MCGA elects Northfield farmer Bruce Peterson President for 2014-15

Bruce Peterson

Bruce Peterson will begin his term as MCGA President on Oct. 1.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) state board of directors recently elected Bruce Peterson as its new president for 2014-15 at its September meeting. Peterson grows corn and soybeans and is a pork producer from Northfield, Minn.

Peterson has farmed for nearly 30 years and was elected to the MCGA board in 2010. He’s previously served as board secretary, treasurer and vice president. Peterson’s term begins Oct. 1 and lasts one year.

“Grassroots, farmer-led organizations like MCGA are more important today than ever before,” Peterson said. “Corn farmers need to speak in a unified voice on important issues that impact what happens on our farms. We also need to connect with the non-farming public to answer questions about food, farming and stewardship. MCGA has stepped up our efforts in these areas and I intend to keep building on those efforts.”

Also at its September meeting, MCGA elected Raymond farmer Noah Hultgren first vice-president and St. James farmer Harold Wolle treasurer. Jean Knakmuhs from Walnut Grove was re-elected board secretary.

MCGA has over 7,100 members and represents the interests of more than 24,000 corn farmers throughout Minnesota. The Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC) administers the efficient and effective investment of Minnesota’s corn check-off. The shared mission of both organizations is to identify and promote opportunities for corn farmers, while building better connections with the non-farming public.

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Unique conservation project uses cedar trees to stop streambank erosion

Cedar Revet 1

A crew from Winona State University, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Corps Minnesota checks out a cedar revetment project along Riceford Creek near Houston, Minn., that was funded by Minnesota’s corn farmers.

In an effort to help stabilize the stream bank and restore aquatic habitat in Riceford Creek in Houston County, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association is supporting a unique conservation project.

Researchers and work crews from Winona State University, The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Corps Minnesota are stacking red cedar trees along sections of the stream bank susceptible to erosion.

The trees help absorb a lot of the energy from the flowing water, slowing it down and creating areas where the water drops out sediment instead of carrying it away and eroding the bank. Over time, the bank will hopefully go from vertical to a more stable angle. This would allow natural vegetation to take over and stabilize the bank.

“This is an attempt to anchor the bank and stabilize it so the natural processes can do the rest of the work,” said Toby Dogwiler of Winona State University.

Similar to wood used on decks outside of homes, the red cedar trees are strong and naturally rot resistant.

“The cedar trees are just providing a roughness, a friction there that slows the velocity down along the bank so that sediment can fall off there and stay,” said Rich Stemper of the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District.

“It’s slowly narrowing up the stream,” said Richard Biske of the Nature Conservancy. “That’s good because a lot of the streams we have are overwidened. It’s a lot of flow and it’s eroding these banks.”

The project will also benefit trout, a popular fish species in the region that thrive in healthy streams. The faster flow should help prevent sand flats and cool the water. Trout do well in cool areas of streams with rocky, gravel bottoms.

“The bugs like the rocks and the trout like the bugs,” Dogwiler said.

Stream bank erosion can be traced back to upland sediments that made their way into our stream and river systems through the Dustbowl era. Today, that “legacy sediment” is being carried away downstream and negatively impacting water quality.

“We’re dealing with problems that were created back in the day, when nobody even knew they were creating the problem,” Biske said. “Then we identified the source, and, thanks to conservation practices, that’s mostly been solved. Now we got these legacy sediments. We gotta help the stream along with that.”

Red cedar trees are used to slow down the flow of Riceford Creek and help rebuild stream bank.

Red cedar trees are used to slow down the flow of Riceford Creek and help rebuild the stream bank.

Using cedar trees (also known as cedar revetment) was relatively straightforward and inexpensive compared to many other stream erosion projects. It’s also a process that could be adopted by local soil and water conservation districts, who could then train farmers and other landowners to make similar efforts on streams that run through their property.

