Proud Minnesota farm family to be honored during Gophers football season-opener

The Mackenthun family from McLeod County will be recognized as the MCGA Farm Family of the Game during Thursday night's Gopher's football home opener. Wheels, from left: Jackie Mackenthun, Mark Escen. Top row, from left: Scott Mackenthun, Quinn Mackenthun, Jan & Merlin Mackenthun, Amanda Escen.

The Mackenthun family from McLeod County will be recognized as the MCGA Farm Family of the Game during Thursday night’s Gopher’s football home opener. Wheels, from left: Jackie Mackenthun, Mark Escen. Top row, from left: Scott Mackenthun, Quinn Mackenthun, Jan & Merlin Mackenthun, Amanda Escen.

Over multiple generations, the Mackenthun family has strongly supported the University of Minnesota and championed Minnesota agriculture.

When the Minnesota Gophers football team opens its season against the TCU Horned Frogs on Thursday night, the Mackenthuns will be honored as the Minnesota Corn Growers Farm Family of the Game.

Merlin Mackenthun and his wife, Jan, met at the University of Minnesota. Merlin graduated in 1972 with a double degree in Agriculture Engineering Technology and Agriculture Economics. Jan graduated 1974 with a degree in Family Social Science.

After graduating, Merlin decided to return home to farm with his father instead of accept an off-farm position at a prominent national agriculture company. Merlin became the fourth generation of Mackenthuns to farm near Brownton in McLeod County. The original farm was purchased around 1880.

“Farming is in my blood, so I proudly went back to the farm,” Merlin said.

For more than 35 years, Merlin grew corn and soybeans with his father and brother. Today, Merlin farms with his nephew Ryan (Merlin’s father died in 2011 and his brother, unexpectedly, in 2013). Jan was an early childhood coordinator in the Glencoe-Silver Lake school district for 25 years and currently serves on the McLeod County United Way board.

For the last three seasons, Gophers football has partnered with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association to honor a Farm Family of the Game during each home game at TCF Bank Stadium. Farm families are chosen for their contributions to Minnesota agriculture and their efforts to protect land, water and soil resources on their farms.

Merlin practices a conservation tillage technique that leaves residue on his corn field to help prevent soil erosion. He also uses technology like GPS mapping and auto-steer to practice precision agriculture, which helps farmers use significantly less fertilizer and fewer pesticides.

“Protecting our natural resources is a big part of what we do,” Merlin said.

In addition to their farming and conservation efforts, the Mackenthuns will be recognized for their strong heritage at the University of Minnesota.

goldyMerlin and Jan’s daughter, Amanda, graduated from the U of M’s Carlson School of Management with a triple major and currently works in Switzerland for Cargill (she was also a finalist for homecoming queen in 2002). Their son, Scott, graduated from the U of M’s College of Natural Resources and is the assistant manager for a DNR fish hatchery in Waterville. Both Amanda and Scott’s spouses also earned degrees from the U of M.   

Finally, Jan’s father, Gordon Swanson, was a U of M professor of Agriculture Education for more than 40 years. He’s a member of the FFA Hall of Fame and helped start an agricultural school in post-Apartheid South Africa.

“My friends would give me a hard time, saying I should be out there as the Farm Family of the Game,” Melin said. “It’s an honor for my family and I to get this opportunity.”

Kickoff for the Gophers vs. TCU season-opener is set for 8 p.m. on Thursday night at TCF Bank Stadium. Look for the Mackenthuns — Merlin, Jan, Scott, Scott’s wife, Jackie, and their three-year-old daughter Quinn — to be honored on the field and on the big screen during a special ceremony during the game.

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Corn Links: Buffer strips, algae blooms, data, and best-in-show

It’s Tuesday, the weather is warming up again, and harvest time is getting closer and closer. Here are a couple of must-read stories from the world of corn and farming that are worth checking out:

All buffers, all the time
Minnesota’s new buffer legislation remains a hot topic in the Minnesota farming community. Daniel Looker at examined the issue in a story today. It’s worth a read for the insight Looker provides on a couple of Farm Service Agency programs that may help farmers when complying with the new buffer regulations.

