Governor Dayton tours the Biotechnology Advancement Center
Governor Mark Dayton visited Worthington’s Biotechnology Advancement Center last Friday to assess opportunities and challenges to Minnesota’s agriculture sector as he continued Working for Minnesota Jobs.
While visiting the center, Governor Dayton and Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson held a roundtable talk with industry leaders, farmers, and business owners to discuss how to grow jobs in Minnesota’s farm and food sector, and to encourage continued innovation in the state’s agriculture technology industry. Following the roundtable discussion, Governor Dayton and Commissioner Frederickson took some time out of their busy schedules to tour the Center and Newport Laboratories.
After manufacturing, Minnesota’s farm and food sector is the second largest segment of the state’s economy providing more than 340,000 jobs and $75 billion in annual economic activity. More than 80 percent of those jobs are off-farm jobs in categories like transportation, finance, manufacturing, and retail.
A MinnWest employee shows off innovations to Governor Mark Dayton and Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson
Governor Mark Dayton kicked off his statewide jobs tour on Friday in Willmar, meeting with a dozen local leaders in business, government, and higher education to discuss opportunities and barriers for the state’s economic growth. The tour will continue over the next several months as Dayton meets with leaders in other Minnesota communities to solicit direct input.
Dayton began the tour in the midst of Minnesota’s recovery from one of the worst recessions in the nation’s history. The governor will use his listening tour to gather ideas on what should be done in the next legislative session to position the state for economic growth and job creation in the recession’s aftermath.
The public meeting in Willmar was held at the MinnWest Technology Campus, where businesses are working to develop new bioscience and agricultural technology with significant implications for export growth – and new jobs. The state’s agriculture and food production industry is already responsible for 4,800 jobs and $250 million in annual wages.
A new grant awarded from the FDA will ensure that Minnesota continues to lead the nation in food safety.
Minnesotans will now have new help in fighting contaminated food and food-borne illnesses that, according to the CDC, affect 1 in 6 Americans every year.
The help comes in the form of $600,000 in grant money which was awarded to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture this week by the FDA.
The money will be used to create a Minnesota Food Safety Center of Excellence which will work to: gather foodborne-illness surveillance data, provide rapid identification of pathogens, and respond effectively by removing tainted food as quickly as possible.
The three-year grants will help the Agriculture Department more quickly trace contaminated foods to grocery stores and other distribution points, and will help bolster MDA efforts to ensure that recalled products are quickly and fully withdrawn from the marketplace.
So what does this mean for the average Minnesotan?
Organic cows and calves raised at Derrydale Farms near Le Sueur, MN
Governor Dayton wants to make sure Minnesota’s organic farmers and food companies know that the Minnesota Organic Certification Cost Share Program is now taking applications.
The organic marketplace continues to grow but something you may not know is that organic farmers and food manufacturers have to “ante up” in order to access this market. They go through a verification process, called “organic certification” that provides consumer assurance that they are following all the provisions of the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards. And the organic operations themselves have to pay for this certification, which costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year -- depending on the size of the farm or company’s sales.
The USDA provides each state with funds to defray these costs. Organic operations are eligible for a rebate of 75% on what they spend for certification -- capped at $750 per certificate or type of certification they have. For example, dairy farmers pay to have both their crops and animals certified, so their maximum payment is $1,500.
Director Larry Pogemiller from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education visited FarmFest last week to hear directly from those in the field about the connection between higher education and the Ag industry in Minnesota.
The strong partnership between the two was made evident by a panel of experts from the University of Minnesota, including President Eric Kaler. The discussion, “Innovations in Agriculture…Opportunities from the University” focused on the significant contributions the states only Land Grant institution has made in both educating students to work in the agriculture industries and as a world-leader in research and development of new technologies.
During the panel discussion, Kaler announced his intention to ramp up the University’s commitment to agriculture in the future, saying that Minnesota could be the “Silicon Valley” of the food industry. He plans to advance his idea of a stronger commitment to agriculture with state leaders leading into the next legislative session.