Using a method called the Bank Erosion Hazard Index (BEHI), Dogwiler and students from Winona State determined which sections of the Riceford Creek bank were at increased risk for erosion. That information was shared with Conservation Corp Minnesota, who went to work addressing the higher priority sections using red cedar trees from a farm six miles away.

In all, almost 3,200 feet of Riceford Creek stream bank has been treated since 2012.

“If it bears out over time, it’s a very economical approach,” Dogwiler said. “It’s easy and I think we can train people to do it easily.”

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Agriculture Secretary announces risk management programs for farmers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited Minnesota on Thursday.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today unveiled highly anticipated new rules about Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) authorized by the 2014 farm bill.

Farmers must make a decision to 1) maintain the farm’s 2013 base acres of covered commodities through 2018; or, 2) reallocate base acres among those covered commodities planted on the farm at any time during the 2009 – 2012 crop years.

Complete details on PLC/ARC, along with web tools and other resources to aid farmers in the decision-making process, can be found at the USDA’s Farm Service Agency’s ARC/PLC page.

“The 2014 Farm Bill represented some of the largest farm policy reforms in decades. One of the Farm Bill’s most significant reforms is finally taking effect,” Vilsack said in a news release. “Farming is one of the riskiest businesses in the world. These new programs help ensure that risk can be effectively managed so that families don’t lose farms that have been passed down through generations because of events beyond their control. But unlike the old direct payment program, which paid farmers in good years and bad, these new initiatives are based on market forces and include county – and individual – coverage options. These reforms provide a much more rational approach to helping farmers manage risk.”

Vilsack also discussed the new risk management programs during an event at the University of Minnesota attended by Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Ryan Buck. Also at the event were U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken along with U.S. Congressman Collin Peterson and Tim Walz.

Update: Here is a story on the Secretary’s visit from the Star Tribune.

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Improvements will help Oliver Kelley farm tell the story of farming

The Oliver H. Kelley farm is undergoing a major renovation that, once finished, will help visitors better understand the farming of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

written by Jonathan Eisenthal 

With a $10.5 million appropriation from the 2014 bonding bill, the 1870 Oliver H. Kelley farm can afford its first major expansion in 30 years.

The expansion will include a new visitor’s center, farm buildings, two updated classrooms, a community room, a kitchen classroom and and an all-season picnic shelter. The improvements, scheduled to be finished in May 2016, are aimed at better serving the huge volume of visitors to Minnesota’s unique farm historic site. The farm will remain open during construction.

“What we’re trying to do is to tell the story of food, from farm to table — yesterday, today and tomorrow,” said David Kelliher, director of public policy for Minnesota Historical Society. “We realize we can’t do this all by ourselves. We have this concept of having program partners come in and talk about what they do and what some of the current issues are. It’s one of our goals to get out of the 1870s and try to make this whole endeavor tie into what is happening today. Making it more relevant to today’s issues like ‘where does my food come from?’”

Situated on banks of the Mississippi River in Elk River, northwest of Minneapolis, the farm has served 66 school districts in the past 20 years. Of 480,000 visitors in that time, 240,000 were children on school field trips.

Kelliher said that the Historical Society would invite groups like the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, to work in partnership with the historical society to program events.

“For example, we might have the corn growers come in and put on ‘Corn Weekend,’ and the group would have members come and staff the event, to talk about what it’s like to be a farmer, what the issues are in corn growing today,” Kelliher said. “We could have similar programs with sugar beet growers, pig farmers, and all the other segments of Minnesota’s agriculture.”

The US Department of the Interior has recognized the Oliver H. Kelley farm as a National Historic Landmark — the highest designation of historical significance, because Kelley was a key figure in the “Grange Movement” — a social and economic association for farmers that arose just after the Civil War. Today’s farmer-membership groups therefore have a deep connection to the historic significance of the farm.