Algae blooms
While farmers try to make sense of the new buffer law, stories about agriculture and water quality continue to hit the front pages of Minnesota newspapers. On Sunday, the Pioneer Press ran a long story about algae blooms in Minnesota lakes. Minnesota Corn Growers Association President and Northfield farmer Bruce Peterson was interviewed for the piece. You can read it here.

Farming and data
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece about startup companies that are working with farmers to capture data on their own farms, then sell it to agriculture companies and futures traders. It’s an interesting concept and a good read. The full piece can be viewed here.

Supermileage grand champion
The Minnesota State Fair is in full swing and Minnesota Corn is already making its presence felt. This Supermileage Challenge vehicle from the team at Braham High School won “best in show” for the second year in a row. Congrats to Braham FFA and Braham High School!

If you’re heading to the State Fair today, be sure to swing by Carousel Park. Minnesota Corn has a booth set up with great giveaways, fun prizes, free Maizey tattoos and a whole lot more.

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New frequently asked questions document on Syngenta lawsuit available from NCGA

Minnesota CornHere at the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), we continue to receive inquiries from corn farmers about class action lawsuits against Syngenta stemming from the introduction of the Viptera trait arriving in China before Chinese officials approved it for import.

A steady flow of solicitations are arriving in farmers’ mailboxes from attorneys seeking to submit claims on corn farmers’ behalf. Some of these solicitations contain imagery or phrases that may give the impression MCGA is endorsing a specific law firm, or is actively encouraging farmers to file a claim.

For the record, MCGA is not endorsing any firms seeking to represent corn farmers, or encouraging corn farmers to file a claim. The decision on whether to file a claim is up to each individual grower.

Also, if you run a Google search for “Minnesota Corn Growers” or other phrase combinations that contain “Minnesota,” “Corn,” or “Growers,” at the top of the search results will be a paid ad for a website set up by a law firm soliciting farmers to file suit.

This site, or the firm that set it up, is not affiliated with MCGA.

NCAG frequently asked questions document online

Here at MCGA, we can provide background information and refer farmers to additional resources, but we are not attorneys. The decision about whether to file a claim should be made by each individual farmer.

The National Corn Growers Association has put together an outstanding frequently asked questions document about the Syngenta lawsuit. MCGA encourages all Minnesota corn farmers to check it out here.

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MN Corn Growers work to improve pollinator habitat

A display of pollinator-friendly plants was on display in the MN Corn Growers Farmfest tent.

A display of pollinator-friendly plants was on display in the MN Corn Growers Farmfest tent.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) and it’s more than 7,000 members made a commitment to improving pollinator habitat over the last year. Here is a quick update on those activities:

  • About 4,000 pollinator-friendly wildflower seed mixes have been distributed by MCGA at events attended by both farmers and non-farmers. The free seed-mix packets are an easy way to raise awareness about the importance of pollinator habitat, and help people take action on their own property to add habitat and make an actual difference.
  • Along with the seed packets, MCGA also distributes a free pollinator guide to help farmers and non-farmers develop ways they can add pollinator habitat on their own land. We want people to take action, so the guide is designed in a way for people to take practical steps and actually increase habitat on their property.
  • A pollinator plot planted at the MCGA office in Shakopee is doing well. The mix of pollinator-friendly plants are prime habitat for bees and butterflies. Since the plot is located off of a busy road, it’s also a great way to show folks driving by what can be done to improve pollinator habitat.

MCGA’s efforts to increase pollinator habitat is an ongoing effort. Look for MCGA to continue distributing pollinator seed packets and free pollinator guides at future events.

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Ethanol Update: EPA’s flawed MOVE model, the RFS and E15

This week’s Ethanol Update contains tidbits on a flawed fuel testing model from the Environmental Protection Agency, the damage cutting the Renewable Fuel Standard will do to air quality, Chrysler including E15 in its vehicle warranties and a successful ethanol promotion in Minnesota small town.

Warning: Flawed EPA model could cripple higher ethanol blends
David VanderGriend, president of the Urban Air Initiative, warns that the Environmental Protection Agency’s new MOVES model is biased against ethanol and will be a major obstacle to higher ethanol blends.