Photo by Dave Wild
Minnesota is one of the top livestock producers in the nation. The $7 billion livestock sector is a vital part of both the state’s agricultural production and its overall economy, and it is important that the industry remains able to produce at its top level. This is why the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has announced a new program to help Minnesota’s livestock farmers fund their operations in the long-term.
MDA Commissioner Dave Fredrickson has announced that $1 million in grant funding is being made available to livestock producers in the state for on-farm improvements – improvements that will encourage long-term development in the livestock sector The Livestock Investment Grant Program was first funded by the Minnesota legislature in 2008. Since then, 89 grant recipients have invested an estimated $31 million in improvements to their operations. Farmers can use the funds to purchase, build and improve buildings and facilities for livestock production, as well as purchase fencing and pay for feed and waste management equipment.
The improvements and modernizations available to livestock farmers with this funding will also help expedite the process of transitioning the farm to their sons or daughters, a process that could encourage more young Minnesotans to stay with their family farm and continue their families’ legacies of producing vital agricultural output for the state.
With Farmest 2012 underway, it is important to accentuate the importance of Minnesota’s farm families—the foundation of both our agriculture and our rural communities. Minnesota farm families raise crops and livestock efficiently in an environmentally friendly way; they also account for more than $3 billion in exports and provide the raw material for Minnesota’s leadership in renewable energy. This is why Governor Dayton has proclaimed today, August 9, 2012, to be Farm Family Recognition Day in Minnesota.
Minnesota’s health insurance exchange will give farmers affordable health care coverage choices for their families and their employees. Farmers can select low cost health insurance for their families from the consumer exchange, or purchase coverage for themselves and their employees from the small business exchange. Whatever the choice, farmers will see savings between 7.5 and 20 percent after federal tax credits.
From Grand Old Days to the State Fair, Minnesota has a terrific set of summer get-togethers. One particular event that is happening this week may not be on the radar screen for many urban Minnesotans, but it is a big deal for Minnesota farmers and others who work in agriculture.
Farmfest, held every August just outside Redwood Falls, is an opportunity to showcase the latest and greatest technologies and equipment, as well as an opportunity for farmers to learn about the range services provided to them by a bevy of organizations. Farmfest 2012 will be held this week, from Tuesday, August 7, through Thursday, August 9. Governor Dayton will be there on Tuesday, and will speak at the main forum tent at 1 p.m. just before Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson and a number of other leaders from partner agencies participate in a panel discussion on agriculture and water quality.
In addition to the forum events, several state agencies will have displays at booths around the Farmfest grounds. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) will have a sizable booth (#619) displaying information about new and notable programs and services of interest to farmers. This year, the display will feature segments on the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, as well as informative displays on anhydrous ammonia safety, plant pest controls, and agricultural marketing and development services designed to help farmers.
It has been a bizarre stretch of weather for much of the state, from a warm and dry winter to a wet spring to a summer of drought. Crop and weather reports show Minnesota is in better condition on average than other corn-belt states, but farmers don’t farm in the aggregate.
Rainfall has been spotty, and the health of an individual farmer’s crops – and his or her financial outlook – can vary dramatically depending on whether the fields happened to be under the right cloud at the right time. For livestock producers, even those with forage and feed on hand, the hot and dry summer has stressed animals and intensified concerns about feed costs.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Minnesota’s agricultural area is abnormally dry, and sizable portions of western and southern Minnesota are now experiencing moderate or severe drought. Every day that goes by without rain makes the situation worse. Of course, the suffering extends well beyond our state borders. As of late July, nearly 80 percent of America’s corn belt was in moderate drought or worse.
Recognizing this growing crisis, we recently sat down the leaders from many of Minnesota’s top agricultural organizations to ask them how state and federal officials might help. We can’t make it rain, but we can help farmers in three specific ways: first, by making sure federal officials are aware that Minnesota farmers are suffering from this drought; second, by making it easier for farmers to find useful crop and weather information; and third, by helping farmers access the range of state and federal programs available to help them.