“The core of our program will always be the historic farm, but we’re also looking for ways to extend our reach,” said Kelliher. “We have a kitchen garden with heirloom crops like tomatoes that people put up for storage in the 19th century; we have the breeds of pigs and sheep that were common then, but we will also have modern crops. We will have some kind of machinery hill out on the landscape for people to explore, and make the comparison between the threshing machines of the early 1900s and the modern combine.”

A ‘guest animal’ facility will allow livestock farmers to bring and show their animals to school groups and other visitors.

The Oliver Kelley farm has also  developed partnerships with the Minnesota Science Museum and Connors Prairie in Indiana, joining together to win a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop curricula for math and science learning through hands on, interactive agricultural sites.

“We know that the ag world needs a lot of people who do work beyond being a farmer on the ground,” Kelliher said. “You need people to do biotech, you need inventors, workers of all kinds. Being so close to the Twin Cities metro area, with a population of nearly 3 million people, we have a great opportunity to have kids from the Cities, who don’t have a clue where their food comes from, come out and learn all about that, while they get a breath of fresh air and have a very positive experience with agriculture.”

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More Minnesotans are filling up with E85 and other higher ethanol blends

E85

Drivers filling up with E85 in 2014 are saving money at the pump.

Sales of E85 and other fuels blended with higher amounts of ethanol above the standard 10 percent continue to rise.

According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, 15 percent more E85 — a fuel blend of 15 percent regular gasoline and 85 percent homegrown ethanol — was sold the first seven months of 2014 compared to the same period last year.

So far in 2014, consumers have filled up with 7.2 million gallons of E85 compared to 6.23 million gallons last year.

Other higher ethanol blends saw a spike, too.

  • More than 92,500 gallons of E15 has been sold this year, already more than doubling 2013’s total.
  • E20 has seen an uptick with nearly 126,000 gallons sold.
  • Flex fuel vehicle owners filled up with almost 144,000 gallons of E30.

Demand for cleaner burning, homegrown and more affordable options at the pump has always existed. As more stations price E85 correctly — a gallon of E85 has costed 70 cents less, on average, than regular unleaded in 2014 — more drivers are using it.

Thanks to a broad coalition that included the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, the number of Minnesota fuel stations offering E15, E20 and E30 increased significantly in 2013-14 and will be increasing again in the very near future.

Now if Big Oil would stop blocking access to higher ethanol blends, even more consumers will be able to reap the benefits of ethanol fuel that’s better for the air we breathe and easier on our wallets.

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A small segment of corn growers go non-GMO

 

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

With prices falling, will there be an increase in farmers planting non-GMO corn next year to take advantage of a niche market and save on seed costs?

Maybe.

A small, but growing percentage of corn farmers planted conventional corn hybrids in 2014 and the trend seems to be continuing based on the interest farmers show in conversations with crop consultants and seed dealers.

“The rationale is the money,” said Steve Sodeman, a crop consultant and owner of the Trimont-based firm United Ag Tech. “There were some people that opted to plant conventional corn this year. Not too many, but there was $70 an acre in it for them if they chose to do that. And more are talking about it this year.”

Farmers who went conventional saved $70 per acre by not paying for genetically engineered traits: the RoundUp trait costs $30 dollars per acre, and the corn root worm (bT) trait also costs $30, while the corn borer trait goes for $10 per acre (these are last year’s prices — most companies have not announced prices for the coming year).

“Managing by expense rarely works out,” notes Trimont seed dealer Steve Williamson, who has helped clients access conventional seed. “I like to work through the whole process with farmers to make sure they’re making an educated decision — there are about as many reasons to plant conventional as there are farmers out there doing it.”

Though economics is an obvious reason, Williamson said he has one client who raises corn for silage because he feels that non-GMO corn stalks are more palatable for his beef cattle.

In 2014, Williamson’s sales of non-GMO seed rose seven percent over the previous year.

Of course, planting conventional corn has challenges, Sodeman warns.

“You have a non-RoundUp crop, so you have to be careful,” Sodeman said. “Inform your neighbors you’re planting a non-RoundUp crop, so that it doesn’t get damaged,” Sodeman said. Then it’s about root worm control. So most of the guys who would try this would probably not have corn on corn, they would have corn following soybeans, so they don’t need that root worm trait.