VanderGriend writes:

Unfortunately, this model relies on faulty, manipulated data, resulting in inaccurate emission increases that will cripple any hope for ethanol expansion and the use of higher blends. And, this is taking place as the EPA gets closer to imposing tighter ozone controls, which could put another third of the U.S. into ozone nonattainment, and therefore under federal control. Once that happens, states have to develop a state implementation plan to tell the EPA how they plan to get back into attainment. Here is why the MOVES model matters: When states plug in higher ethanol blends, the model says ethanol raises emissions.

VanderGriend continues by saying that tests were conducted in a laboratory that used test fuels that became synthetic caricatures of how fuels are actually blended instead of real-world consumer fuels. The full piece with all the details can be read here.

Fiat Chrysler approves E15
Fiat Chrysler joins Ford and General Motors to cover the use of E15 in its warranty statements. All model year 2016 Chrysler/Fiat, Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles are now covered. General Motors began covering E15 with its model year 2012 vehicles and Ford did the same with model year 2013 vehicles.

Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dineen commented on the Fiat Chrysler decision: “FCA’s decision to join GM and Ford provides clear evidence that the tide on E15 has turned. The automaker’s decision not to embrace E15 had been a major point of concern and tension for the last three years. FCA customers will be afforded a benefit that will likely lower their weekly motor fuel bill: the freedom to choose what fuel to put into their vehicles.”

EPA’s RFS cuts bad news for air quality
According to The Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois, EPA’s decision to slash the Renewable Fuels Standard below what Congress originally intended would pollute the air equivalent to adding 1 million additional cars on the road.

From the report:

Our work has demonstrated that, over the last 10 years, steady reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have materialized as biofuels became a more efficient, high quality product,” said Dr. Steffen Mueller, principal economist at the Energy Resources Center.

The peer-reviewed analysis was conducted using the GREET Model (Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation) developed by Argonne National Laboratory which examines the full life cycle emissions impacts of energy sources. As part of the analysis, carbon emissions related to the planting, growing, harvesting, transportation and production of corn into ethanol were compared to that of oil recovery and production.

More from the report can be read here.

Lining up to fill up with ethanol
Let’s end this week’s Ethanol Update on a positive note. Farmers Coop Elevator in Bellingham, Minn., held an ethanol fuels promotion event last week. As you can see in this photo, the vehicles were lined up to fill up with E85.



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Healthcare field to corn field: Racine farmer to serve on MCR&PC

Patty Geerdes is the newest member of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

Patty Geerdes is the newest member of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

Patty Geerdes, a farmer in Racine, Minn., was recently appointed to serve on the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC).

Geerdes is also a Masters Prepared Registered Nurse who has worked at the transplant center in the Mayo Clinic and recently retired and will be working supplemental. She took over the family farm after her husband, David, died in 2011. Patty and David farmed together for over 20 years.

Today, along with a great team, Patty grows corn, soybeans and sweet corn and looks forward to using her combined experience in healthcare and agriculture to improve corn farming in Minnesota while serving on the 11-member MCR&PC.

“Serving on the MCR&PC will be a new and rewarding experience for me,” said Geerdes, who has two daughters and a granddaughter. “I’m looking forward to learning and sharing many aspects of farming and agriculture. I hope with my experience and background, I’ll be able to assist others in assessing their own farm operations for improvement.”

Geerdes would like to bring her expertise in healthcare regulation and quality to assist agriculture with its own challenges and opportunities when facing ongoing new rules and regulations. She would like to be a part of the revitalization of the agriculture.

Another area where Geerdes’ healthcare background will serve her well on the MCR&PC is research. Through Minnesota’s corn check-off – a voluntary 1-cent “fee” on every bushel of corn sold to market – corn farmers invest $4 million annually in third-party research projects that seek to help farmers protect land, soil and water resources while boosting yields and increasing efficiency.

“There are a lot of challenges in agriculture today, but also plenty of opportunity,” Geerdes said. “I’m looking forward to serving on the MCR&PC.”

