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.
Gypsy moths are tree pests that can defoliate large sections of forests and are among America's most destructive tree pests, having caused millions of dollars in damage. These moths are common in Wisconsin, but are now threatening Minnesota as well. Their preferred hosts are oak, poplar, birch and willow trees. The moths spread slowly on their own, but people can unintentionally speed up the process if they unwittingly transport firewood and other objects on which the moths have laid their eggs.
The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) has recently completed treatment of approximately 150,000 acres of land in Carlton and St. Louis Counties to slow the spread of the moth. The infestation was identified last summer and the MDA has been working hard to slow down the infestation before it takes hold.
For over 70 years, National Dairy Month has been celebrated in the United States during the month of June to recognize the important role dairy plays in our nation. In the infographic above you can see some of the most important benefits dairy has for Minnesota, or, for more information, visit the website of the Midwest Dairy Association.
Deep-fried and served on a stick or wok-fried and served with chopsticks, food is one of the strongest connections between Minnesota and China.
Food is not just something to eat. It’s a reflection of taste and culture and geography and more. Food says a lot about people. It’s why we find the food in other countries and regions so interesting.
So it makes sense that Governor Mark Dayton’s trade mission to China has a strong emphasis on agriculture and food. It makes dollars, too. A whole lot of them.
China is Minnesota’s top market for agricultural commodities and related food products, with purchases of $1.35 billion in 2010.
“That accounts for more than one-fourth of Minnesota’s agricultural exports,” says state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson, who is traveling with the delegation.
“In the past 10 years, our ag exports to China have jumped 800 percent, mostly driven by exports of bulk and intermediate commodities,” said Frederickson. “China’s the top buyer and the main market for Minnesota soybeans and a growing market for our pork.”
And it’s not just commodities. Sales of processed foods were $202 million. Push a cart through the aisles of a big supermarket in China and you’ll find more than a few iconic Minnesota food brands on the shelves.
Trumpeting the Bugles®
At one time or another, most Minnesota kids have eaten Bugles®, those crunchy, cone-shaped corn snacks made by General Mills that small children especially love to wear on their fingertips like a witch’s fingernails.
But unless you’ve been in China, you’ve never eaten “Seaweed” flavored Bugles®. In the Chinese market, the snack is made with potatoes, corn or rice and comes in dozens of flavors. In fact, Bugles® has become the leading brand among non-potato chip snacks in Greater China.
Curious how they market Bugles® in China? Take a look at this commercial on YouTube:
As Governor Dayton leads the state’s trade mission to China June 8-June 17, he is joined by many businesses and organizations representing Minnesota agriculture. China is the state's top foreign market for agricultural commodities and related food products, accounting for more than a quarter of Minnesota's agricultural exports. Agricultural businesses, food service companies, and other farming organizations join the larger delegation with the goal of fostering trade relations between Minnesota and China.
Among the farming companies that compose the delegation is Knewtson Soy Products, a family owned and operated farm in Good Thunder, Minnesota that exports 90% of their soybean production to food and feed manufacturers, with customers in several Southeast Asian countries. Additionally, Hastings Co-op Creamery, a 98-year-old company currently marketing milk and milk products for 105 dairy farmer members/owners, and Superior Feed Ingredients, a company based in Waconia, will also join the Governor as members of the delegation.
Also included in the delegation are key members of the food service industry, such as Dombrovski Meats, based in Foley, Minnesota, a family owned company, wholesale manufacturer, and national distributor of the highest quality meat products [see featured profile below]; Midwest AG Enterprises, Inc., a Marshall-based manufacturer and supplier of high quality feed ingredients for the livestock industry in China; and Michael Foods, the world’s largest egg processing company, based in Minnetonka, whose newest facility is located near Beijing.
Today, Governor Dayton will lead a delegation on a ten-day trade mission to China, traveling to Beijing, Shanghai and Xian (the capital of Shaanxi Province) for market and industry briefings, business match-making events, networking events and meetings with key U.S. and Chinese government officials. The 50-member group of business, industry, education and government leaders will attend market and industry briefings, networking events, and meetings with key U.S. and Chinese officials.
The delegation will also host multiple receptions for top Chinese government officials and business executives to showcase Minnesota companies and export industries, as well as promote the state as an ideal destination for direct investment by China. Minnesota has had an official relationship with China since signing the sister-state agreement with Shaanxi Province in 1982.
As the trip unfolds, the Governor’s office will be covering the delegation in a special blog series that explores how trade missions foster new relationships via commerce, agriculture, trade, and the environment. You can get daily updates on the delegation by signing up for our e-mail list, checking back on the blog, or following Governor Dayton on Twitter and Facebook. We will showcase highlights of the delegation, highlight our sister-province relationship, and post photos of the Governor’s meetings across the state. We hope that you will travel along with us as the Minnesota delegation embarks on its trade mission across China.
Governor Dayton and his administration are always looking for ways to help farms and businesses prosper in Minnesota. One of the simple but really effective tools the Minnesota Department of Agriculture makes available is a Directory of Minnesota Organic Farms.
It’s clear that organic food has gone beyond fad to a mainstream choice for many consumers, and we want to help Minnesota’s organic farms and food companies capitalize on this interest. Organic food (and even organic feed for animals) must contain organic ingredients and here in Minnesota we grow a lot of these ingredients. Our 700+ organic farms raise organic corn, wheat, oats, barley, rye, flax, soybeans, sunflowers, milk, eggs, beef, eggs, chickens, fruits and vegetables, and just about anything else you can think of. To make it easier for Minnesota’s organic food companies to use organic ingredients in their products, the Directory of Minnesota Organic Farms was created. It lists farmers who sell in quantity to “intermediate buyers” such as food companies, restaurants, grocery stores, brokers, etc. The buyers can look up the farmer by product (“blue corn” for example), or by county, if they are looking for farmers close to their manufacturing facility or store. The directory is available in print and online at www.mda.state.mn.us/organic
Governor Dayton has proclaimed this week, May 20-26, to be Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week in Minnesota. Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is an invasive species of insect that has killed millions of ash trees in North America. It is not native to the U.S., but was discovered in Michigan in 2002; in 2009, the first Minnesota case of EAB was found in Ramsey County. It has since been found in the counties of Houston, Hennepin, and Winona.
The biggest risk of spreading EAB comes from people moving firewood or other ash tree products with EAB or EAB larvae inside. In order to help prevent the spread of EAB throughout Minnesota and beyond, you should try to use only local firewood, and you should avoid transporting firewood if possible. In order to prevent the spread of this destructive species, the Department of Agriculture has prohibited the movement of ash trees, ash limbs and branches, ash logs or untreated ash lumber with bark attached, firewood from hardwood trees, and uncomposted wood chips and ash bark chips greater than one inch in two of three dimensions from the affected counties. More tips on preventing the spread of EAB can be found at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture website.
You should also watch for signs that ash trees on your property are infested: heavy woodpecker activity, S-shaped tunnels under the bark, dead branches in the top canopy of the tree, and D-shaped exit holes approximately 1/8 inch in diameter are all signs of EAB presence in a tree. If you suspect a tree is infested, you can follow procedures for seeking treatment or removal of the tree from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website.