With research, some farmers have been garnering modest premiums for non-GMO corn, though food-grade non-GMO soybeans are a more established market niche. Sodeman said that Galena Genetics in Orsmby markets a full line of non-GMO soybeans geared to the market in Japan.

SunOpta, near Rochester, offers contracts for non-GMO corn, soybeans and sunflowers for identity preserved, non-GMO and organic markets. At times, Sodeman said, they offer premiums for delivery of these products.

Williamson, who has been a seed dealer since the mid 1970s, thinks conventional planting may end up to be a passing fad.

“We are very early in the ordering process for 2015,” said Williamson. “Obviously funds are going to be a lot tighter this year for growers and they are exploring options. In the past we have seen people exploring options, but then at the end of the day they come back to whatever is going to give them the most yield, and for the most part, that’s going to be the seed with the most traits.”

Williamson advised producers thinking of conventional seed to lock in their purchases now, because the supply will not meet the demand.

Going conventional is not the only way to lower production costs, Williamson advises.

“When looking over options, one of the things people often overlook is that the largest cash discounts are available if you order seed now,” Williamson said. “A lot of companies have 10-12 percent cash discounts right now. They would lower their cost, even if they are paying interest. There are banks lining up to finance seed purchases. They can borrow the money and make money on the borrowed money. Sometimes it makes sense to borrow money if you are lowering your cost of production.”

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New column from MCGA President addresses food vs. fuel “debate”

MCGA President Ryan Buck

MCGA President Ryan Buck

The most recent “Corn Views” column from Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Ryan Buck appeared in the business section of Monday’s Star Tribune.

President Buck’s latest column covered the food vs. fuel “debate.” The word “debate” is in quotation marks because, at this point, it’s obvious that food vs. fuel is no longer a “debate,” more like a myth manufactured by ethanol’s detractors that has been debunked time and time again.

Buck writes:

Despite what the food vs. fuel naysayers will tell you, we’ve been growing enough corn to feed people and fuel our vehicles for a while now. And we’re not taking food off someone’s plate to do it.

For every bushel of corn used to make ethanol, we get 2.8 gallons of fuel and 18 pounds of dried distillers grains, a high-protein livestock feed.

Buck also discussed the role of ethanol and corn prices in what consumers pay at the grocery store:

There are many factors beyond corn prices that influence what you pay for food (and ethanol isn’t one of them). A new report by the Renewable Fuels Association found that even though corn prices have plunged 50 percent since their peak in 2008, food prices have stayed the same or gone up.

Be sure to take a few minutes and read the entire column from Mr. Buck. Then pass the link on to friends and family who continue pointing the finger at ethanol and corn prices leading to higher food prices.

“Corn Views” is a once-per-month column written by the MCGA President and sent to every media outlet in Minnesota. If your local newspaper isn’t running “Corn Views,” encourage them to do so.

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An update from MCGA student Agvocate Kendra Davis

Kendra Davis

Kendra Davis

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Kendra Davis and I am one of the Minnesota Corn Growers 2014-15 student Agvocates. My parents are Lance and Sharon Davis, and I have one sister named Randene.

I am currently a sophomore at South Dakota State University where I am majoring in Animal Science and hope to someday work in cattle nutrition. Farming has always been something I have been very passionate about as I have grown up surrounded by it.

My family has about 35 beef cows, and we also raise corn and soybeans. I love sharing the story of my farm, and agriculture in general with the public, because I believe that everyone has a right to know where their food comes from.

One of the biggest issues that I believe we have in agriculture right now is connecting with consumers and making sure they are able to hear the farmers’ story, and not just what they pick up from various sources like activist organizations and others who might not be familiar with farming. After all, a farmer is the best person to talk to when you want to learn more about farming.