Geerdes will represent District 9. She replaces Marty Amundson, a Zumbrota farmer who served on the MCR&PC since 2008 and recently stepped down to spend more time with his family.

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What blend wall? Minnesota drivers already use more than 10 percent ethanol

When the oil industry and the Environmental Protection Agency cite the 10 percent “blend wall” as a reason to slash the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and cut the amount of homegrown ethanol blended in our fuel supply, one can point to Minnesota as a prime example of why the “blend wall” is a myth.

Ethanol’s opponents came up with a term called the “blend wall” to describe what they say is the upper limit of ethanol consumption in the fuel marketplace. What they refuse to acknowledge (or deliberately leave out) is the fact that they built the blend wall themselves by blocking access to renewable fuels.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration, ethanol makes up 12.2 percent of Minnesota’s fuel supply, the most of any state in the nation. While Big Oil and other ethanol critics continue to claim that the United States is unable to support an ethanol blend rate higher than 10 percent, Minnesota not only climbed right over the “blend wall,” it bulldozed through it.

Map originally posted by the Renewable Fuels Association.

Minnesota has proven that when you install the necessary infrastructure like flex-fuel pumps to give consumers a true choice when filling up, the “blend wall” crumbles. With nearly 300 fueling stations offering E85, and investments from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and other partners to install flex-fuel pumps that dispense E15 and other higher ethanol blends in the Twin Cities region, more Minnesotans than ever before are choosing homegrown ethanol fuels that improve air quality and are lighter on their wallet than regular unleaded.

In fact, 22 states have broken through the 10 percent blend wall. Despite this fact, EPA and Big Oil still cling to the “blend wall” talking point as a reason to move America’s energy policy backward and cut the RFS.

What EPA fails to understand is that Big Oil built the “blend wall.” Since most fuel stations are owned by Big Oil brands, they refuse to put in the necessary infrastructure that would give consumers a choice at the pump and comply with the RFS as Congress originally intended. Then Big Oil cites the “blend wall,” claims ethanol has reached its saturation point in the fuel marketplace, and demands EPA cuts the RFS.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, EPA buys Big Oil’s “blend wall” myth hook, line and sinker.

Instead of falling for the “blend wall” talking point, EPA should use Minnesota as a model for how states can give consumers real choice at the pump and put the “blend wall” myth to bed once and for all.

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“Conservation in Action” tour visits MCGA President’s family farm

MCGA President Bruce Peterson, left, and Paulo Pagliari from the University of Minnesota talk soil health at Peterson's farm.

MCGA President Bruce Peterson, left, and Paulo Pagliari from the University of Minnesota talk soil health at Peterson’s farm.

Four buses filled with national policymakers and conservation leaders rolled onto the Northfield family farm of Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) President Bruce Peterson on Aug. 12 as part of the Conservation Technology Information Center’s (CTIC) “Conservation in Action Tour.”

Peterson’s farm was one of five stops on a tour of Southeastern Minnesota that highlighted the many conservation efforts of Minnesota farmers. The group learned more about what Peterson and his family do on their farm to protect soil health, efficiently manage nutrients to protect water quality and implement cover crops.

“It’s a national tour so this was a great opportunity to showcase some of our conservation efforts to leaders from Washington D.C. and other key influencers,” Peterson said.

MCGA Executive Director Adam Birr, left, talks to a tour participant during the trade show.

MCGA Executive Director Adam Birr, left, talks to a tour participant during the trade show.

This was the 7th annual CTIC tour. In past years, CTIC tours visited farms in Florida, Mississippi and Illinois.

MCGA sponsored the stop at Peterson’s farm and also participated in a small trade show over the lunch hour at another stop.

To learn more about the tour, listen to the below radio clips from Warren Formo, Executive Director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center and Sam Peterson, an MCGA student Agvocate and Bruce’s son.



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Innovative project could help farmers overcome drought and protect water quality

An on-farm water storage project could help irrigate thirsty crops in the dry later summer months.

An on-farm water storage project could help irrigate thirsty crops in the dry later summer months.

An innovative project managed by University of Minnesota researcher Dr. Jeff Strock could help farmers boost yields while also improving water quality.

