kevin Paap is a farmer from Garden City and the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President. He also serves on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) on Soy Insights (formerly Soy 20-20), a strategic planning group looking at markets and demand. He said Vietnam is one of the world’s fastest emerging markets.

“With being involved in the AFBF Trade Advisory Committee as Chair,” Paap said, “we’ve been very active in trade talks, including the Trans Pacific Partnership, the See For Yourself was a good opportunity to mesh all those things together.”

He said trade missions are most successful when put together by people with what he called “boots on the ground.” It’s important that people who know the countries, such as the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) and the US Soybean Export Council (USSEC), help with lining up the trips. That way, Paap said they wouldn’t turn into sightseeing trips.

Paap said describing Vietnam as an emerging market for agricultural goods might catch some people by surprise, but a number of different factors make it a true statement.

“It’s an emerging market because it’s the 13th most populous country in the world,” Paap said, “and that number is increasing by about 1 percent per year. It’s also the eighth most populous country in Asia. They’re only the 32nd largest economy in the world, but they’re growing.”

Vietnam is the 11th largest export market for American agricultural products. They import 70 percent of their livestock feed ingredients, which means they can’t raise it themselves. They also pay a lot for their own food.

“They spend 65 percent of their incomes on food,” Paap said. “They don’t necessarily want more calories, but better calories in their food, before they spend their money on a car or a house. They’d like to eat something more than rice 3 times a day.”

The other opportunity for livestock feed comes from strong Vietnamese pork production. It may come as a surprise, but Vietnam ranks sixth overall in world hog production and seventh in the world in pork consumption.

Paap called the “See For Yourself” trips that most of the checkoff organizations are now hosting a great opportunity for farmers to see how their checkoff dollars are invested, both locally and overseas.

“It’s tough to see opportunities overseas when you aren’t there,” Paap said, “and the opportunities are there in international marketing. Until you not only see, but also hear from, those folks with boots on the ground, it’s exciting to know they want better food.

“They can’t grow the crops themselves and they’re very accepting of biotechnology,” Paap said. “With limited land, biotechnology is the only way they can grow more on the land they do have.”

Minnesota farmers See For Yourself

Thirteen Minnesota farmers toured Vietnam to evaluate the work of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, the elected board of Minnesota farmers who direct investments of soybean checkoff money to open new markets, create new uses, educate farmers and non-farmers and promote soybeans. (Contributed photo)

First impressions for farmers on overseas trips can vary greatly. Ben Storm farms near Dover, in Olmsted County, and went along on the See For Yourself trip to Vietnam. He said the first thing that jumped out at him when he stepped foot in the country.

“The modernization,” Storm said.   “The feed mill we toured look all new with modern technology. You might have thought you were in a feed mill in the United States. The poultry farm we toured had 20,000 laying hens. The only difference between that and a barn in the US was the hens are hand fed and the eggs are picked by hand.”

He said the Bungee soybean crushing facility actually prefers American soybeans to South American beans. American soybeans, particularly from Minnesota, arrive at their plant with much less moisture and heat damage.

Overseas trips to Asian marketing partners are very important. Asian businesses typically place a very high value on face-to-face interaction.

“You’ve got to have those relationships and know each other before they’re willing to do business with you. It’s a much different culture than in the US.”

An American farmer back home who’s never been on one of these trips may be saying ‘how does this benefit me?’ The 13 Minnesota farmers on the trip saw firsthand how important and effective these trips are.

13 Minnesota farmers See For Yourself

Ben Storm (left) of Dover, Minn., and Kevin Paap of Garden City, Minn., tour a market in Hanoi, Vietnam. Paap and Storm were guests of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, which sent a delegation of 13 Minnesota farmers to Vietnam as part of its See For Yourself program. (Contributed photo)

“It just so happened that Keith Schrader (Nerstand, MN), the Chairman of the MSR&PC was on the trip,” said Kim Nill, Minnesota Soybean Director of Market Development. “He was the leader of this trip. When he walked into place after place over there, it was ‘Oh, hi Mr. Schrader,’ and ‘How good to see you again,’ et cetera. Keith has been there a couple times and also been a part of USSEC projects to bring Vietnamese here.”

Nill added, “It was surprising, even to me, to see how many of them already knew Keith and greeted him warmly.”

In terms of actual business conversations, the 13 farmers also heard firsthand how USSEC investments overseas pay off in terms of increasing market demand and buyer loyalty as well. Nill said the 13 farmers asked very probing questions of overseas customers and partners.