That is one of the biggest reasons I decided to apply to be one of the MCGA Agvocates this year. I wanted to help to fill the gap between the farmer and the consumer.

So far as an Agvocate, I have been able to attend many events, including the Minnesota Ag Ambassador Institute in Morris where we learned how to properly promote agriculture and how to effectively communicate with consumers. We also were able to meet young adults from across Minnesota that shared the same passion for farming as we do.

I’ve also been to events promoting corn and MCGA at Farmfest in Morgan, the Freeborn County Ag Open Golf Tournament, and most recently, A-maize-ing Corn Day at the Minnesota State Fair where we were able to do corn-related activities with youth outside of the CHS Miracle of Birth Center.

Needless to say, I have really enjoyed my time as an Agvocate for MCGA so far. I would like to thank everyone involved with the MCGA because it really is a wonderful organization that I am proud to say I am a part of.

Thanks again, happy harvest, and I am looking forward to what the rest of the year will have in store for us.

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Minnesota Corn names Adam Birr Executive Director

Adam Birr

Adam Birr, Ph.D., has been named Executive Director of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) and the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC) has named Adam Birr, Ph.D., Executive Director of both organizations.

As executive director of MCGA, Birr will lead an organization that is more than 7,100 members strong and represents the interests of Minnesota’s 25,000 corn farmers. His leadership of MCR&PC will involve oversight of the efficient and effective administration of Minnesota’s corn check-off.

Birr has served as MCGA’s Research Director since March of 2013 and will begin as Executive Director on Oct. 1.

“The opportunity to lead an organization that amplifies the voice of Minnesota’s corn farmers is an honor,” Birr said. “Corn farmers face new challenges every day. Their continued commitment, through MCGA and MCR&PC, to stewardship, research, consumer engagement, renewable fuels and value-added agriculture will help overcome those challenges.”

Before joining MCGA, Birr worked for six years as the Water Research Coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. After growing up in rural Michigan and receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from Calvin College, Birr moved to Minnesota in 1998 and earned Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in Water Resources Sciences from the University of Minnesota. He is currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Climate at the U of M.

As MCGA Research Director, Birr oversaw a corn farmer-funded research portfolio that totaled $4 million annually and focused on helping farmers protect water quality, improve soil fertility, find new uses for corn and expand biofuels markets.

“Adam is a smart, innovative and strong leader with a passion for moving corn farming forward,” said MCGA President Ryan Buck, a farmer in Goodhue. “MCGA has grown over the years and that growth is continuing. We’ve strengthened our organization in several key areas. I have no doubt that under Adam’s leadership, our organization will become an even stronger advocate and resource for Minnesota’s corn farmers.”

To learn more about MCGA and MCR&PC, visit www.mncorn.org and follow @mncorn on Twitter.

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Minnoco to add 18 stations offering E15 and other higher ethanol blends

E15 and E30 in Minnesota

This photo is from a ceremony that opened the first E15 pump in Minnesota during the fall of 2013.

It’s about to get easier to find E15 and other fuels blended with higher amounts of clean, renewable and homegrown ethanol in the Twin Cities.

Minnoco has announced that 18 locations plan to switch to the Minnoco brand and offer consumers more choices the pump beyond regular gasoline.

Last fall, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association was part of a coalition that helped bring E15 — a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline — to Minnesota at four new Minnoco locations in the Twin Cities metro area.

Eventually, three more stations were added. Soon, the total number of Minnoco station’s offering more choices at the pump will be 25.

From a news release announcing the expansion:

Leveraging existing convenience store and automotive repair locations in many cases, retail owners are moving away from a branded oil contract into the independent brand of Minnoco. “With Minnoco, I’m able to offer E15 as a more competitive fuel to my customers at a much lower price vs. regular,” explained Rick Bohnen, president of Minnoco and owner of Penn Minnoco. “This is a better business model for me because it significantly reduces my operational costs vs. branded fuels and I’m able to pass the savings on to consumers.”

You can read the full news release here.

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