Later this summer, Strock will oversee the installation of an on-farm storage pond on a farm in Southwestern Minnesota. Surface and subsurface drainage water will be diverted to the pond instead of nearby waterways. Later in the summer, the water can be used for irrigation when thirsty crops need it most.

“This project has both agronomic and environmental benefits,” Strock said. “We’re trying to use some of that water on the fields that might otherwise end up in the river and conserve nutrients like nitrate.”

The project is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and complements other corn farmer-funded research Strock and the U of M conduct that addresses ag water quantity and quality. The project is one of eight nationwide that received a $5 million USDA grant earlier this year.

Dr. Jeff Strock from the University of Minnesota is exploring ways farmers can store excess water to use later in the crop year.

The goal is to store 4 million gallons of water in the pond and use it to irrigate 50-100 acres. How much water is stored and how much is needed for irrigation depends on Mother Nature.

For example, in June of 2014, an area in eastern Redwood County received 14 inches of rain in June. That’s a lot of rain in a short period of time, meaning a good amount of that water left the field and didn’t nourish the crop.

With the storage pond, some of that excess moisture can be captured before it spills into nearby waterways. Later in the summer when the weather dries up, that excess water can be used on crops.

“Farmers want to produce more bushels, but water is limited in areas of Minnesota, especially in the Western part of the state,” Strock said. “We’re looking at on-farm storage as a move into the future for farmers to both increase production and improve water quality.”

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These MN family farmers are proud to call themselves “active environmentalists”

A close-up shot of a sediment control basin on the Larson's farm.

The Larsons use sediment control basins like this one on their farm to prevent soil and fertilizer runoff.

It’s rare that Jeffrey and Karen Larson shut down their combine in the middle of harvest season. But when their landlord’s daughter and family called and asked if her and a few friends from the Twin Cities could come over for a tour of the Larson’s farm a few years ago, the Larsons took a short break from the fields and gave the group a taste of what farming in Minnesota is all about.

“We’re going to take the time, we’re going to engage them and answer their questions,” Jeffrey said. “Building those type of connections is important.”

The Larsons have plenty to share with non-farmers who have questions about agriculture, or simply want to develop a better understanding of modern farming. The Larson family farm began operating in 1874 in Evansville, about 20 miles northwest of Alexandria. Jeffrey is the sixth generation to farm the land and today grows a rotation of corn and soybeans.

A close-up shot of one of the Larson's fields that uses minimum tillage to prevent soil erosion and retain organic matter.

A close-up shot of one of the Larson’s fields that uses minimum tillage to prevent soil erosion and retain organic matter.

“Now that’s sustainable agriculture,” Jeffrey says with a smile. “I challenge any Fortune 500 company to be in existence as long as our family farm.”

Longevity isn’t the only area where the Larsons have sustainability credibility. They’ve also worked with the Natural Resource & Conservation Service to build and maintain about 50 sediment retention structures on their farm to prevent soil and fertilizer from running off of their fields during large rain events.

They experimented with no-tilling their fields, but didn’t get the results they were hoping for. Minnesota’s farmland is diverse. Conservation practices that work on one farm might not work on other farms. But the Larson’s kept experimenting and today practice minimum tillage to help keep the soil in place, retain natural organic matter and reduce erosion.

“We’re willing to try different things on our farm to protect the land and increase efficiency,” Jeffrey said.

The Larson family on their farm near Evansville, Minn.

The Larson family on their farm near Evansville, Minn.

Another way the Larsons spread the word about their conservation efforts, as well as common conservation practices found on other Minnesota farms, is online. Karen recently attended an AgChat seminar and spends time on social media talking food and farming.

“It’s eye-opening,” Karen said. “When you do it correctly, it’s another way to build those important connections with non-farmers.”

The Larsons hope their son becomes the seventh generation to farm. Their minimum tillage practices and sediment retention structures are helping to preserve the land for when that time comes.

“Those of us in agriculture are active environmentalists, as compared to environmental activists,” Jeffrey said. “We need to protect the land every single day because we want to leave it in better shape than when we started.”

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