“For example, they would say ‘Okay Mr. Soybean Mill operator, we’ve heard about what the USSEC investment did to help you get your mill built, or maybe improved it’s capacity. Has that made you more likely to purchase soybeans from the United States?’ Then, they’d hear the response of that feed mill owner or swine farm operator, and the answer was obviously, yes.”

These trips do add to the bottom line for American farmers. USSEC recently hired an economics expert from Texas A&M University to run the numbers to see how much impact these types of trips have to the American agricultural economy.

“They do go through the calculations to see what the impact of the checkoff expenditures is to the bottom line of soybean producers,” Nill said. “Their latest determination is that for every 1 dollar of checkoff funds spent on projects like the Vietnam trip, it returns 7 dollar net benefit back to the boots on the ground farmers in the United States.”

Tran Trong Chien is the USSEC Country Representative for Vietnam, and Ben Storm said he and the rest of the staff do a great job promoting American soybeans.

“Everywhere he went, people knew who he was,” Storm said. “It was pretty obvious he’s done a great job getting to know people and promoting American products. I was extremely pleased with how we’re investing our money over there.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Olmsted county farmer takes Farm Bureau honors

Minnesota_Farm_Bureau_Logo_345x143Ben Storm’s involvement with the Minnesota Farm Bureau only goes back one year.

But it’s been a busy year for the Dover farmer, as Storm won the Minnesota Farm Bureau’s Achievement Award late last year at the state convention. The state award gave him the chance to travel to Florida to compete on a national stage at the American Farm Bureau national convention earlier this month.

A simple phone call from a friend got Storm interested in the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

“A friend of mine called me and told me about their leadership conference,” Storm said. “He thought it would be a good idea for me to go along. I went to the conference last year and that’s how I got involved.”

He added, “Now I’m on the Olmsted County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and I get involved as much as I can.”

Storm said Farm Bureau provides many opportunities to tell the story of Agriculture to people who don’t know where their food comes from.

“We do an event we call Fun with the Farmer,” Storm said, “and we go to elementary schools in the Rochester area and educate kids. Rochester is a larger town with not a lot of agriculture in those schools, so going there and educating the kids on what we do is a lot of fun.”

Storm adds, “Farm Bureau is the reason I get to do things like that. We also spent some time last year at the State Capitol talking with legislators about Ag. I’d never done something like that, and I thought it was a lot of fun.”

Storm said the reason for educating the public about agriculture is apparent when they go to area schools and see the disconnect between urban areas and the farm.

“The more I see it the less surprised I am by it,” Storm said. “You continually see that these kids have no idea what Ag is, because they’re 4 and 5 generations removed from the farm now.”

Storm said winning the Minnesota Farm Bureau Achievement award was quite an honor.

“The Achievement Award is for people whose primary income is from farming,” Storm explained. “There are 3 criteria: your farm operation and growth, the financials of your operation, and your leadership experience inside and outside of Farm Bureau.”

One winner is chosen from multiple nominees.

“You fill out an application,” Storm said, “and on the state level, they judge each of the applications and follow up with interviews. The interview questions are basically for clarification on things in the application they were curious about.”

After winning the state competition, it was on to Orlando, Florida, and the national Achievement Award competition at the American Farm Bureau Convention.

Olmsted county farmer gets national recognition

Olmsted county farmer Ben Storm, at left, winner of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Achievement Award, gets recognized by Derek Helms, American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farm And Rancher Committee member from Arkansas. (photo from Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation)

“There was a group of about 60 people from Minnesota that went down,” Storm said. “It was nice to have people there you knew, but it was a lot of fun to visit with new people.”

He enjoyed learning about different types of farm operations from across the country.

“We spoke with a gentleman from Florida who raises alligators, snakes, and rats,” Storm said. “It’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t think of. You understand alligators and snakes, but I never got to ask him why he raises rats.”

He said farmers who raise different commodities do have common concerns.

“One of the biggest ones right now is lower commodity prices,” Storm said, “and what they’re doing to everybody’s operations. Plus, people are trying to get rents adjusted, because that’s a big cost.”

He adds, “Even the price of inputs is a big concern, and how they need to adjust too.”

Ben runs the family operation in the Dover area.

“Dad (Jacob) is partially retired,” said Storm, “but he still helps out when needed. I farm a little over 1,000 acres, and it’s a 50/50 rotation of corn and soybeans”

He adds,” We have a few sows, and we farrow show pigs and sell them to 4H and FFA kids. That’s more of a project Dad handles.”